We drove through a cloud into the festival site. It felt like crossing dimensions, passing into the wierd and wonderful land of Kelburn. The estate is like a Scottish oasis with stunning views over the Firth of Clyde to the Arran Islands, surrounded by forest-covered hills bursting with caves and waterfalls.
After setting up our tents we joined the queues to trade our tickets for wristbands. It is worth arriving before 6pm to miss the after-work rush as queues can stretch half way to the site’s entrance.
We entered the Square Stage just in time to see Tom McGuire and the Brassholes, who did a good job of heating up the crowd on what had been a cold, wet Scottish summer’s day. Every musician in the band was a master of their instrument. It was easy to get lost in the music of a single band member for minutes at a time, whether they played the piano or the triangle.
They were followed by Colonel Mustard & the Dijon 5. A band famous for fun, games and sociopolitical messages. They began with a rendition of Happy Birthday to celebrate Kelburn Garden Party’s 10th anniversary. The colonel gave his usual orders to ‘cross the road’ and share ‘peace, love and mustard’ and we obeyed.
We decided to make the most of the remaining sunlight by journeying to the Ba Jam Boat, where you can experience unspoiled views over mist-shrouded islands. To get there we hopped onto the Bumpy Bus, a pick-up truck which stops off at a number of places on its way to the top of the site. Despite being at the front of the bus stop queue we barely managed to squeeze into the back of the truck. Seasoned passengers walked behind the slow-moving vehicle and leaped on just before it came to a stop.
We headed in the direction of the stages and followed our ears to The Viewpoint Stage where Fantastic Twins was playing a DJ set. I witnessed some of the most expressive, artistic and hypnotic music I had ever seen or heard. We became children of the night, howling at the moon and danced till out legs told us to stop.
We rested our aching feet by the warmth of a nearby campfire and promised each other we would all be together in this spot in ten years time. There was one final stop to make.
We heard the beats of JD Twitch from deep in the forest, stumbled toward them and raved like it was 1990. An hour later dawn’s light guided us back to our tents.
The next morning we took a short walk to the waterfall where you can go for a swim. Alternatively there are a number of quieter, lesser-known pools further upstream. Their cold, fresh water can be an effective hangover cure and the pools are a free alternative to the showers, for those daring enough to take a dip.
While sitting outside The Smugglers tent in the afternoon I recognised the haunting sounds of Bulgarian vocal music coming from inside. I persuaded my wife, who is from Bulgaria, to come with me for a listen. She was happily astonished to hear songs she recognised from her youth at a Scottish festival. Kelburn is incredibly diverse, and it is well worth going out of your comfort zone to experience all that the festival has to offer.
We were persuaded to go to a hypnotherapy storytelling session and it turned out to be one of the best things we did at Kelburn. Similar to the Edinburgh Fringe performers will actively approach you to see their shows, but not because they need to sell tickets, instead because they want you to experience the wonderful things they have created. It is a good general rule at Kelburn to say ‘yes’. I guarantee you will be happily surprised.
Despite it being a small festival needles and haystacks come to mind. Stay close to your friends and if you split up arrange a specific time to meet at a stage. We met that afternoon at The Pyramid Stage to see Pocket Knife. They had a nice, mellow sound that was perfect for those suffering from their previous night’s antics. They treated us to a new song which sounded as though they had played it for years and was welcomed with the performance’s biggest applause. Pocket Knife carried off their set with infinite, fantastical style and finesse. Their finale was a ‘happy birthday’ for a random audience member called Grieg, which developed into a cover of Hey Jude, replacing Jude with the birthday boy’s name.
After a walk through the estate we wandered toward the sound of dark, modal piano melodies, complex African drumming rhythms and Kobi Obyane’s Booming vocals. He formed an emotional connection with the crowd by using West African traditional body language and oral call and response teaching methods to engage us with his songs.
After recuperating at our tents we headed out once more to see Bossy Love, who drew an instant crowd and gave us a surge of energy. The perfect warm up for Leftfield. Neil Barnes built up the set slowly as festival-goers made their way to The Landing. Eventually what seemed like the entire Kelburn community had come together for the festival’s headline act. He didn’t disappoint. We danced late into the night and eventually made our way back to the tents for our final night’s rest.
After a long sleep we eventually made our way to see L-Space at The Pyramid Stage. Their relaxing music was perfect for a breezy Sunday afternoon. Lily excels at telling stories through sound and I left with a small reading list, a new appreciation of science fiction and feeling as though I had travelled through time and space.
We walked a short distance to The Square Stage where Samba Ya Bamba were transferring their energy to the slow Sunday crowd. All of the strange and wonderful costumed performers who had been bringing joy to everyone over the weekend formed the spearhead of the traditional Kelburn parade, leading the dancing crowd to The Landing. Samba Ya Bamba joined with various brass bands, DJs and a choir in front of the stage to recite a specially created Leftfield composition.
To finish our Kelburn experience we went to see Girobabies and all I can say is we had a very, very nice time.