Kelburn Garden Party

Kelburn Garden Party

The grass is greener

As it prepares to set its stall, Malcolm Jack gets behind Kelburn Garden Party

It may seem that there were enough stories of big weekenders failing to establish themselves – such as Isle of Skye and Indian Summer – even before the financial downturn, which has this year claimed the scalps of Connect, Dunstaffnage and The Outsider. Yet all, it seems, is not lost.

Dave Boyle, the man behind the Kelburn Garden Party – an eclectic weekender that will debut in the lush formal gardens of Kelburn Castle, near Largs – speaks about his event with cautious optimism. He acknowledges that launching a new festival now is a roll of the dice, but insists that punters still want modest, bespoke alternatives to the big summer soirées of T in the Park and Rock Ness.

‘Of course this is a gamble,’ he says, ‘particularly in these economic times. But I think if you believe enough in what you are trying to do then you have to go for it and hope others will share your dream. People are getting bored of paying £180 to be in a muddy field with 50,000 other people, 100 metres from the stage, drinking overpriced beer and losing their mates in a faceless crowd.’

The Kelburn Garden Party’s roots can be traced back to 2006’s ‘pan-continental art-clash’ The Graffiti Project – a happening that featured Sao Paolo street artists flying to Scotland to paint the ancient Kelburn Castle at the behest of the owners, to a soundtrack of sets from underground DJs, samba and ceilidh bands. The festival will attempt to recreate that event’s ‘electric atmosphere’ with a mix of local and international performers – covering genres from folk to dubstep, world, electronica, jazz and rock’n’roll – art installations and high quality eating and drinking.

The festival’s location is unique. ‘The main stage dance floor is on the tennis court,’ enthuses Boyle. ‘Ancient pines form a canopy covering much of the formal gardens surrounding the castle. There are woodland walks, rivers and waterfalls and you can kick back in the evening with a cocktail and watch the sun set over the Firth of Clyde.’

All well and good, but a successful music festival hinges on the quality of its line-up. In that regard Kelburn’s promoters tread boldly. Big name bands aren’t invited; programmer and co-promoter Chris Knight says they want to create an independent festival that lasts, and to do that you have to ‘involve local artists in the process’. Established acts such as psych pop nutters The Aliens, Fife folkie James Yorkston, experimental dance collective The Bays and electronica boffin Tom Middleton will therefore rub shoulders with Scottish up-and-comers such as Found, The Gillyflowers and Alex Cornish.

‘We want to curate an event with real heart and soul,’ Knight explains. ‘We want the artists to feel an ownership of the event. Also we want to engender a community feel. By booking the majority of acts from Scotland and encouraging them to get their fans and friends to come we will building for future years.’

Boyle adds that such a booking policy ‘combined with the setting and the independent and passionate team behind it,’ will add up to a ‘weekend that no one will forget.’ Here’s hoping his optimism isn’t in vain – a new festival success story amid the current mood of doom and gloom would be welcome indeed.

Kelburn Castle, Ayrshire, Sat 20 & Sun 21 Jun.

The Garden Party

Held at Kelburn Castle, the latest on the boutique festival scene stars Tom Middleton, The Bays, The Aliens, Bonobo, James Yorkston, Mungo's Hi-Fi, Found and Martyn.

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