LeeFest Presents: The Neverland, is a new and exciting venture for Lee Denny and his pals. Believe it or not this is the Tenth Anniversary of LeeFest, and let me tell you there have been some changes and all of them good.
Gone is the total DIY ethos of previous festivals replaced by well thought out and inventively designed play areas for all ages. Take your choice from Mermaids Lagoon with its DJ booths, Rainbow Lounge and hot tubs, Skull Ridge with the small indie stage, pirates, outdoor dance area, comedy tents and 8-bit games rooms or into the Neverwoods for the spacious arena and the main Bangarang stage.
The spirit of LeeFest of old lives on in Hooks Rock, where new up and coming bands play and in the forest, a short walk to discover The Wendy House, where a seemingly never-ending supply of folk and comedy acts set up and play throughout the day. Where else would you meet and hang out with Gay Bum? And yes, that was the first name that came into their heads!
Following a brilliant launch on Thursday night with headliners Everything Everything and Ghost Poet and the the whole festival enticed into a very packed out Tootles Circus tent, the rest of the weekend looked to be bound for success.
The Neverwoods welcomed us on Friday to an arena with fun activities including Freestyle Frisbee (I caught a stray one whilst walking along with my camera to the applause of..a few) and Bumper Ball and Food Fights. This area also hosting many stalls, pop-up restaurants and stands from Greenpeace alongside free food from the newly rebranded Co-Op.
Friday’s musical highlights for us were from some of the lesser known bands including Clean Cut Kid with their brilliant “instant classic” rock riffs and harmonies. A group that in the past might have been ignored for the way they look rather than the way they sound, but what a live act they are!
New discoveries that really got hold of our ears and hearts were Get Inuit and Otherkin. Get Inuit, a local Kent-based band, were something of a complete revelation. Live they are bright, buoyant, mobile and great songsmiths, probably the band of the weekend. Their name chosen at random and then by seeing what works best in an internet search. Good tactics lads!
Otherkin from Dublin are another band with great ideas but in a slightly different way, if you were walking past their gig at Hooks Rock you got press ganged into attending because the singer or guitarist, on the end of an extremely long cable for microphone or jack, would be waiting outside for you. Once inside though their performance and stage presence was blistering and fun.
Saturday was a slightly cooler affair than the day before but the weather continued to bless us all with no rain. I am not sure what would have happened if it had rained as most of the tented areas seemed incredibly small to house the four thousand or so that attended.
It was marvellous to see that LeeFest had hung together so well, that all the bits were still working and no tired looking stages, themed sets or stalls going into the final day. The only concern… perhaps a bit too much litter and a bit more effort in the recycling department might be a consideration for next year.
The final day included American indie rockers We Are Scientists, jazz-inspired Submotion Orchestra, British newcomer and sure-fire hit maker Shura and a enigmatic and cheery headline set from Lianne La Havas.
Shura really engages with the crowd and is so down to earth it is a bit like having your best pal on stage. She bought a fantastic sound to the arena backed by her often thought “illusive” band named Chicken Lizard And The Antlered People.
It was We Are Scientists who stole the show on the last day, playing songs from their well known first album With Love & Squalor and mixed them with cuts from the newer, hard but poppy, fifth studio album Helter Seltzer. Their non stop power-pop held LeeFest captive for 35 minutes (shorts sets are always the thing at LeeFest) as they moved, kicked and played their way through their slot.
However, Lianne La Havas has to have the last word, not only for her songs and musicianship but for her shoes and guitars. She has two (a Trini Lopez Memphis Gibson and a James Trussart Steel Body) of the coolest guitars around in her collection. She is also, probably, the biggest headline act that LeeFest has ever had and as the night drew in, close and cold, her voice and guitar playing simply soared.
A wonderful LeeFest is not quite bought to a close because the bars and comedy clubs are turned into night clubs and across The Neverland, lost boys and girls come out to play, at least until morning. LeeFest will be back next year!
Live Review by Simon Jay Price & Photography by Simon Jay Price & Connie Jean