top of page

Black Deer Festival - Day 1

Friday 14th June 2024

Eridge Park, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Tagged as the UK festival for Americana, Kent's Black Deer Festival returned once again to its beautiful setting in Eridge Park on Friday, three days of fun for all the family with more than 100 live music acts, activities plus a fantastic food arena. Last year when we drove down to see the amazing Bonnie Raitt, we left our car in the well organised festival car park. To make the most of the many festival bars on offer, this time we decided to catch the train down to Tunbridge Wells and then hopped on the regular Black Deer shuttle bus (£12 return) which took our jolly boys outing to the Red Gate entrance.

Everything was going to clockwork for a midday arrival, until we realised how far it was to walk to the Blue Gate to pick up our passes! Thankfully, the sun was shining intermittently and we worked up a thirst for our first refreshing pint of Brewdog Lost Lager. First up on the main stage, introduced by a very amusing MC, was The Luke Combs Experience, a dynamic and energetic six-piece tribute including keys dedicated to .... you've guessed it .... Country superstar Luke Combs. A great start to the day's proceeding spread across no less than seven stages, saw "y'all" early arrivals treated to the big man's hits such as the very appropriate 'Beer Never Broke My Heart' and 'When It Rains It Pours' which it did half way through their set.

It was time now to explore the smaller stages towards the other end of the festival arena, passing by the multitude of traders and their eclectic wares, numerous mouthwatering eateries, as well as the attractions, including axe throwing! Our first visit to Haley's Bar resulted in us taking in a solo set from Oxfordshire-born singer/songwriter Tom Webber in front of a very packed marquee. With a sound very similar to Jake Bugg, Webber's "walk of shame" banter was equal to the high quality of his music, with a few punters down the front managing to throw a few shapes to his material, the highlight of which was his latest single 'This Time'.

Unfortunately, we only caught the end of singer-songwriter and guitarist Steffan James's eight song set on the Supajam stage. Perhaps best known on the live circuit as a member of the Alter Eagles, his four-piece, including keys, thankfully saved the best for last, with his awesome guitar solo on the very apt, 'Best Of Me', that saw the appreciative audience of all ages, shapes, hats, tattoos etc., clapping along as the sun finally came out of hiding behind the clouds.

We completed "the circuit" in time to see the delightful Jade Bird perform solo on a much busier main stage. Influenced at an early age by Americana, now complemented by a Country Folk twist, the bubbly guitarist/vocalist's banter had the punters in stitches with her stories of break ups and parking fines (seriously). You could not fail to take her to your heart, particularly the quality of her set, the highlights for mine being 'Ce La Vie', 'Ruins' plus the amusingly entitled 'Grinning In The Face', that opened with a crystal clear acapela.

After sitting down listening to the end of Jade's infectious set, scoffing down a delicious stone oven margherita pizza, we duly headed over to The Ridge, the biggest musical marquee, to see When Rivers Meet. The award-winning English Blues/Rock duo of guitarist Aaron Bond and vocalist Grace Bond are no strangers to the WRC, having reviewed them many times as recently as last month at London's The Garage. Indeed, Aaron's question during the set as to how many Black Deer virgins were in the audience, I proudly kept my hand by my side. However, if he had asked how many WRM virgins were in the audience, I would have had to embarrassingly raise my hand. Well, they say that you never forget your first time, and the well-publicised chemistry between the husband and wife team, complemented by Adam Bowers on bass and James Fox on drums, duly delivered as expected with a thumping fifteen song set. Grace actually admitted that they had broken down on the way to the festival, but made it by the skin of their teeth, which was a relief to their army of fans who shrieked with delight at the intro to 'Bound For Nowhere', proving that they weren't there just to shelter from the wind/rain. Highlight for mine was the the stonking 'Battleground'.

Our next stop was Haley's Bar again to catch Bristol duo Foreign Affairs. Yet another duo oozing family chemistry, albeit brothers Adam and Laurence Purnell, their foot-tappin set consisting of guitars, standing drums and exceptional vocals, all underlining why this band of brothers toured Europe with Grammy-nominated artist Larkin Poe. Unfortunately, we just arrived at the end of Amy Vix's soft Rock acoustic set at Cafe Nerro. This would turn out to be our only visit there, and we also didn't manage to visit both the Holler and Livefire stages. Must try harder next time! Seriously though, this just emphasises the fact that there is so much to do every day at Black Deer, that you just feel like you are just touching the surface!

Talking of which, with the unusual, but interesting cinematic sounds of England-based American songwriter and multi-instrumentalist BC Camplight ending on the main stage, we briefly caught Black Deer returner Edie Bens on the Supajam stage, a regular on the London circuit, who has played The O2's C2C, before heading back to the main stage for Courtney Barnett. Known for her deadpan singing style and witty, rambling lyrics, the Australian musician channeled attitude throughout her set, very reminiscent in my mind of Kurt Cobain, even to the extent that like the much missed Nirvana frontman, she plays her guitar left-handed. With support from just her drummer, Courtney took the spotlight, reinforcing her no nonsense Rock approach with songs such as 'I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch' and 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party'.

It was back to The Ridge for the final time to briefly catch Portland, Oregon's The Delines, with the five-piece Americana outfit, comprising shades wearing vocalist Amy Boone, guitarist Willy Vlautin, keyboardist Cory Gray, plus the rhythm section of Sean Oldham and Freddy Trujillo, delighting those present with some sassy vibes, that even saw Cory multi-task on trumpet. One of the highlights of the day was our final visit to Haley's to see Indie singer/songwriter Jonny Morgan (and that's not just because he managed to salvage a copy of his setlist for me from a bin!). Another artist who has a great line in banter, despite another break up story, Jonny was at pains to point out that "it's Jonny without an h" as the other guy is a porn star and has a much more interesting website than his. Although his music was just as entertaining, such as his singalong "hey hey hey" Blues Song 'Wired' plus his excellent quintet's cover of 'Squeeze Box'. Talking of that song by 'The Who' - what was that website address again?

Owing to recommendations earlier in the day from both my erstwhile partner in crime, CJ, plus having the delightful pleasure of bumping into our old mucker Mr. Green earlier on in the day, the must see today apparently was Midlands based singer-songwriter Kezia Gill & Friends, so we remained in Haley's for her set. A nice touch before Kezia came on was a intro tape from the one and only Old Grey Whistle Test legend, 'Whisperin' Bob Harris, who apparently had hand picked the artists for Halley's today. In front of a bursting at the seams tent, pulling influences from a wide range of genres including Folk and Irish, Country, Rock, Blues, as well as numerous mentions of Nashville, Kazia did her fans proud, with her impressive vocal range, multi-instrumental talent and on stage energy, plus a little help from her friends, namely singer-songwriter Jade Helliwell and 2023 BCMA awards Male Artist Of The Year vocalist, Matt Hodges.

Another recommendation from talking to newly made Black Deer friends during the day was a strong following for Indie/Folk Rock outfit, Turin Brakes, who were headlining The Ridge. Unfortunately this clashed with Joe Bonamassa on the main stage and I wasn't going to miss that. Fresh from playing The Anvil in Basingtoke the night before, I had seen the renowned Blues-Rock guitarist continue to captivate audiences worldwide with his relentless touring and musical innovations, with another electrifying performance at London's Royal Albert Hall in April. A bit like When Rivers Meet, Joe obviously had not had a good journey to Tunbridge Wells given his opening gambit "F**k the M25!" Thankfully JB took the angst out on his guitar, along with Carl Lamar Carter on drums, Calvin Turner on bass, Josh Smith on guitar, Reece Wynans on keys, plus Danniella De Andrea and Jade McRae on backing vocals. Highlights of the shades wearing, dapper suited, red guitar wielding, Grammy Award nominated, New Yorker's headline set was his intricate solo on his cover of Guitar Slim's foot tappin'/finger waggin', 'Well, I Done Got Over It', from 'Blues Deluxe Vol. 2.' and of course the epic 'Mountain Time', from 2002's 'So It's Like That', that took me back to my first time seeing Joe at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire back in February 2008. Ninety minutes of quality not quantity and a very emotional end to a set from an artist that is still right at the top of his game.

As we made our way up the the hill to catch our shuttle bus back to Tunbridge Wells Station, it was indeed a perfect end to another wonderful day at Black Deer that not only delivers what it says on the tin, but much much more besides. See you next year.

AJ

bottom of page