Gig review: Kelburn Garden Party, near Largs

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For the first time in its five year existence, Kelburn Garden Party sold out this year – not just its first allocation of around a thousand tickets but a small second release as well.

Kelburn Garden Party - Kelburn Castle, near Largs

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It’s a creditable achievement for a boutique festival which focuses on a sense of community and grassroots, word of mouth appeal rather than hammering a huge marketing budget, a sign that they’re doing things right and moving in a positive direction.

It’s also worth agreeing that the often-repeated point about Kelburn having one of the hands-down finest locations for a festival in Scotland is no empty hype.

The glorious weather helped, as it always does, and the presence of midgies in the air did precisely the opposite, but Kelburn Castle’s status as a prominent visitor attraction just outside the ‘doon the water’ town of Largs added variety to the daytime programme particularly.

A lot of families with children were in attendance, and a fun and convivial range of activities, play areas and woodland walks (through fields of animals and a “Secret Forest”, no less) meant even those who had to return to their tent long before the late-night activities kicked in would surely have felt they’d wrung a lot out of the weekend.

For the many younger festivalgoers with no such duties, the chilled-out daytime atmosphere added to an event which cycled through a range of characters over its two-day duration (Saturday and Sunday, although there had been a small pre-party on Friday night).

There’s something about Kelburn which suggests it’s more Edinburgh in personality than Glasgow, a closer analogue to the hippyish spirit of the Bongo Club and the Forest Café than anything on the west coast.

As such, a lot of what went on reflected a variety of enduring subcultural motifs, for example a broad commitment to world and jazz styles and a bunch of DJs who bore more in common with soundsystem culture than any voguish zeitgeist-chasing. For example, in Saturday’s late night headline slot on the Viewpoint Stage, a wooded glade which did its job in protecting from the misty rain which descended at about 10pm, a huge crowd turned out for long-serving Mancunian cut-up DJ Mr Scruff, whose set alongside his MC Kwasi fused funk, hip-hop, big beat and dubstep in a pounding summation of leftfield clubbing’s last twenty years.

The other highlight of Saturday night on the central Square Stage was Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate playing their first Scottish date: the former a louche, preppy American with a basketball shirt on, a drawling rap vocal style and some fast guitar-playing fingers, the latter a tremendous kora player from Guinea, the combination a rich and exciting form of afro-funk.

Elsewhere on Saturday, the warm but rowdy R’n’B of Black Diamond Express and Aaron Wright’s tender pop songwriting was highly entertaining, while Sunday started in delicate style with the Gramophone Jass Band and wonderful, Django Reinhardt-obsessed jazz quartet Rose Room, before introducing the Scots-samba sound of Samba Ya Bamba, striking electro-pop outfit Conquering Animal Sound and many more.