The Secret Garden Party has a reputation as the best small festival on the circuit. We like to think we’ve contributed to that reputation, having covered it and loved it every year since 2006. We even gave it a rare 8 star review in 2008, although patchy music (and perhaps mathematical nous) brought that one back down to a 5. Each year was attended by a different reviewer. Could it really keep on living up to all that praise?
The 2010 edition doesn’t start off well. The joy of there being no traffic on our way in on Thursday afternoon subsided when the first thing impossible not to notice on arrival was the size of the queue to get in. Having been to the 10-times-bigger Glastonbury a few weeks before, finding a three hour queue for the solitary site entrance seemed ridiculous and caused much grumbling. The event has grown in size over the years; people started speculating that the organisers hadn’t taken account of the practicalities of the extra numbers. Before we even set foot inside the perimeter fence, there were worries that it had outgrown itself and the organisers had given in to greed.
However, once past the security, the next thing impossible not to notice was that, to locate a spot for our cluster of six tents was a matter of turning left and walking less than five minutes. This was, in comparison to Glastonbury, nothing less than a bloody joy. It didn’t take long before the queueing was just a distant memory.
After a quiet night of settling in, Friday morning consisted of wandering around finding bearings before we headed for The Great Stage to see what was on offer. Walking down to that main stage takes you past the orienteering aid of a helter skelter, through fields full of the usual catering vans and then either around the centrepiece lake or over the wobbly bridge that takes you to the other side. Keeping balance while crossing, the very handsome looking and Secret Garden Party-defining dancefloor Blimp can be seen to your left. Accessible only by rowboat, DJs pump out music to the small number who make it on board to enjoy this small island of groove.
The festival has increased in size – not by as much as the rumours suggest – but it has gone from 10,000 tickets in 2008 to 17,000 tickets this year. And still it’s not hard to find space once at the Great Stage. There’s so much else going on that up until each night’s headliners there’s space to sit and chill and take in whatever’s happening.
The music line-up isn’t dominated by big names. It’s a festival that earns what seems to be its unofficial byline – “it’s not all about the music”. But that proves itself to be part of the appeal. Music is all around – there are people playing sets all over the place, most of whom you probably haven’t heard of. But most of it is awesome stuff. It’s a place for discovering small names, and it’s a place for rising acts to play on bigger stages than they normally would.
On the first day the Great Stage provided strong sets from the folk and Springsteen-inspired-to-the-point-of-borrowing Danny And The Champions Of The World and from Goldheart Assembly, whose harmonised melodies always hit the spot when chilling out in a field on an afternoon. Steve Mason gave a slightly more difficult set. For those watching who hadn’t heard much of him, he probably sounded like he was playing a bunch of tracks that weren’t good enough to get on the last Elbow album. Which isn’t really that far off the truth. But for those of us already rewarded by repeated listens to his Boys Outside album, his songs have made their mark and it was a joy to see him perform on a beautiful early evening.
The gorgeous Gaggle gang put on their mesmerising show, but due to unfortunate organisation didn’t appear on the listings or in the programme. So for those who happened to see a 25-strong all-girl choir singing about cigarettes and lying lovers, you were in luck. Most of us missed them because we didn’t know where they were playing.
Marina And The Diamonds as first night headliners never seemed quite right on paper. As talented and adorable as Marina Diamandis is, there was always a concern that, at this early stage of her career, she doesn’t yet belong at the top of a festival bill. Unfortunately so it turned out. While she’s improved her stage show massively over the last year, she doesn’t have the presence or the material yet to captivate a crowd who aren’t that familiar with her. Nonetheless, whether she’s stood at the front of the stage or sat at her piano, she’s nothing other than lovely. Give her a bit more time to develop and create a back catalogue with a bit more depth, and she’ll surely become a regular fixture in such slots.
Post-gig entertainment takes us, among other places, to the tiny Jungle Is Massive drum ‘n’ bass tent, complete with trapeze artists and the globetastic dance tent the Remix Bubble, where we catch a crowd-pleasing set by Losers, made up of Eddy Temple-Morris and Tom Bellamy (The Cooper Temple Clause). With phone dropped in a pint of beer and all friends long lost, your slightly aged correspondent ends up with a huge cup of tea watching the kids getting on down to the tunes being played in the large hay-stacked club venue Collo-Silly-Um. Maybe there was just one gardener there armed with a cuppa, but as the post-midnight chill set in, it was the best cup of tea ever.