Black Deer Festival - Day 1
Friday 17th June 2022
Eridge Park, Kent
Few, what a scorcher. Traditionally, at this time of year (i.e. Download week) the heavens open and anyone foolish enough to attend one of the many reemerging festivals is in danger of being engulfed in a quagmire of Western Front proportions. Except this year, amongst the rolling hills of Kent, those attending the Black Deer Festival at the exclusive Eridge Park estate, are more likely to be burnt to a crisp than mired in the mud. It's hot, damn hot. The masses, flocking to this most beautiful part of the world, seeking entertainment by way of all things Americana, come laden with all the paraphernalia of a Brit on the beach - chairs, food, drink, shades, suncream etc. - to enable them to survive the extreme conditions and still have a glass or two.
Eridge Country Park is a private estate not usually open to the public.Yours truly has had access to this idyllic landscape previously - as a runner at the Eridge 10 cross country race. Yes, it's true, and, although I don't have a pot belly and saggy britches yet, I am wokring on it. The landscape is of rolling hills, gently interspersed with the odd copse of trees. Which makes an ideal venue for a large festival, with different stages nestled in it's own lie of the land. And those trees provide some welcome relief from today's harsh sun. Once you manage to get into the festival site, a fairly arduous ordeal, it becomes a pleasure to wander between stages, with assorted vendors and eateries.
Americana is a very broad church and so has a broad range of artist, not to mention a broad range of worshippers. The very chilled vibe and strong sunshine bring a slow, mellow feel to the relaxed crowd. As is much of the music - but not all. Across six stages nearly 100 artists will be performing over the next three days. And the first few artists encapsulate that variety that is to come. Opening the main stage is Franky Perez, a rocking vocalist who sets the fledgling crowd afire with some up tempo grooves whilst on the Ridge stage, a large circus tent, we are treated to Songwriter Session - a 'supergroup' consisting of Imelda May, Emily Barker, Caroline Spence and Irish Mythen - playing some exquisite folk, oft with politically charged themes.
Still cool, but with some bite.
Not a bad way to start, with (for me) one of the headliners. And over on the diminutive Roadhouse stage is Jessie Reid, one of the many solo singer/songwriters we will be seeing this weekend. Just an acoustic guitar, beautiful voice and soulful lyrics, its the perfect antithesis to all the overblown over produced artists the media would have us enjoy. And then for something completely different. Cue the Cuban Brothers in their gaudy Cuban shirts, and their cute cure for the queues Blues. Latin American fun and fast paced Chevere. Lots of audience interaction had them dancing in the sun with frontman Miguel Mantovani (aka Scotsman Michael Keat) virtually joining them. Fun and frolics for all. Including the security guard who was invited to assist Mr Mantovani with his considerable frolics. He wisely declined.
And so begins the human pinball that is moving between the many stages, trying to catch as many of the eclectic acts as you can. On the Ridge stage, William the Conquerer 1066'd the audience with his swampy Blues, whilst William Crighton towered over his Roadhouse congregation with some righteous Rock. And on the main stage the vibrantly colourful Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. return from a brief hiatus following frontman Sam Duckworth's foray into solo work. Daft name, great band. Jinda Biant learnt his musical skills with his early introduction to classical Indian sitar music but it was his fathers interest in Elvis and Robert Johnson that ultimately lead this singer songwriter's passion for slide Blues. But blues with a smile as well as a slide. His set at the small Haley's Bar stage was a treat to watch.
Making another of her many appearances this weekend, this time Irish Mythen plays a small stripped down acoustic set which only highlights the vim and vigour of this Celtic crooner whose politically and emotionaly charged songs are rousing of the blood. As a stark contrast, The Outlaw Orchestra, holding up the Haley's Bar Stage (yeehaw) and demanding fun with menaces, Rock the bijou bar with some good time Rock including a number of excellent covers including Joe Walsh's 'Rocky Mountain Way'.
Other notable acts are His Lordship, a black suited 3 - piece who come as close to Punk as we have got so far with some gloriously raw guitar and fine mid 70's attitude. Following them on the Roadhouse stage are Black Water County, an Irish sounding Punk ensemble complete with mandolin, banjo and Tin whistle. Two quite contrasting acts to the rest of the line up and all the more endearing for it. But stealing the day is the quite exquisite Imelda May. Dressed completely in black, the long flowing dress makes the elegant songstress almost appear Goth like. But she looks just this side of elegant evening gown to be Goth. And such an amazing voice and mesmerising stage presence. Backed by some talented musicians, May's set displays traits of Rock, Soul, Blues, and just damn fine songs. Having worked with the likes of Jeff Beck, Ronnie Wood and Noel Gallagher, it's easy to see where the Rock influence comes from. But it's the heartfelt ballads that strike home.