Rhian Daly's Secret Garden Party Diary Part 1: Somewhere near Huntingdon, 26-29 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
I've been told by many that Secret Garden Party is the festival of all festivals, one that beats all others hands down, and as soon as I arrive on site I can tell why...


So, I've already missed the two bands I really wanted to see tonight (ox.eagle.lion.man playing before I've even arrived and Captain Phoenix alluding me whilst I struggle with my tent) but there's plenty more to see, do and discover. This first night is a relaxed affair, casually strolling from tent to tent, taking in as much as possible. There's art pieces dotted around the site that look magnificent in the daylight but transform into magical sculptures as the moon rises and the brilliant coloured lighting gets a chance to shine. Wandering around after sunset truly takes your breath away.

Tonight's wanderings take in a spot of soul and blues from Bijoumiyo in Where The Wild Things Are, dance and disco from Whim Wham in the Centre Camp tent and acoustic beauty from Badwell Ash's Stewart Charlesworth in the Living Room's Open Mic night. There's just time for another wander round the site, through a wooden sculpture that makes everything seem bigger and more spacious when you come out the other side, before heading back to the campsite to try and locate my tent and get some sleep before the festival really kicks off tomorrow.


After being woken by the sounds of 40 piece Samba Band Alarm Clock, I head over to The Great Stage and take a seat under the tree in time for the Head Gardener's DJ set, which provides a great start to the day, incorporating great songs such as Blur's End Of The Century and Adam Green's Friends of Mine as well as a genius lounge version of Pulp's Common People. The small gathering of early risers enjoy this cover and I make a note to get up in time to catch the DJ set tomorrow morning.

Slightly behind schedule, the brilliant Battle take over the stage with their euphoric brand of indie pop, playing songs from their forthcoming debut album Break The Banks. After discarding many of the songs originally intended for this release and having rewritten almost the entire record, it's the first opportunity many have had to hear the new songs. Mixed with older songs like Demons and Tendency, fresh tracks The Longest Time and Negotiations sound like classic Battle tunes in the making. Whilst their set is good, it doesn't really take off like you know it can, always stopping just short of great.

Following on from Battle is emerging act Middleman, a group who are quite hard to describe although I think The Streets meets Hadouken! will probably suffice for now. Putting on a performance that gets the audience going with their witty lyrics and catchy basslines, you can't help but think that if they were playing in a tent they'd take the roof off. Leaving the stand out track Blah Blah Blah till the end, the majority of the set goes by without much to get too excited about.

And so to my second venture of the weekend into the Living Room tent. Later, the fabulous Sam Isaac is playing but before him is a pleasant female singer/songwriter by the name of Lily Fraser. Unfortunately, she doesn't make much of an impression on me, apart from having an enviably beautiful voice. Half an hour later though, with a comfortable armchair grabbed and crumpets and tea in hand, I prepare myself for what I have already decided will be one of the highlights of the weekend. Luckily, Mr Isaac doesn't disappoint. Playing songs from his mini-album Sticker, Star and Tape he really shines as one of the most talented artists this country has to offer. Songs like Carbon Dating and When The Silhouette Drops show that big things are just around the corner.

After taking in some of the non-musical activities, including getting 'creative' in the Art Tent, watching people willing to get horrifically dirty mud wrestling at the Suicide Sports Club and having a jam with a ukulele at the Open Music Camp, I head over to Centre Camp to catch a bit of stand up from the hilarious and original Shane Solanki, before dashing over to the Remix Arena to work up a sweat to New York electro pop duo, Shychild, still laughing at the incessantly funny comedy routine just witnessed.

Shychild were running late, which means I've really got to move it if I want to make it over to the Living Room to catch at least some of Josh Weller's performance. After dancing like a lunatic to the brilliant keytar and drums groove of the NYC hipsters, it's time to relax for a moment with some quirky acoustic pop songs, including a brilliant Randy Newman cover and the must-hear The Bitch Stare.

Time to watch some bigger name bands then, starting with the legendary Echo and the Bunnymen, who put in a brilliant performance starting with Lips Like Sugar and then rattling through an endless list of classics, the highlight of which is Killing Moon. The Noisettes follow, described as 'the band from another planet', playing songs from their debut album What's The Time Mr Wolf? including Sister Rosetta, Scratch Your Name, Iwe and crowd favourite Don't Give Up. Their set passes too quickly, one of the best so far, leaving you wanting more of this gloriously original sound.

In an attempt to source new bands to delight my ears, I head over to the Living Room to watch a band called The Diarys. My good intentions are foiled, however, when GoodBooks unexpectedly take the stage for a secret performance. Kicking off with a hilarious cover of Kate Nash's Foundations (so funny because they don't actually know the words), they then showcase tracks from their beautiful debut album Control, including the outstanding Alice and, a personal favourite of mine, The Illness.

Waiting for Reverend and the Makers, the next big thing out of Sheffield, to take the stage, I reflect on what I've just seen at the Feast of Fools. Zombies and all manner of unnatural creatures performing gypsy punk, seemingly from beyond the grave. It's bizarre and sort of sums up the whole festival - nowhere else would you get this. Anyway, attention back to the stage in front as John McLure - the Reverend himself - strolls on with his group of like minded musicians. A riotous set follows, highlights being Heavyweight Champion of the World, Bandits and the infectious new single He Said He Loved Me. Featuring several stage invasions and a cameo from the rogue trumpeter who joins in from the crowd (before being pulled on stage by McLure for 5 minutes of fame), this blows everyone else out of the water. This is how nights are meant to be.

Staying in the Remix Arena for the rest of the night, my legs and feet are suffering the next morning. Dancing the night away to Utah Saints and TC and MC Jake would have provided a great night, but follow that with Rhysmix, the DJ alter ego of Tom Bellamy, ex-Cooper Temple Clause electro wizard, and you've got an absolutely amazing evening of dancing like the world's about to end. 4:30am and Bellamy leaves the stage, signalling the end of my night as I stumble wide eyed back to the campsite to get what little sleep I can before it starts all over again.

Writer: Rhian Daly