The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of mermaids, Pirates, lost boys, musicians and Mr Lee. Oh yes ladies and gentleman, it was the difficult 3rd album of my LeeFest experiences, and it was set in Neverland.
So you may have come across Leefest on the Google android adverts in the last year, of the boy whose parents went away for the weekend, and explicitly said “No house parties, Lee” and like any good teenager he listened, instead throwing a festival in his back garden. Roll on a decade and LeeFest was throwing its first festival at a brand new site near Royal Tunbridge Wells, following a sabbatical/fallow year to find an upgraded site that could supply enough water for the ever increasing number of guests.
Anxious of this leap in growth, my scepticism of the LeeFest getting too big for its boots and destroying its spirit in the pursuit of commercialisation was… Totally unfounded!
The cool, back garden vibes had been infused with the ethereal feels of Neverland, a theme enabled by a partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital, and saw the expansion from 3 main stages into 3 unique kingdoms; the Mermaid Lagoon, home to the Wondersands stage, part beach, part dance floor, permanently staffed by realise Merpeople; The Neverwoods, home of the lost boys, with their Bangerand stage and tent stage where which the main headliners would perform; and Skull Ridge, home to the lost, the desolate and the Pirates, with its rave pit, low-ceiled tent and cabaret; and hidden in the forest was the Wendy House providing acoustic relief and a bed.
Unusually, and I can say this now I’m a near pro festivaler, LeeFest began on a Thursday, running to midday Sunday, and despite setting off at 11am, the beer and food run meant we arrived much nearer 1pm. Thankfully, the campsite wasn’t too full, and after once again having every inch of my bags search (is there just something about me?) we set up shop, Brett bringing the marquee we’d purchased 2 years ago along with him. Pirate bunting up, fairy lights fitted and air beds pumped up (we manage to salvage one off the back of Secret Garden Party) it was time to explore the site in search of the shop for bacon and breakfast supplies.
After spending too long asking the condom people questions, glow in the dark skins pocketed, we entered the arena for the first time, the chances of finding this elusive shop diminishing…
And this feeling turned out to be right – no shop this year – I feared Brett would starve…
All was not lost as we managed to pick up dandy LeeFest stash! This year they tees were screen printed on site, meaning… YOU COULD CHOOSE YOUR OWN PRINTS! A very cool idea, perfectly fitting the ‘Choose your tribe’ theme of the festival.
Though only the first night, the musical entrees did not disappoint. With music setting off from 7pm, we got back into the arena in time to catch the boys of Everything Everything.
Despite having spent much of the last 2 years in Japan, I actually knew some of their songs! #winning
New to the ‘arena’ this year was the ability to bring in your own alcohol, as long as it was in a plastic container.
The policy of not bringing your own drinks into the area never seemed out of kilter, given my experiences of Reading and Leeds, but would have seemed out of whack after the 4 previous festivals this year having had an open drinks policy. It certainly feels less like you’re being exploited as a captive audience with this simple policy change, and I’m happy to see it’s the more prevalent policy at festivals.
Up next was the sultry, dulcet tones of Ghostpoet.
During the more trance songs, the performance was among indistinguishable from Faithless, and a mix of atmosphere, tunes and rum had me pulled deep into a timeless realm.
With a little bit of luck, we can make it through the night.
Words that could only mean MC Neat and DJ Luck were performing down in the Wondersands, the beach area, enclosed by 3 tier hay bales, was packed. Leaving us no choice but to scale the bales and danced upon the top – a nerve wrecking endeavour in which I saw and slowed down the descent of one drunken lady who, confidently-faced, stepped off backwards, much in the vain of a superhero dropping onto a hidden hovering platform, and toppled down to the floor. She too had a little bit of luck as she dusted herself off and climbed back up to the top of the hay stack.
After easing into Friday morning, bacon and egg sandwiches steadying the tums for another day of partying, we caught up with some friends and heading down to the Wendy House stage.
Up unusually early, with no working responsibilities, I almost felt at a loss as to what to do! There was frisbee to be played, food to be eaten, all as part of preparation for the…
Ah yes, some traditions never change! Wonder down to the Wondersands on the first day of LeeFest and you bear witness to GLITTER WRESTLING
Naturally we all got involved, Amanda defeating a Zebra, me defeating Amanda, then Brett, until my glory was stolen by ‘’Dad’ – who had it all to play for in front of his family, and then took on and defeated all his daughters’ boyfriends. Dad was a LAD.
Soaked through and covered in glitter, the hour was upon us to return to the tent, and dress up for the night!
Running back into the area, I noticed the group fall behind me, then start to call me back – I had only run past Lee of bloody LeeFest! What a chump I was!
Naturally we told him all about Comp-A-Tent, and with positive sounds made, we were off! What a night, the boys of Circa Waves were on fire, Amanda glittering up the crowd with bio-degradable glitter and face paints.
The evening only preceded to get better as we stumbled across The Apothecary Cabaret, and enjoyed the seductive dancing of these ladies, and the downright crazy performance from ‘The Daddy’. Followed by Amanda glittering up their nipples – that girl is an opportunity finder!
So although it was now Saturday, it was actually the last day of the festival! Crazy!
Today we were going all out Mer-people – no fishnet tight was save from our scaly creation, and after a mere 2-3 hours we were done, tridents at the ready! The Poseidon was looking hot!
The highlight of the day came in the annual tradition of the LeeFest paintfight, wherein the Wondersands transforms from a golden yellow to blood red!
Impromptu volleyball divided the two sides, before handfulls of paint could even be grabbed. On either side stood the warriors, the tension palatable, the air clear but full of rage. The MC built the atmosphere to dizy heights, when he shouted,
“Are you ready?!”
The crowd could contain itself no longer, and before the MC or anyone knew what had happened, the first fist full of paint was released, and like a 1000 loaded mounetraps, one the first assault was sprung, utter carnage ensued, the air thick with multi coloured clay paints, the amateur n00bs foolishly not holding their breath until the air cleared, and a beach party ensued.
Oh what a fool I am! In all the excitement, who did I forget was playing?
WE ARE SCIENTISTS!
This I discovered as we went on the hunt for food and a familar melody drifted over the air.
I sprinted, obvious, and my effort was much rewarded when Keith, the lead singer came out into the audience, looked me straight in the eye with his baby blues, and we sung together!
Oh, to have died then would have been to die happy for this fan boy! Perhaps being topless, covered in paint and carrying a trident helped draw his attention?
Next up was Shura! We’d missed her at Secret Garden Party, having been working on the bar at the time, so it was great to hear her on the syth, haunting vocals cutting out through the encroaching evening.
AND FREE DRINKS! A very nice lady gave me free drinks – I think she liked my glittered nipples! Drinks consumed, it was time for Lianne La Havas – I think she spotted me!
Finally it was time for LeeFest’s worse kept secret – Frank Carter & the Rattle Snakes playing in a tiny tent over in Skull Ridge.
Suddenly I was 15 again, in a dark and grimey gig venue like Astoria, the crowd packed in tight, an unspoken, primal agreement between those witnessing the event. Not content with mosh pits and crowd surfing, at the end of the set Frank Carter called up the audience for a stage occupation, much to the worried glances of the bouncers!
There was nothing left to than check out the Goldmine, a pit of techno and EDM to the early hours, that encorporated a fire show into its performance, and as the music around the site died, only Tinkerbelle’s Taphouse was left to hold up the party until 4am.
LeeFest has consistently been my favourite festival for the past 4 years. It’s size means you can make new friends and see them across the weekend, the bands are good, but nothing you’d been yourself up from missing, there’s dress up, and it has far more of a community and family vibe than most festivals, with next to no loutish behaviour.
Just a fun party vibe, than all and anyone can enjoy.
LeeFest: The Neverland 2017 is 10/11/12 August, at John Darlings Farm, Edenbridge, Kent, an hour south of London.