Hugo Darwin @ Kelburn Garden Party
As a generally blundering and downright idiotic fool, The Trip for some questionable reason decided to send me to cover The Kelburn Garden Party near Largs. Their motivation behind this seemingly foolish choice of journalist is still unknown to me. I would however like to think it’s because they value my indispensable insight, or maybe they still have faith in me despite my constant drunken failings, or unfortunately, & in all probability, they just did it for a laugh!
I’ve been to many music festivals in my time and covered my fair share of events, but I was assured that this assignment would be different from anything I’d ever experienced before. I was going to a wonderland, they said. A strange yet special place with a hefty variety of underground music, an amazing atmosphere with a taste of the bizarre, and a forest, full of tactical randomness & glorious wonder. This, they told me, was the Kelburn garden party.
Now, I decided early on that I could write a regular review of a festival with an ethos….activities for the children…, and all the other important information that I was supposed to read. I could even have just blow it off, gone to the pub with the money I’d been given for expenses and tell them I went just like last time, or it occurred to me that I could actually go and experience something as rare as this should be experienced; dive right in, study its habits, and don’t surface until it’s all over.
So, armed with a notebook, I took to the road and follow the crowd, only to emerge in a City of nomads, lashed together with canvas & string. The site was full of happy, smiling, friendly people, and I could tell right away that this place was special.
Inside, the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere. There was no need to watch my back here,(only my consumption). The place was full to the brim with the scruffy and the extravagant, the rich and the poor, and the crazy and the crazier, but there was no hint of segregation or judgement in the air. They were all here for the same reason: good old fashioned madness, and this, as I was soon to learn, was to be found in abundance, for this was no place for amateurs. I was in the company of a new breed. I had clearly found the edge of the abyss and I intended to sink to great depths, possibly even beyond my normal capabilities. This, I remember thinking, was no time for second guessing, it was the mission I had been waiting for, and with that, rather than fall, I gladly held my breath & dove straight for the rabbit hole. I was going in.
And dive I did. Now, partying like the laws of physics were only the crude scratchings on a toilet cubical has its drawbacks, but the only thing I’ve ever exceeded in during my lifetime was excess, so I was pretty sure that I could take it like a man. I do, however, have to admit that this approach sounds, and well, is a lot of fun, but it does, as I was soon to discover, have its drawbacks, especially when this technique is adopted in order to write about the experience of a music festival. My notes, for example, seem to begin fine but then somehow steadily spiral into random nonsense & mumbled gibberish. There were also some significant holes caused by a slight loss of memory, which sadly isn’t always that ‘slight’. Therefore, because my memory is somewhat impeded, I have decided that I have no other choice but to adopt a new approach: write the article about writing the article. Simple!
I remember arriving on the Friday, having a few brews & stumbling into the only section that wasn’t closed off until the next day. In the centre stood a large igloo; wild & alive with light & sound. I was immediately drawn towards the glow & saw the many shadows on the inside begin to surge and move as one to the music.
When I entered I cut through the thronging crowd into the middle of it all. Towards the front a long, bar like set up housed two dj’s, throwing down some solid baselines mixed with some soul and funk classics, and I couldn’t help but shake the ground along with the crowd. I have no idea how long I was there, but my legs ached from dancing like an idiot wracked with fleas.
After we were corralled back towards the campsite I recall chatting to some strange but interesting people, and in the distance I could see a party had broken out around a huge camp fire. Behind it stood a small shack housing a sauna, with the occasional fleshy body defying security and dashing in the darkness to the showers around the back. I pushed on back towards my tent, ready for a drink, and saw the campsite alive as ever. By the time I got back I had drank & conversed with many kind strangers amongst the hubbub. So many, in-fact, that I’d written at least three more pages of notes, the only coherent parts of which are a random quote & the ramblings of an American woman who I’d apparently spoken to. The only legible words of which read as such: “My husband burns everything…He’s forever setting fire to my tea-towels.” The other quote just simply read, “The weird are all that is wonderful.” Fantastic, I remember thinking, I had definitely arrived.
The moment I awoke I was forced to dive from my tent, the air, hot and thick, was suffocating. My mind was a fragmented mess, and I had a faint recollection of being at a party in a bell-tent before staggering back in the early morning light, revealing for the first time the stunningly beautiful surroundings that housed this event. I remember liking the idea that all this chaos was surrounded by such tranquillity. It was as if nature was correcting itself, balancing everything out for another year before repeating the whole process all over again; a true force of nature.
After sleeping on the grass I came to in the same position, half in, half out of my tent. I checked my watch & found that I’d missed the day completely. Worse than that, I’d lost my programme which told me what bands were playing where, and at what time. I was, however a professional, or at least that’s what I told myself, and I was sure that I could somehow fix things, have a good time, and still manage to pull something out of the bag. I was, sadly, very wrong.
I went on in & came across a rock/ brass fusion band playing in a packed courtyard, who a guy in a Mario brother outfit with long dreadlocks kindly informed me were called the Victorian Trout Conspiracy. I looked on, trying to ignore the sickness that was creeping over me, and ended up dancing anyway. I looked around and everyone was going for it. They had captured the crowd, and they roared with monstrous appreciation at the end of their set, and after an encore and another lot of noise, it was over. The crowd dispersed, and instead of following them to the next band I decided to get some coffee and straighten my head out. Coffee had done the trick, but coffee turned to whisky coffee, which, in time, turned to whisky. After a while I found myself by a camp fire where I remember speaking to a girl & her boyfriend while I tried to warm my aching body. I remember sitting there for some time, but all I remember was her raving about seeing Dr Syntax. When I checked my notes at home I luckily found a quote from the girl at the fireside. It simply consisted of, “Dr Syntax was amazing…and the other guy (Mouse outfit ), was something else.” All I remember after that is talking to a couple up at a place called viewpoint, where I sat, perched on the long limb of some kind of bush or tree. I can hazily recall that they were from Newcastle and owned a café, and I had definitely liked them. They were my kind of people. Where I went from there is anybody’s guess, but I’m pretty sure I had a good time.
When I awoke on the Sunday I knew it had all gone wrong & there wasn’t much I could do about it now, so I succumbed to the idea that I should just forget about it for the moment, make the most of the situation & just enjoy myself. I knew, however, that I had absolutely nothing: no legible notes, no memory of who I’d chatted to and about what, only a few pretty useless quotes of which I have no idea of their origin, and the kicker was I had no band reviews from a music festival. In fact I hadn’t seen most of the bands, and the ones I did see I had no idea who they were, where they were playing, or what time they played, so there was no chance that I could even work it out when I got back. I had also slept late into the afternoon again and had missed the chance to explore the forest that everyone had talked so much about. I was screwed and there was no going back. The only thing left to do was stick with the Kelburn spirit and keep on going. As a consequence, the rest of Sunday eludes me. I remember drinking a lot of fruity cider that went down far too easily, and then dancing like a lunatic amongst the flashing lights.
Monday was no better. I awoke to find that most of the tents had gone and I had spent all of the money I‘d been given for expenses. On the light side, people had left a pile of plastic bags full of food. I dug out some chocolate bars and a delicious homemade loaf of banana bread. I sat and greedily devoured the chocolate and most of the cake as I watched the numbers dwindle, and as soon as I felt able, I rashly dismantled my tent, threw everything in the back of the car & headed for home.
And so here I am, writing an article about failing to write an article. Hopefully in some strange turn of events the people at the trip magazine might like it. They might even let me off with the expenses I had recklessly thrown away, or they might even pay me, but I was definitely not holding my breath on this one. It’s certainly a new concept I thought, and I decided to lead with this when I came to turn it in. Who knows, maybe they were expecting this? After all they know what I’m like, so in a way it’s kind of partly their fault. I don’t know what will happen, but isn’t that the beauty of uncertainty? All I can say is that I’m certain of nothing that has happened over the last few days, apart from the fact that this was something rare and beautiful. It had been unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and I took no time in deciding that I’ll definitely be there next year.
Even though I hadn’t experienced the whole festival, I had seen enough to conclude with absolute certainty that this time mankind has truly taken another great leap forward, and this time we’ve landed in Ayrshire.