Good clean family fun...

Ensconced within the small but picturesque site of Deer Shed Festival in Baldersby Park, North Yorkshire, Clash plans the weekend with relative ease. This is the beauty of intimate, small-scale festivals. No thick plastic flip chart crammed full of stage times and locations, no heavily annotated schedule that needs careful adherence to avoid missing any performances. It’s more like: “Let’s go over there, then over there, then back here – done.”

The only potential hindrance in executing your plans at Deer Shed is tripping over a small child and doing yourself in. They are everywhere. As festivals continue to multiply like a soaking wet Gremlin, each event seeks to establish its own niche. Deer Shed has cornered the good clean family fun segment, with children being the main element here. They outnumber adults by at least two to one.

So with an easy musical schedule to follow, Deer Shed attendees are free to mooch around and indulge in the non-musical aspects of the weekend extravaganza. Which means robot making, rounders, sock puppets, Meccano and the scrapheap challenge, to mention just a few activities.

Despite initial reservations at arriving on a festival site teeming with toddlers, this huge outdoor crèche does actually surprise with some unexpected hilarity. We literally dribble a bit whilst laughing through an impromptu game of swingball, and the “machine tent” has everything from Minecraft and nano quadcopters to old-school arcade machines and a Theremin – class!

The other distinct advantage of these compact festivals is that when it’s time for the big musical acts, you don’t have to wait at the front of the stage for hours beforehand. You can just amble over mere minutes before the band comes on and get a spot front and centre, no bother.

In this fashion we enjoy Friday’s headliners. The bombast of Gaz Coombes creates an infectious atmosphere which carries right through the crowd and into the following set by the indomitable Edwyn Collins, whose incisive lyrics and fervent backing band provide a fitting finale for the first night.

The next day we bask in lovely warm weather and balanced informative spoken word sessions such as ‘The Art And Iconography Of Heavy Metal’ with the construction of water bottle rockets and cotton reel tanks. Craft lovers will love Deer Shed.

With so many small people around, there are obviously going to be some irritants… namely the ill-advised sale of piercingly noisy bird callers, which one particular 11-year-old – seemingly following us – insists on abusing all weekend. Or the irksome screaming demands of hordes of kids suddenly presented with lots of things they want to do or have at once.

But on whole it’s a pleasant atmosphere and you can see why families flock here – it’s just a no-brainer for them. Around 8pm each night there’s an exodus of people as exhausted minors get wheeled off to bed, leaving taller people free to watch some live acts.

The musical highlights of the weekend lands squarely with Domino Records artist Eugene McGuinness and the restorative tonic that is Willy Mason. Both very distinct performers, they each play hugely well-received sets. McGuinness blazes through a fine batch of songs – a born lyricist, he is self-assured and dressed to kill, every inch the rock star.

Mason is the counterpoint, more suspicious of the limelight and reluctant to do things any other way than his own, his set is soothing and warm. Playing to a large audience who clearly appreciate 2012’s ‘Carry On’ album, Mason is persuaded to go way past his allotted time as the crowd roars for more. He rolls out the timeless classic ‘Oxygen’ and also throws in a couple of numbers by his parents. Mason is a fine vintage that just gets better and better.

As will Deer Shed, especially if you’ve got sprogs to entertain.

Words and photos: Nick Rice

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