Black Deer Festival - Day 2
Saturday 18th June 2022
Eridge Park, Kent
Today is going to be a good day. The weather is slightly cooler than yesterday and, with many people having camped overnight, the ingress is considerably easier. With the first act on at 12.05, the site is already a bustle of activity long before the first bars are warbled, so it feels like you have just stepped out of yesterday's festivalities (new word?) rather than the fresh start of a new day. And with the fresh starts comes a little rain shower or two to freshen everything and everyone up a little. A welcome addition to the obligatory wet wipes.
And today, it's more of the same again. The Ridge opens again with a songwriter session, this time with headliner CAM, Lady Nada, Kazia Gill and Robert Vincent. Another supergroup? Amy Montgomery, a diminutive Belfast lass with a big voice opens the main stage with a smile almost as wide as the stage itself. Amy will also make an appearance on the tiny Roadhouse acoustic stage later - but she seems equally at home on either. There is something about our Ulster girls - large personalities, large talent - not phased by anything. Her sets are a fine mix of Folk, Country and Rock, citing influences like The Eagles and AC/DC, although it's a smoother set chosen for this Americana festival. And obviously a little Irish influence thrown in for good measure. Amy is a joy to watch whatever size stage.
And talking of the intimate Roadhouse acoustic stage, I can't think of a better venue for US Folk poet Willi Carlisle. This stage had been relatively relaxed as a place to wander in and out of. But with the dawning of the new day (a Saturday) it is notable that all of the stages are now getting extremely busy. So the audience for Willi's excellent set was considerable, which meant more people got to know and appreciate what a great talent Willi Carlisle is. Looking like the stereotypical Arkansas farmer, Willi's grasp of the English language would put an Oxford Don to shame. His oft amusing, frequently serious, lyrics keep the audience absorbed and entertained in equal measures. And he wields his six string as well as any Arkansas lad can wield a six shooter. Playing and singing from the hip, he's building a steady price on his head. Well worth paying it to see this excellent talent.
Possibly my find of the festival takes innocuously to the large Ridge stage. Sitting front and centre of an otherwise bare stage, with his father on bass to his side, is slide guitar maestro Jack Broadbent. The unassuming looking Lincolnshire lad, quietly sits down. Puts his Hohner guitar on his lap, picks up his hip flask come guitar slide and, with a nod to his father, launches into some quite extraordinary slide guitar goodness. The hip flask is no gimmick. It allows jack to grab a whole handful of Stainless steel, shaped exactly like a steel slide, and vibrato with a speed and dexterity that any slide guitarist would yearn to achieve. Father Micky, also a professional musician of some note, has 'brung his kid up proper', with a schooling in the arts of artists like Peter Green and John Lee Hooker. And this, coupled with his blues and RnB influences, shows, as Jack's set just ooze quality.
Interspersed with excellent new songs from his latest album 'Ride' ('I Love Your Rock’N’ Roll', 'Ride' and 'Midnight Radio') are a couple of 'covers', although Jack's slide versions are truly a creation of their own. Although the bearded Jack appears taciturn, he is happy to banter with the crowd. Having offered and distributed a free CD to an audience member by way of the frisbee method, he was happy to decline colourfully when prompted for another offer of the same. Much to everyone's amusement, including the prompter. I'm fairly sure a number were purchased after the set. Currently on a UK and European tour, he's off to the States shortly where I am sure his slide skills will not only find a home in the heart of slide guitar land, but probably set a few tongues a waggin'; and fingers a twitchin', as this young upstart shows the old guard not only how it was done, but how it should be done in the future. Go see him soon.
Leaving the Ridge Stage to make my way back to the main stage, I notice the weather is worsening. Temperatures are notably cooler and the rain showers becoming heavier and more frequent. Not that the weather phases the festival revellers, enjoying the assorted beer food and trade stands, as well as BBQ masterclasses, axe throwing and a silent disco (it was very quiet - there was no one there). But it also meant that the covered stages became packed to bursting as the previously sun burnt crowd sought shelter and warmth, and damn fine entertainment, in the covered venues. So getting into some of the venues proved near impossible. But more of that later.
Hitting the main stage, in a true blaze of youth and vibrant African dress, are The London African Gospel Choir, who give us a stunning set based upon the award winning 1986 Paul Simon 'Graceland' album. No rain will ever dampen the spirit of this quite extraordinary group of musicians and singers. With the female singers dressed in beautiful green and orange outfits fashioned from traditional African patterned material, their male front line counterparts look notably more restrained in their predominantly black attire but all show unbounded joy and enthusiasm, with broad smiles to match, so prevalent in Gospel choirs. With continual dancing and clapping, they deliver a brilliant set of the classic Graceland tracks that infectiously permeates amongst the crowd as well as the normally stony faced media types and security. There are over a dozen musicians and singers on stage, although it really feels like we are all up there with them, dancing, singing, and just having the best of times. Whatever your beliefs, you can't help but find faith here, even if it is just in the power and joy of music.
After a brief foray to the Roadhouse Acoustic stage to see Amy Montgomery once again break out her smile and infectious beautiful voice to the soggy audience, it's time to shoe horn myself back into the Roadhouse regular stage. Being relatively slight of build (caused by too much running around beautiful countryside such as this) I managed to worm my way to the front of a packed audience taking shelter, miraculously avoiding treading on any of them. Because it's well worth the effort to see The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a Hastings based trio whose 70's style holy trio Rock (drums, guitar and bass). I say see, because as well as hearing the no nonsense raucous rock, you see 70's style raucous Rock as 'The Shovell' look like they have stepped out of a time machine, or maybe just a casting session for the much demanded Status Quo version of Spinal Tap. With all the 'serious festival music' going on around us, it's good to get back to the straight forward pub Rock that is the bedrock of my soul. And to see 70's flares worn with such style. It's a happy place.
After finally being extracted from the Roadhouse stage by the Venteuse method (I now have a pointy head), I make my way back to the main stage to revisit the other end of the musical spectrum. Courtney Marie Andrews stands centre stage in a long white dress with shoulder frills that make her look as angelic as the sound of her voice. Her set is a mix of Blues and Country, but also has a strong Pop vibe too. Although still very young, she has history of collaboration and working in both her native US and Europe that would be the envy of many a veteran. Her set includes a number of songs from her 2020 Grammy nominated album 'Old Flowers' including ' It Must Be Someone Else's Fault' and 'Burlap String'. The lyrical content is extremely strong and it's no surprise to learn that Courtney Marie released her first book of poetry last year.
Despite the best efforts of my lissom like form, I was unable to get access to any of the internal venues, so missed out on the further renditions of Irish Mythen on the Haley's Bar stage (which had the longest queue of the day that I saw by a long way), CAM on the Ridge stage and, most importantly for me, Orange Goblin, who hit the Roadhouse stage (and possibly a few members of the audience too). As a long time member of the Goblin horde, I always enjoy the truly chaotic and demonic performances. Front man Ben Ward, a towering man with the apparent ability to call down thunder and lightning from the Rock Gods, are all brave enough to witness the bands brand of sludgy metal. I did say the music at this festival was varied didn't I?
Taking to the main stage as the penultimate act, are Wilco whose set featured a number of tracks from their latest album 'Cruel Country', whilst CAM is whipping up a storm for those ensconced in the Ridge. Between, CAM's whipping, and Ben Ward's callings, the weather decided to take heed and come and join the party so, within a brief time of The Waterboys taking to the main stage, Zeus, Thor, Jupiter, Raijin and Baal pushed their way to the front and promptly hurled their customary greetings at the aptly named headline act. There are always a few who spoil it for the rest. Fearing for the safety of the festival goers, the decision was taken to suspend the festival and disperse everyone back to their tents or the queue for the car park. Not what we quite expected at the start of the day.
So day two ended with a bang - well, lots of bangs, crashes and flashes. And soggy festival goers trying to decide if camping in a lightning storm is a good idea or not. Many found solace in the fine ales available and discussed well into the night. Having burned black on Friday, we were cooled and washed on Saturday before being readied as playthings for the weather Gods. In mythology the deer is oft the symbol of the powers in nature that are not easily subdued. Well let the Gods do there worst, because like the melanistic creature after which the festival is named, you won't put us off our live music.