Thursday, March 27, 2008

Secret Garden Party 2007

England is whipped into a festival frenzy every summer and while most of us have heard of the larger events such as Glastonbury, there is a growing following for the smaller, ‘boutique’ festivals. One of the newer and fastest growing in reputation, if not in size, is the Secret Garden Party that took place on the weekend of July 26-29 this year, near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.

Set up in 2004 by Freddie Fellowes, the Secret Garden Party has possibly the most romantic setting of any of the smaller festivals, as the site is a natural amphitheater with gentle slopes surrounding a lake. Although music plays on about six different stages almost constantly, it seems almost an incidental soundtrack to the bigger picture of the party, the aim of which seems to be to totally embrace your inner child. Clowns, pirates, bunnies, fairies and all manner of other characters flit about the various activities on offer, such as suicide sports (one of these activities centers around careering down hills on a tiny BMX towards a wall of large barrels) and the kissing workshop. Also on offer for those with a certain nostalgie de la boue, there is mud wrestling in a specially dug out pit. In the lake, rowboats float past carrying reclining souls, bleary-eyed from the night before but soaking up the sun and listening to the sounds of the great stage across the water.

Also dotted around the site are various interactive art installations that bring to mind the spirit of Burning Man. These include a large floating ‘hand’ on the lake that is set alight on Saturday night and a ‘furry cave’ for those who want to go all the way back to a womb-like state. For the gourmands, numerous food stands sell delicious organic fare from all corners of the world and all-night chai stalls offer comfort and warm tea to exhausted revelers.

That’s not to say that the Secret Garden Party isn’t about music. On the contrary, the organizers are champions of new music and through the years they have consistently picked acts that have gone onto big things, as well as showcasing more established cult bands. This year this was exemplified by their choices of the classic new romantic band Echo and the Bunnymen, who played on Friday night, followed by acid house country band Alabama 3 later on the Great Stage. Current electro and new rave heroes, New Young Pony Club, played during Saturday’s deluge. But possibly the highlight of that day was the family outfit of Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, who took over the late afternoon with their energetic rockabilly. Sunday played host to the legendary Prince Buster and this summer’s chart sensation, Kate Nash.

Thankfully (considering the sodden summer that we’ve had) the weekend was mostly bathed in sunshine; however, Saturday night’s downpour did cause the site to become a mud bath by Sunday morning. Any experienced festival attendee, though, would have known to pack a pair of Wellington boots and carry on dancing.

The Secret Garden Party happens every July.

— Rebecca Guinness

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