Crawling up the tail end of the A30 with rain drops the size of small-lizards scuttling down the sides of my weak and overburdened Honda Jazz, the decision to strike out on a trip to Knee Deep seemed like a pretty poor one. The image that was lodged in my mind, as I frequently stalled on one of the many charming hills that scatter the arse-end of Britain, was of a weekend drowned in mud and downtrodden holidaymakers, a cluster of lonely, wet people united only by their common desire to be in Malaga, or Magaluf or anywhere where trench-foot was a two euro cocktail and not a very real fear.
Like a People-carrier driving father wishing death and destruction on his comfortably sleeping wife and kids, this hot-flush of fear was to be doused almost immediately upon arrival at Knee Deep. Dodging both the commercialisation of the larger festivals – where it seems you can’t step more than two feet away from the craft-ale tent before being confronted with a horde of pamphlet wielding media-partners – or the twee fun-camp horror of most of this nation’s ‘small festivals’, the event is a genuine delight nestled in the ample bosom of Liskgard and its conveniently located BP garage.
With a line-up touching on all corners of the new music pantheon, from the Pavement channelling croons of Happyness to the vaguely-psychedelic musings of the Transgressive signed -as of today- Gengahr there was nothing missing from the bottom end of the bill which saw Londoner, and site favourite, Oscar perform his first festival slot. On top of this solid plinth of new talent the organisers had erected a substantial cluster of headliners including Leeds misanthropes Eagulls and the fast rising Kate Tempest who took very different paths to the beating heart of the, wide eyed and wild hearted, Knee Deep crowd.
Trapped, late on Friday night, in a rolling field of shirtless suburbanites, skipping up and down the shambolically shamanistic grooves of Flamingods, in a stage-closing set which saw My Panda Shall Fly and Beaty Heart joining the collective in a rousing rendition of the Apocalypse Now sacrifice scene, ritual beast and all the trimmings, it was hard to compare the event with any other. It might have been the rain, which by 9pm, had turned Glass Animals’ – excellent – set into an unlikey blur of tropical plants and skin-plastered fringes, or the cheap bar, but by about midnight on that first evening Knee Deep had transcended itself and risen into a blur of happy faces and steaming forms, wandering aimless and ecstatic through a jungle of neon-plastic macs and well-watered fields.
Patrick Wolf may or may not have closed the festival -the early noughties troubadour was perhaps an unnecessarily naff cherry on an otherwise flawless cake, and one which I happily dodged on the top of a bus which was either a café, or a bookshop, or the last refuge of its two charming dreadlocked owners and the rolling cast of booze-caked and bleary-eyed nuts they played host to for far longer that even the most beatific St Johns volunteer would consider normal – but the festival did close and this, it seemed, was the only off note of the whole event.
At some point on this second day, after Oscar chugged to the end of his Theo Verney endorsed set, and only briefly before the tambourine wielding Islet created their very own crowd-induced pandemonium, I found myself wandering down one of the heavily hedge-rowed lanes that conceal the venue, moseying back from the conveniently placed BP garage and there, round another corner, was the festival, the entire event visible in a scene the size of two-fists held at arm-length. For a small festival, and it is a very small festival, what makes Knee Deep special isn’t that it punches on par with the big boys in terms of its line-up, which it does, or that it manages to turn a budget of over-drafts and wishful thinking into a very impressive event, which again it does, but that its so comfortable being a small festival.
There’s no attempt to beef up the budget with energy-drink sponsorship, or to hide the rough edges behind a curtain of high-prices and ‘big names’, Knee Deep is, ultimately, a weekend in a field put on by a group of friends who seem to really care about the event they create and the end result, viewed through the hazy mid-afternoon mists of bleary eyes and creeping sunshine, is pretty near perfect.