Image © Jenna Foxton

Review: Secret Garden Party 2017

London Calling

The last ever Secret Garden Party was not an event I wanted to attend. Not due to any fault in the festival itself – but because by attending the final installment it signaled the end of an era. I’d been only once before, in 2010, and had high expectations. It made little sense to me that something that brought so much pleasure to the summers of so many should have to end – even if that ending came after an impressive 15 years.

After pitching my tent in the sunshine and donning my Love Island costume (the final theme was based on our ‘universal right to fame’, and the penultimate episode of the TV show aired on the Sunday night of the festival) and stumbling into the main arena with a pre-packed can of gin & tonic, the first thing that struck me was a glaring sense of nostalgia. It had been 7 years since I was last here, but I couldn’t believe how familiar everything seemed. I was relieved, of course, as I’d brought a new guest – seeing the same sights instilled a sense of confidence that we had four well-spent days in store.

Image credits: Jenna Foxton
We strolled past the welcome sights of the Colosillyum, Dance Off and Living Room stages. These spaces all proved as popular as they did the first time round: highlights included seeing Stanton Warriors playing to a packed house of happy revelers (Colosillyum), watching a Python-esque long-armed man take on an inflatable ghost only to have the Ghostbusters intervene halfway through (Dance Off) and an assortment of first-class acoustic acts providing a safe and relaxing haven from some of the weekend’s rain (Living Room). Other welcome returns included the Kitsch-Inn, still showcasing some of the best ska around, and the gigantic Shisha tent. Metronomy on the main stage were excellent, and SGP’s favourite folk act Beans on Toast brought home the sense of community that this once small gathering has built up over the years. For all its success, SGP certainly has no trouble in holding onto its roots.

Image credits: Danny North

The best thing about SGP, though, is how much there is to offer without the music. Highlights include: playing musical pub quiz in the Spiritual Playground -hosted by a group of naked DJs and compères, a 10am swim in the lido – an open lake full of lily pads hidden in the long grass, an evening of watching fireworks, the grand explosion of a giant house in the middle of a second lake, stunt planes leaving a trail of fireworks at dusk and the final communal paint fight by the main stage; we even checked into the onsite spa. It’s also worth mentioning that four days in the middle of a field didn’t present a single disappointing meal. An abundance of choice - from pizzas cooked in wood fired ovens to Lebanese street food - and unusually impressive coffee all helped to fill the time on a full and happy stomach.

Image credits: Jenna Foxton
It was not all ultra-plain sailing, though. No British festival would be authentic without the presence of rain, and SGP had it by the bucket load. It is here that the festival’s minor shortcomings were present: there still don’t seem to be enough places to take cover, and the solace of the Living Room is slightly dampened when half the festival has the same idea as you do. The 24-hour bar, bizarrely surrounded by tombstones, started to look even more dystopian when drowned in a mud bath. The place does have a darker side – thefts seem to have gotten worse, with much of the morning complaints being how many people got their tents robbed – and the prize for unhappiest campers of all might have been reserved for those sleeping on Monday morning, when someone had the popular 4-6am DJ slot seemingly aimed directly at a sleeping crowd dreading the train out of Cambridge first thing in the morning.
But these are minor issues compared to the benefits you get at SGP - although the UK festival scene has well and truly upped its game since this ‘secret’ party’s humble beginnings. And while everyone else has been catching up and thinking of the Next Big Thing, SGP has found itself frozen in time, surrounded by a host of events that can now confidently consider themselves as equals. SGP will be greatly missed, but perhaps it is time for a change – and knowing what the team behind it is capable of, I’ll be waiting impatiently to see what comes next.  

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