Days after my return from Shambala and I am still finding decorative gems in unusual places, like the back of my left calf. How these globules of colour got there, well that’s for me to know, but they certainly serve as small reminders of the eclectic life that lay within the festival grounds…
It began with the usual tent pitching and friendly chitchat to next-tent neighbours but the vibe was different to other festivals I’ve been to. A blend of hippy, reggae, family-friendliness was in the air. Lightly roaming the grounds I saw two toddler girls jovially chasing each other in their knickers, lovers picnicking by the lake and the ‘Shambarber’ offering bleaching of the backside. An usual mix but it all seemed quite magical.
In need of a decent cuppa I slumped onto a chair in The Hurly Burly, a large tee-pee with a raised counter of treats. The mug of tea turned out to be more than decent and was accompanied by a wedge of really (and I mean really) good Victoria sponge cake. As I shoved the last bite into my gob the seven servery girls sprang onto the train-track backed platform and began to dance. Probably the most memorable tea-time session I’ve ever had.
A wander and a half later and for the night before the real entertainment begins I’m pleasantly surprised to be bouncing along to feel-good group Ska’d For Life in Chai Wallahs. This is decidedly the best venue of the weekend in terms of atmosphere and music. The team of ska-jazzers play a cover of ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ to much delight and the gathered Shamballans are all smiles. The easy-going mood has been set and as Friday rolls up we’re all ready for a full day of fun.
I catch The Mayflys, who have won their stage spot here in Chai Wallahs. The foursome’s tunes are ultra catchy (e.g. ‘Don’t Mind If I Don’t’) and the sweet yet powerful voice belonging to lead singer Aurelie is captivating. Her French accent oozes out to make their songs sound really unique. Halfway through a Daft Punk medley the sound cuts out and our disappointment testifies how much we were enjoying them. Perhaps that’s what happens when you run a festival on 100% waste, vegetable oil, wind, sun and pedal power. But the 2011 ‘A Greener Festival’ winners manage to get the show back on the road eventually and we jig along to the rest of The Mayflys’ set.
I head to the Shambala stage (main stage) to see The Boxettes, a five-piece a capella girl group. Their rich harmonies and beatboxing are novel at first but their songs lack excitement and after a couple of numbers I’m more interested in lunch. I lounge on my picnic mat at the back of the crowd and am satiated by a succulent ‘moo pie’ from the Bristol based Pieminister.
I fancy chilling out and Sankofa’s seems a fitting tent for laid back entertainment. Village Well are on the bill. The trio fuse folk-violin with Indian tabla to create a mishmash of sound that doesn't quite work. The tabla player scowls at the feedback from the speakers but the sound team don't manage to rectify it. Chirpy Iraqi violinist, Zirak Hamad, gets us singing along though and the floating branches, perched birds and stars above us keep us on board.
Saturday morning now and I'm in front of a big red breakfast bus by the lake. Swarms of bees are buzzing around the honey intended for toast. I take a perch with my hot choccy on a nearby table and next thing I know the man across from me jumps up, stung by one of the little buzzers. So does the hot chocolate - onto my lap...
|The Wonderful Sound of the Cinema Organ|
I retreat to Chai Wallahs where 7-piece jazzy fizzlers The Wonderful Sound Of The Cinema Organ are drawing in lots of passers-by. Vocals similar to those of Maroon 5's Adam Levine, and their flips from ska to reggae are stupefying. Clearly a group of seriously talented musicians.
Later on I stroll past a mobile police rave van on the way to see Bev Lee Harling, whose cover of 'Every Little Thing She Does' caught my ear on Hype Machine. She stands tall and proud behind her kitchen sink percussion, taking hold of an electric drill. This is totally unnecessary in the piece she goes on to play and I'm disappointed by her emphasis on the gimmicky side of the music. The typewriter she plays in her next tune thankfully adds to the rhythm and her later mimicry of a guiro by scraping a knife against a cheese grater comes off pretty well. More dulcet ukele plucking next time please Bevsta!
|Shambala's Saturday fancy dress parade|
A late afternoon siesta sees me inside my tent. Minutes later, I am roused by the crescendo of crowd that has crept up on me. I pop my head out like a suspicious meerkat to see multi-coloured balloons, Day of the Dead samba players and middle-aged women frolicking past in fluorescent lycra. All in the spirit of Shambala’s ‘Celebration’ themed fancy dress parade.
As Saturday night begins to fall I’m jiving here, Dosey Doeing there and generally guffawing like there’s no tomorrow. Urban Folk Quartet are the agents of this full-throttled merriment with their multi-cultural approach to the folk genre. I’ve never seen so many fancy dress fanatics in one tent, let alone that many linking arms and spinning about.
|In The Enchanted Woodland|
We approach late evening and The Enchanted Woods are calling to me. I glide to the lake and cross over a bridge into Shambala’s forest. Colours and shapes whizz past the corners of my eyes. I spot a giant, pink jellyfish, a glowing peacock, and metallic sculptures’ reflections in the surrounding water. The creative masterpieces evoke an excited hubbub of voices from my fellow woodland pixies.
Time for a sit down, so I head to Sankofa’s where Chartwell Dutiro is hypnotizing the gathered Shamballans with dreamy Shona music from Zimbabwe. He looks like a chief and certainly has the command of our ears. My eyelids flap up and down drowsily with the repetitious melodies of the mbira. “I’m not going to give you words, just a melody,” he says as we join in with the vocals. Gently lullabied, I drift back to my tent and into slumber.
|Chartwell Dutiro, mbira in hand|
I awake, and after half a waffle bathed in maple syrup it’s time for some spoken word. Shoes off, I tiptoe into the Wondering Word teepee to contemplate “historian witchdoctor” and octopus admirer Al Cummins. The sounds coming out of his mouth muddle me. But his secular blessing stays with me; “May your headphones not be tangled”.
Spring in my step, I mosey towards the full-bodied sound of folk trio Lau, who are playing the main stage. “We’ve chosen a good place to inhabit this weekend, weather-wise” they exclaim as I attempt to cover my ivory shoulders from the sun.
|Wandering Word tent|
The gathered Shamballans huddle together to watch the first strike of a flaming arrow pierce the teepee’s casing. Fireworks spritz into the air above us and the flames blaze stronger, warming our skin. As this year’s whirl of creativity in the English countryside nears its end I fondly anticipate the bubbles, glitter and nipple tassels that will grace me with their presence next year.
Photography by Sophie Ellis
23rd-26th August 2012