Kelburn Garden Party 2017: The Review

The biggest Kelburn Garden Party yet was a riot of sound and colour – we report back from the land of the Neverending Glen

Live Review by Donald Shields | 13 Jul 2017

The word on the grapevine is that The Kelburn Garden Party is the hidden jewel in the crown of the Scottish festival scene. Or perhaps not so hidden, as organisers themselves admit this year is the “biggest one yet”. Along with the apparent demise of T in the Park and the unfortunate, untimely ending of Wickerman, Kelburn has further been thrown into the limelight in 2017.

This means The Skinny finds itself impatiently stuck in Friday afternoon traffic en route to Largs from Glasgow on the M8. Eventually finding ourselves along some beautiful country roads our excitement builds as the Firth of Clyde comes into view, the water shimmering as the sun dances upon it. The sun has got his hat on, and he’s beat us to the festival.

The Kelburn estate is home to a 13th century castle with grounds covering an area of over 3500 acres which starts at the edge of the sea and rises to a height of 1300ft, and the Neverending Glen is a point of natural beauty where many a trip is taken by festival-goers looking for excitement, enchantment and adventure. The glen, with its waterfalls, gorges, bridges, nooks and crannies and majestic views are something to behold. Add some unique stages unlike any other and you have what makes Kelburn stand out from other festivals. That, and a giant graffiti covered castle.

The music, performance acts, spoken word, workshops, oddities and an overall ethos of pure fun are a promising mix. Friday night crowd-pleasers on the Square Stage, New Orleans' The Hot 8 Brass Band, have 20 years' experience evident in their showmanship tonight as they dance in unison on stage. Original tracks like Let Me Do My Thing are bolstered by covers of soul, dance and hip-hop classics such as Snoop Dogg's Who Am I? (What’s My Name?) and Luniz's I Got 5 On It, which features a smooth and adept vocal harmony prompting the crowd to join in.

Their version of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing is the standout track of a soulful set, and as their set wraps up the crowd show love with the common chorus of “One more tune!”. The band are quick to oblige and their cover of The Specials' Ghost Town bellows out met with much approval from the crowd, camera phones aloft. The final track is poignant for the band, as for them it accurately describes and highlights the plight of their home state after Hurricane Katrina.

Pronto Mama at Kelburn Garden Party. Picture: Sara Cameron

At the Viewpoint Stage, which has a great view over the glen towards the castle (and, crazily, features slackliners who freak out guests with their absence of vertigo), Mr. Scruff looks right at home as a regular Kelburn favourite. The experienced DJ takes us on an audio safari, switching between latin, afrobeat and Blaxploitation funk, while MC Kwasi provides his lyrical waxing, at one point exclaiming “You buy the ticket now take the ride!”

Our musical journey then slows for some dub reggae which transitions to 80’s style electro such as Syclops' Where’s Jason’s K, and then we're gifted with jungle and drum'n'bass. This genre-shifting set is an up-beat, uplifting party throughout and Mr. Scruff’s final tune of the evening, Brass Roots' Good Life, seems a fitting end to the day.

Saturday daytime comes to fruition while inside a tent-turned-microwave; while a sunny morning would normally be welcome, our hangover counters the sun's good intentions. Venturing site-wards for a cure we discover the I Love Mac N Cheese stand with the ever-helpful Sean and Trev who load us up on “the finest mac n'cheese on the west coast” with “all the trimmings!” The most entertaining food tent for sure among the diverse selection.

Music for today starts back on the Square Stage courtesy of Glaswegian behemoth Pronto Mama, who don't disappoint the afternoon's soggy Kelburn crowd. As the rain drizzles down, this multi-talented group of musicians masterfully play old and new cuts leaving us all wanting to give their latest album Any Joy a listen. Conversing confidently with the crowd as they go, Pronto Mama are an excellent band who deliver a perfect Saturday afternoon set.

Wanting to experience some of the diversity available at the festival, a wander towards the Big Blue Tent commences and as luck would have it The Skinny arrive in time to hear Broccoli Spears & The Florette Quartet. A wedding band essentially, and part of the Is this the real life? Is this just broccoli? performance troupe who perform broccoli weddings. Positive vibes aplenty and lots of fun is had in the tent as we witness our first broccoli wedding between two random people in the crowd. Legal documents signed, a bouquet of broccoli is flung into the crowd, as tradition dictates.

Seeking more fun and adventure, some exploring takes place in The Neverending Glen. Winding paths along the edge of the glen trickle through ancient trees and prehistoric looking plants, we stumble across The Castle with No Entrance. A sign explains, “Here the goblins guard their treasure… but there is a way in… can you find it?” We eventually find it but won’t give away the secret to other adventurers. After more wandering, we arrive at a majestic sight and sound. 

The sun spills through the trees over the Viewpoint Stage and the visible rays infiltrate the head-bobbers as psychedelic rockers Flamingods play, and we know we've arrived exactly at just the right time. Lead singer Kamal Rasool whips up the crowd with the verve of a shaman, and combined with the band's high-tempo acid-rock it feels as if we're becoming hypnotized by the rhythms and chords belting out from the tight stage.

Headlining at the Square Stage tonight is human encyclopedia Akala who starts off by apologising for the absence of his drummer who has a “fishbone stuck in his throat and may be back later”, which is too crazy an excuse to be untrue. The main man has us all on our tip-toes as he strolls through hits such as Murder Runs the Globe and a selection of verses from his Fire in The Booth freestyles on Charlie Sloth's BBC Radio 1Xtra show. Akala's flow is smooth and his vocabulary rich; we're all hooked on his every word from start to finish.

It's back to the Viewpoint stage for a Numbers label takeover. DJ NoFace starts the proceedings with popular cuts like Fatima Yamaha's What’s a Girl To Do, followed by a flawless mix of classic house tracks from Jayda G. Almost reluctantly the crowd agree to the handover to one of the co-founders of Numbers, Spencer. Maintaining the intensity produced by his predecessor is an easy task for Spencer, and he takes the crowd to the next level before a b2b set with Optimo's JD Twitch. It's a proper party up in the woods and their set takes us on a musical journey with classics from New Order, Prince, Donna Summer, Bob Marley and George Michael with the biggest singalong of the night being to the chorus of The Turtles' Happy Together. The party goes until the sun begins to rise and we retire to our tents happy.

Flamingods. Picture: Sara Cameron

Sunday has a greyer outlook weather-wise but a far more colorful prospect in terms of acts on the line-up. Firstly, on the Pyramid stage are Monticule, a three-piece without a bassist. Playing in an American garage-rock style the small crowd appreciate the band's musicality. Among the crowd is a dog playing fetch with a tennis ball and another wearing a yellow anorak uninterested in said ball. We presume this lil’ guy is a member of The Yellow Movement and is saving his energy for Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 later.

On the Square Stage, Ali Affleck & The Copper Cats perform old blues and jazz standards which gloriously transport us all back in time. We hear covers of songs our great grandparents, and in fact great great grandparents, may have enjoyed on first release; songs from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Affleck sports a washboard hanging from her neck, making her probably the only washboard player of the festival. The laidback, 'bygone era' feel of the band and their sound is a welcome change from the normally raucous goings on around the festival.

Back to our favourite, the Viewpoint Stage, and Jambouree have the crowd mesmerized by their musical ability. A funky, soulful jazz band whose frontman is dressed in a Fred Flintstone get-up provide some exceptional bass, and together coupled with their exceptional skinsman they're a formidable force. The band transmit a West African vibe one minute and effortlessly transition to smooth, organ-laden New York jazz bar grooves the next.

Cult heroes Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5 ensure their loyal Yellow Movement are not disappointed by bringing their well-known carnival atmosphere to the Square Stage. A sea of yellow in the crowd whoop and bounce to a catalogue of classics with These Are Not the Drugs (You Are Looking For) being a particular highlight. The countless people on stage are almost lost with the amount of party paraphernalia being flung around by the smiling crowd.

Back to the Viewpoint Stage and we're in for a treat as Palestinian band 47 Soul energize a packed crowd amid the lights and lasers with their unique "shamstep" mix of Arabian Dabke music, electronic beats and English-Arabic lyrics. There's an air of corniness to it with the very 80s sounding synthesizer lines, but the sheer energy and passion of the band override any pretentiousness.

Torrential rain begins to fall so shelter is needed; the Landing stage is a large white tent looking like a half sunk Epcot centre. Good timing too, as we witness some of Kapital's 10th anniversary takeover party. Refuge from the rain is met with a DJ set from Dominik Eulberg, and as the tent becomes a sauna thanks to the rain and sweat evaporating from the movers and shakers, the crowd are enthused with Eulberg's tireless mixing ability.

Despite the weather, we head back to the Viewpoint Stage for our Sunday night headliners, Mungo’s Hi Fi. Joining the reggae dons are Charlie P and Eva Lazarus who provide the reggae-ton vocal stylings synonymous with all things reggae, dub and grime. The energy emitted from the stage is reverberated tenfold by the party crowd wanting to make the most of the final night.

Once the dust settles we trudge back to camp for an after-party. Rumours quickly spread of a secret party on a boat, so a brave few venture into the pitch black Neverending Glen to party and as the sun comes up, people cheer as if welcoming the arrival of the summer solstice but in fact it signals the end of another fantastic Kelburn Garden Party. This was the biggest Kelburn Garden Party yet but still had the intimate feel of a boutique festival; attendees can count themselves lucky by taking part in the not-so-secret best festival in Scotland.

The team behind KGP return to the grounds of Kelburn Castle for their Psychedelic Forest Carnival on 16 Sep. Tickets are on sale now, available here.