Gardeners, for that is what Secret Garden Party attendees are collectively known as, are spotted in all kinds of spots having found their hang-out for the day – there are a lot of haybales to choose from. We find the hill framing the Great Stage’s area to be a good place to chill, taking care to avoid sitting on the wasp’s nest that various unfortunates positioned their posteriors on and in.
The music sequence begins with a couple of very different lady singer-songwriters. First up we have Kate Walsh. She has one of those names that kind of rings a bell, in a “that’s a singer-songwriter that I’ve kind of heard of but never took much interest in” way. She’s credited in the official programme as being responsible for knocking Take That off the Number 1 spot in the charts, although this doesn’t help our memory much. It turns out that that particular chart was the iTunes chart – the relevant album, Tim’s House, only scraping the Top 75 in the “real charts” (as in, it got to Number 75). All that aside, her set is folky and wispy and a little sad. She sings songs of sailors and one-night stands, which sounds like a lot of fun, but she makes sailors and one-night stands sound like a chore, prone to reducing you to an introspective depressive moaner.
So we weren’t too upset when she vacated the stage to be replaced by the more interesting Sarah Blasko. Cooing away over a thudding double bass, the Australian star in her home country was enchanting and quite delightful for the few songs we stayed for.
In fact we left wanting more, but instead headed for The Forum for a talk given by MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon, who tried her hardest to whip everybody up into a frenzy of paranoia over her fears of pretty much everyone apart from geeks. It was our only foray to The Forum over the weekend, but an interesting one among a nicely put together series of lectures.
But we’re not here to talk about talking, we’re here to talk about singing and songs and beats and dubstep. Which incidentally turned out to be everywhere this weekend. Every late at night dancing spot was full of dubstep and drum’n'bass – but there was nothing for a good old-fashioned happy hardcore fan. Which is probably a good thing, in the long run, if we’re honest.
Meanwhile, round the corner from The Forum was The Living Room, where we headed for singer-songwriter Adelaide’s Cape. As we entered this strange old-fashioned tent, full of teacups and teapots and cupcakes, we noticed that its orange glow shed light on a familiar lady on stage. And so it turned out that Adelaide’s Cape wasn’t there. We never managed to find out why, and soon realised that it was Kate Walsh singing about one night sailors again. So we left in a hurry.
Of course this being the Secret Garden Party, fancy dress was everywhere. And this being Saturday, it was peak time for outfit wearing. The theme this year was “Fact Or Fiction”, a theme brought to life with individually decorated areas and pieces of inspired art literally everywhere and anywhere you looked. And so we saw mermaids and unicorns and Biblical characters. But also sailors and people in suits and cats. Which as far as we know are all, simply “fact”. Ultimately people just dressed up as what they wanted to dress up as, regardless of theme. And those who didn’t want to dress up at all weren’t regarded as pariahs, thankfully. Everyone was free to do what they wanted.
As Day 2 progressed towards evening, people started to clamour for position ahead of the headlining Gorillaz Sound System. Those who got there early enough were treated to a fantastic show by the little-known French collective Caravan Palace. Singer Sonia Fernandez Velasco fronted them, possibly unique in that the genre of techno swing doesn’t seem to be a crowded one. If you want an idea of what techno swing would sound like, literally imagine techno and swing music and blend them together, because that’s exactly what Caravan Palace sounded like – all dance beats, clarinets and trombones with a superb vocalist at the helm. Maybe Doop are due a comeback.
The half-hour gap before Gorillaz Sound System was enough for the annual ceremonial destruction of The Blimp. We met one of the guys who had spent the previous couple of weeks constructing the midlake stage, and despite the blisters and sores on his hands he knew its fate and celebrated it. As arrows of fire set it alight and fire-jugglers framed the lake, a phenomenal firework display lit the skies alongside an army of Chinese lanterns.
With people in a ‘wow’ state of mind, it fell to our headliners to close the Great Stage for the day. Most gardeners were hopefully aware that this wasn’t going to be a repeat of the show the band put on at Glastonbury. It wasn’t a live show for starters, nor did it have an endless supply of special guests. Instead the other side to their stage show was on offer. But as perhaps the only household name on the weekend’s bill, the audience swelled so that towards the back not only is it unbearably busy but also impossible to see what’s going on onstage. A mish mash of Gorillaz tracks and hip hop standards mixed together provided the gardeners with a superlatively danceable time.
There is, in a sense, a “second stage” which we haven’t got to yet. Where The Wild Things Are is set up next to the lake among a cluster of trees. It doesn’t really have its own area, seeming to reside instead in a pathway. However, when a band like The Golden Filter inhabits it for a late night slot, the stage comes to life. The New Yorkers’ debut album Voluspa came out earlier this year, and remains an under-the-radar delight, and they proved tremendous live. Frontwoman Penelope Trappes is all nonchalant cool, like a cross between Risn Murphy and Alison Goldfrapp. Their intelligent dancefloor tunes are irresistible. It turns out to be the set of the weekend.