Kelburn Garden Party brings soul back to festivals

The Kelburn Garden Party in full swing. Picture: contributed
The Kelburn Garden Party in full swing. Picture: contributed
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ASK anyone what the attraction of Kelburn Garden Party is and they tend to give you the same answer.

It’s the site, they say, an array of woodland trails and glades set up in the grounds of Kelburn Castle, itself something of a bohemian landmark following the completion of the Graffiti Project in 2007.

This Europe-wide art project transformed an entire turreted outcrop of the building, most of which dates back to the 16th and 17th century, and the party marking the project’s completion that same year was also the template for Kelburn Garden Party as it exists today.

“The Graffiti Project caused a bit of interest, and then it grew and grew,” says David Boyle, director of the festival and one of the family on whose land it is held. “I don’t think there are many festivals that have gigs by waterfalls or in a glen. There are a lot of performers in relation to audience members too, so there’s such a feeling of spontaneity and creativity here. It just has a special magic all of its own.”

Since 2009, the Garden Party has been held annually. Music programmer Chris Knight says the event is shaped around the experience rather than chasing buzz bands. “We don’t try to book big names,” he says, “We try to create a good atmosphere for the music. It’s not programmed in your usual way for a festival, there’s plenty of world, funk and jazz in there.”

This year the ostensible headliners are internationally renowned cut-up DJ Mr Scruff and American/Guinean reggae-soul duo Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate, alongside Edinburgh soul-jazz quartet Hidden Orchestra, Glasgow electronic pop group Conquering Animal Sound, Scots hip-hoppers Hector Bizerk and gypsy-jazz ensemble Rose Room, amongst many others.

Although Knight points to the young crowd and the parties which go on late into the night, saying: “We’re trying to get people out of the clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow and get them down here”, the event is also remarkably family-friendly.

The castle’s grounds are a family attraction throughout the rest of the year – with an adventure playground and a Secret Forest fantasy trail through the woods, as well as puppetry and theatre. Rather than making continuous growth the goal, Kelburn is happy to sell out and make the event a sustainable affair. “We’re growing,” says Boyle, “but we never want to lose that sense of intimacy. We don’t want to be one of those festivals that starts small and ends up with 40,000 people. We’re never going to be huge given the space we have and our desire for the festival and we’re proud of that.”

• Kelburn Garden Party is at Kelburn Castle, near Largs, on Saturday and Sunday,