Vicky Chandler checked out the South East London’s ‘LeeFest’.
Wellies and raincoat at the ready, I was expecting the usual dreary weather that generally graced all my festival experiences. However, as I arrived at a small farm on the outskirts of my hometown Bromley, I was met by gorgeous sunshine beating down onto the arena of LeeFest.
LeeFest began after an ambitious 16 year old Lee Denny held a music festival in his garden after strict instructions NOT to have a house party whilst his parents were away. Six years, a lot of council meetings and a UK Festival Award later, LeeFest sits smugly alongside other well regarded music festivals. This is ultimately a festival close to my heart, because not only has it breathed life and music into the Borough of Bromley but LeeFest showcases up and coming bands as well as promotes incredible charities and environmental issues.
This year was no different; the festive activities began Thursday evening (for lucky staff, volunteers and 100 early bird ticket holders) with a game of Musical Bingo – a quirky alternative to the popular OAP game hosted by the even quirkier Eleanor Conway and DJ Jonny Unknown. The air was filled with excitement, the smell of a BBQ and the faint sound of the speakers being tested from the arena, but as I settled in for an early night (1am that is) I could still see the staff and volunteers hard at work making last minute preparations for the 2000 strong festival goers that were going to be gracing LeeFest the next day.
Friday morning began with ‘The Big Lemon’ (a bright bus that runs on cooking fat) appearing in the distance, bursting with London hipsters, cheerful locals and unpretentious teens of all ages carrying their pop up tents and flower garlands. Soon, the camping area was packed with tents, music and a couple of tepees, and the festival was in full swing.
Admittedly the festival got off to a slow start as rucksack wearing teens trudged up the country tracks continuously throughout the day. However for those lucky enough, and quick enough at putting up tents, the main stage was brought to life by Beech a pop/folk, contemporary style band led by sultry model Josh Beech who certainly proved that he wasn’t just a pretty face with his breath taking voice. After their set was over I popped over to the Lava Lounge, a volcano shaped tent hung with tacky, yet charming, lamp shades, to see the dazzling Grand Pocket Orchestra, an idiosyncratic Irish band whom I’d previously met the night before. Their dazzling music certainly matched their equally dazzling and somewhat nutty personalities as I was greeted by a hypnotic performance from the 4 piece Dubliners.
As late afternoon approached, a surge of music lovers burst through the wooden gates and the festival was buzzing – and we were treated with an array of talent including music from Youth Imperial, Seye and The Skints, all oozing coolness and Jägermeister.
The night ended with an incredible performance from Jakwob, a Dubstep DJ and Producer who wowed the audience, many of whom were very familiar with his music, as he performed his normal synthetic computerised music live with a full piece band. The first day of LeeFest had ended successfully with a bang and the festivities went on into the evening.
Saturday was equally, perhaps even more, lively than the day before. My day started (after a bacon sandwich and a strawberry cider) with an intense and rhythmic performance from local band Van Susans on the main stage followed by cheeky chaps The Red Lapels in the Lava Lounge – both bands setting the bar high for the rest of the day. As the sun got brighter many took refuge under the tent of Wonderland, to smoke shisha and gaze at the staff dressed as pixies and other woodland creatures.
As the afternoon progressed, a huge crowd had gathered to see Man Like Me, a band that burst onto stage with synchronised dance moves and a topless lead singer that fancied himself as a badass Spiderman. Nonetheless the crowd were loving it, much to the point that some sort of tribal dance started and powdered paint was thrown all over festival goers who he seemed happy enough to turn multicoloured.
The sun began to set and after performances from incredible bands such as Bastille, To Kill a King and Sound of Guns (to name a few), the festival goers split between the Temple of Boom, the Main Stage and the Lava Lounge to watch performances from DJ Friction, South London Obaro Ejimiwe ( (better known as Ghostpoet) and headline Indie band the Mystery Jets.
LeeFest isn’t successful just because of the outstanding musical talent it showcases but for all the other projects and activities that occur throughout the weekend. One in particular took my breath away when I had the chance to see a poetry performance from Dean Atta, the multi award winning writer who captivated the intimate audience lucky to see him perform his outstanding work. As well as this, the main bar and the Red Bull bar kept festival goers hydrated with a range of ales, wines and spirits at reasonably charged prices and the portaloos were the best ones I’d never seen at a festival (let’s not talk about the others.)
The evening was also successful as campers had the opportunity to continue the party in style with the silent disco – a perfect way to party until 4am WITHOUT disturbing the neighbours or for the festival revellers looking for a quieter evening, many headed to the communal campfire to keep warm and listen to an acoustic guitar.
As the sky grew lighter on Sunday morning the festival was already beginning to disappear as people began to pack up and leave and the stages were being dismantled. But one thing is for sure, LeeFest wholeheartedly deserves its place amongst the giants of the festival world and if you haven’t been already you need to make sure you visit next year, and if the line up and ethos of the festival isn’t enough to spur you on then perhaps the fact that it’s a non-profit festival with all money raised going to incredible charity Kids Company that will make you visit in 2013.
LeeFest lit up and sung out to the South East London countryside this weekend and may it do so for years to come.
Photo by: Matthew Richards