You may have read my blog last year about my first time at Camp Wildfire – the festival slash adult adventure camp? Well that festival is the second festival to come out of the genius of one man: Lee Denny! His first festival started as LeeFest in his back garden, and grew big enough that this year it was rebranded as Neverworld! Seriously, this guy is living my dream! I’d heard about LeeFest before but hadn’t been able to make it. After going to Wildfire last year and meeting Lee, I knew his other, bigger festival would be just as special. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it this year as I was already booked to be at Brighton Pride (blog coming soon!) – but one of my fantastic readers, Emma Dexter, volunteered to write me this lovely guest review from her perspective! How great is she? Over to Emma!
Wow! What a weekend! Firstly, thank you to Jessi for allowing me to write this guest piece on her blog. We’ve yet to meet but I love reading the reviews of all the festivals she goes to and wanted to write a piece about Neverworld because I know she was unable to attend this year, plus it’s good to promote these small, independent festivals, especially if they are as amazing as this one was!
From LeeFest to Neverworld…
For those who don’t know the story – LeeFest began back in 2006 as a party in Lee Denny’s back garden – his parents had gone away and left him strict instructions not to have a house party.. so him and his friends held one in the garden instead! Every year LeeFest has grown and grown and is now a 5000 capacity festival, this year rebranded as Neverworld – the place to never grow old.
Based around the story of Peter Pan, the festival contains three tribes – Pirates, Lost Boys and Mermaids – and each tribe has its own realm at the festival. Pirates have Skull Rock, Lost Boys have the Neverwoods and Mermaids have The Beach, with each realm having a different look and feel and catering for different musical tastes. Dressing up is encouraged; and who doesn’t love a bit of fancy dress?
Arrival and first night
This concept really appealed to me, so much so that we got our tickets back in September last year and the months never went by so slowly! But eventually Thursday 2ndAugust came around and the 4 of us (my husband, his son and girlfriend, and me) packed our cars and drove the 45 minutes to John Darlings Farm in Hever, Kent. Arriving an hour before the gates opened, we had no trouble parking and loaded our trolley ready to get in the queue. Being reasonably new to the festival experience, we only have Glasto (HUUUGE) and Latitude (still quite big) to compare to, so we loved how quickly we got through the queue and how close the campsite was – maximum 5 minutes walk from the car to the tent!
Tents up by 3pm, we cracked open a cider and tried to get some shade before the gates opened at 5pm for the opening night. Mermaid costume on and glitter applied, we headed into the land of Neverworld! Although the main Fortress stage and Skull Rock were not open until Friday, the Circus tent, the Beach, and the bars were open with plenty to see and do. We also managed to get tickets to a VIP party in a backstage bar which was accessible through a secret door with a ‘Big Ben’ clock on it (the Peter Pan theme again!) where I got to meet Lee and party with lots of really amazing people in brilliant costumes!
After the party we headed for The Beach, which is quite literally, a beach! Tonnes of sand to party on and the place to be for fun games in the daytime and DJs at night. So Solid Crew (having replaced Shy FX at the last minute) were taking me back to my teenage years with a bit of 21 Seconds and I knew I was going to love it here!
Friday – first full day at Neverworld
On Friday we made it up in time to go and see The Islas open the Fortress Stage, who were great despite the boiling hot weather! Unfortunately the baking hot sun made it difficult to see much else in the daytime but we did make it to the enclosed Hooks Rock in Skull Ridge to see a band called Five Kites, who were also amazing if you like a bit of rock music!
What Lee and his team are very good at is showcasing new and up-and-coming artists, rather than booking ‘big’ names that had lots of hits, say 20 years ago, and we certainly came away with so many bands and artists to add to our playlists! Saying that, their Friday headliners of Clean Bandit, and of course Bastille on Saturday are definitely big names! Both of these had played this festival back when they were reasonably new to the scene and obviously loved it so much they came back, which is always a good sign.
Other bands and artists we saw on the Friday were Rae Morris, who is absolutely brilliant and so lovely, Jeremy Loops, who we had seen at Latitude and couldn’t wait to see again, and Declan McKenna, a 19 year old with a voice and songwriting ability well beyond his years. All fab and recommended! We agonised over the fact that Clean Bandit clashed with My Nu Leng so we split our time between the two. Clean Bandit were outstanding with fireworks and streamers; My Nu Leng took over the Goldmine, playing their trademark ‘hard to categorise’ genre of electronic! Once we’d had enough of drum’n’bass (and feeling a little too sober) we headed for the Tap House, the main bar on site where Club Yacht Rock were playing some classic rock tunes; think Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen and ELO! One negative point (although this is no way a criticism of the festival at all) is that the council had imposed strict curfews on the volume of the music and it had to be reduced at 2am – boooo! We didn’t let it spoil our fun though! (And a suggestion for next year – silent disco!)
Saturday – more excellent artists
Saturday came around, bringing some much needed cloud! This meant we got to watch far more brilliant music in the daytime, including Call Me Loop, Keston Cobblers Club (complete with confetti cannon), Lucy Spraggan (one of my faves!), We Are Scientists, and Tom Grennan, who is another up-and-coming artist whose voice and songs are simply amazing. He is playing a tonne of festivals this year so go and see him if you can! But quite possibly my favourite act from Saturday daytime was Elvana – think Nirvana, with Elvis as the front man! It sounds bizarre but it works brilliantly well and is absolutely hilarious (Jessi – I reckon you’d enjoy them based on your recommendation of Oh My God! It’s The Church!) Reply from Jessi – On Emma’s recommendation I saw Elvana at Boomtown Fair and they are definitely a new favourite of mine!
Another painful clash was Bastille and Sub Focus – but I really wanted to see Sub Focus so we opted for raving at the Goldmine for a second night in a row. We weren’t disappointed, and continued dancing all through their set and Chords who was on afterwards (I’ve heard that Bastille were outstanding though, and such a big act for such a small festival!). Once again, we then headed to the Tap House for Soul of the 60s which was full of feel good tunes and again, some amazing people to party with until we dropped at around 2am.
And what about food & drink options?
They didn’t disappoint! Drinks started from £4.50 for a pint (an absolute bargain!!) with cider, my drink of choice, being £5.00 a pint. Compared to other festivals this is so reasonable, and with there being a limit on the alcohol we could bring into the campsite, this was very welcome! Small, independent festivals such as Neverworld do depend on sales of food and drink to continue to run so we were more than happy to buy from the bars, especially when the drinks are locally sourced and not supplied by sponsors.
We tried a range of food including Mr Hamidi’s Halloumi Fries (amazing!), Turkish wraps from Flats and Smalls (delicious!) and my favourite, a chicken burrito from Burrito Boys. Oh and a special mention to the lovely ladies at the Churros stand who were always happy and smiling!
In terms of facilities, Neverworld had decided to bring in compost loos for the first time this year, which are eco-friendly and so much better than the suffocating experience of the usual plastic mobile toilets, especially in this hot weather! There did need to be more of these in the campsite to lessen morning queues (let’s be honest you can never have enough toilets at a festival!). We didn’t opt in for a shower pass so I can’t comment on the quality of these. The only other suggestions for improvement would be to have more taps to fill water bottles, as the queue for the tap in the main campsite was often very long, and because of the dry weather, Neverworld had requested that people use a designated cooking area – very sensible for safety purposes, complete with paving slabs and fire extinguisher… but this had been put next to the toilets, which for obvious reasons might have been better thought out!
There was so much we didn’t get to see and do; Gentleman Starkey’s for cabaret and burlesque, Rainbow Rooms for drag acts and karaoke, the Wendy House for comedy, poetry and acoustic sets. Swing dance classes. Glitter wrestling. There was loads for kids to see and do too, with games, crafts and a massive paint fight! Oh, and dodgems! There was a brilliant sense of community; we saw lots of happy families, people of all ages getting along, and even dogs in fancy dress too! Special mention to the man dressed as Princess Leia, complete with giant inflatable Jabba the Hut. I wish I’d got a picture!
I did manage to get a couple of pictures in my new ‘Where’s My Tent’ t-shirt and I also got a quick photo with Lee who was handing out flyers on the way out. What a legend! I love what him and his team are trying to do – they are a small festival with big dreams, a great ethos, and are learning every year how to make their wonderful little festival even better. It’s been said that Neverworld is “like a mini Glastonbury”, and I definitely agree as it has the same wonderful vibe. We all had such an amazing time, and have already bought our tickets for next year.
Bring on Neverworld 2019!
I was already pretty sure I was going to confirm Neverworld in my diary for 2019, but after reading your review once again I am now 100% convinced! It sounds like everything I love in a festival – lots of thought into the little things, fancy dress encouraged, places to explore, community feel… I can’t wait!
Images in this post were provided by Emma Dexter or by the Neverworld Press Office