The festival formerly known as LeeFest is becoming something deeply wholesome
It’s impossible to tell if Lucia are about to start a brawl, or declare their undying love for the crowd before them. Their angular rock is all sharp edges and head over heels emotion. Fellow Glaswegians Walt Disco are just as baffling, agile and brilliant, and as their goth-pop gathers speed a middle-aged pirate opens his eyes from where he’s dozing the outskirts of the tent, sits up and opens another cider. He’s hooked.
The festival formerly known as LeeFest began in 2006 as a one-day event in the back garden of a man called Lee Denny, with 150 people in attendance, seven bands playing one after the other on one stage, and Denny’s parents safely on holiday. In the subsequent 13 years it has grown, slowly but surely, into a 5,000 capacity weekender on a farm in Kent that takes inspiration from Peter Pan’s ability to never grow up. Now, in 2019, it is a family-friendly playground escape from the real world, and from identikit festivals that put profit before personality. Fancy dress is encouraged. Dogs are welcome. Glitter is everywhere.
Welcome to Neverworld.
There’s a lot to explore. The golden sands of The Beach host seaside games and paint fights by day, and raves by night. Mike Skinner and Mistajam provide the soundtrack, as does Fleetmac Wood, a project with one purpose and one purpose only: reimagining the tunes of, you guessed it, Fleetwood Mac.
Next door are the Rainbow Rooms, where Peter Pan inspired films such as Hook and Finding Neverland are shown in the morning, before making way for a Studio 54 drag show as the sun goes down.
Elsewhere there’s Skull Ridge, an area that feels like a compact version of Glastonbury’s Shangri-La, with industrial sculptures, open fires, hidden rooms that drift between pantomime, party, burlesque and magic, and pirates wandering around gently persuading children to get involved with the good times.
Over the way is The Goldmine, a never ending forest rave. And tucked away in one corner is Hook’s Rock, a stage that showcases the wild and rebellious, where local lads Lady Bird stomp through their set with bared teeth, and Dream Wife’s bubbly punk is both confrontational and encouraging.
Over on the main stage of The Fortress, headliners The Vaccines play for a front row that, for the most part, can’t legally order a beer. With toddlers on shoulders throughout the crowd, the band bring their a-game knowing that, for many, this is the first time they’ve seen The Vaccines or, indeed, any live music whatsoever. Blow their minds when they’re young and they’ll love you forever. There are streamers, fireworks and plenty of festival-perfect anthems, from the blitz of ‘Teenage Icon’ through the arm waving joy of ‘All My Friends Are Falling In Love’. It’s a warm, inviting show from one of the most reliable bands around.
Something even more exciting awaits on The Circus stage, which has a buzzy lineup of the best blossoming bands around. Swimming Girls’ dark dream-pop is a lush and heavenly escape. ‘1 2 Many’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Get To Heaven’ are enchanting bops, while ‘Pray In Silence’ cracks hearts and demands quiet.
Black Honey, meanwhile, are a well-oiled machine whose razor sharp collection of cinematic anthems glistens under the cover of dark. There is danger and delight in their hunger for a good time.
But it’s Sports Team who really galvanise the crowd of mermaids, lost boys and indie kids. Restless and riotous, they take the everyday and make it shine. From ‘M5’, their sunny side ode to motorways, to the hip-shaking romance of ‘Ashton Kutcher’, they prove there’s magic to be found behind every corner.
It’s a lesson that Neverworld teaches time and time again.