Review: Shambala brings a cornucopia of colour and expression to Northants over the bank holiday

The crowd during the Dutty Moonshine Big Band (photo: meganxshoots)The crowd during the Dutty Moonshine Big Band (photo: meganxshoots)
The crowd during the Dutty Moonshine Big Band (photo: meganxshoots)
Lily Canter reviews the Shambala festival in Kelmarsh

A baby dressed as a Frenchman is held aloft to a crowd of sequinned revellers while it conducts a pink brass band with a toilet brush. Where else could this be but Shambala Festival?

Very much an alternative event, rather than big-name acts the music tents are filled with global musicians playing Jamaican hip-hop, Norwegian psychedelic funk, Chilean orchestral numbers and Welsh folk songs.

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During the day the fields are filled with families taking part in craft workshops, watching astonishing acrobatics in Windy Van Hooten's big tent and taking part in dance workshops.

The carnival parade had the theme of 'Part of the Furniture' (photo: Ania Shrimpton)The carnival parade had the theme of 'Part of the Furniture' (photo: Ania Shrimpton)
The carnival parade had the theme of 'Part of the Furniture' (photo: Ania Shrimpton)

A particular highlight this year was the Shambolympics, which was a madcap mix of surreal performance art, audience participation and school sports day. Watching a team of kids take out a squad of circus performers in a chaotic dodgeball tournament was hysterical to watch.

At night the atmosphere is a little different, as the crowds get bigger and people flock to the various music and entertainment tents, some with annoyingly long queues. But it is still very family friendly with a welcoming, relaxed vibe.

Everyone comes together on Saturday afternoon for the carnival parade which this year had the ingenious theme of 'Part of the Furniture'. My eight and 11-year-old kids, one a clock and the other an oven, wore their makeshift cardboard box outfits with pride despite being outshone by walking toilets, Picasso paintings, afternoon tea tables and many, many lampshades.

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On the final evening there is a dramatic fireworks and aerobatic display which brings the Shambala community together. And it is a community. This is not a young person's festival or an old hippy festival. It is a mixture of ages, genders and ethnicities all rubbing along together harmoniously.

That being said it won’t be for everyone, particularly the prudish. There is a lot of flesh of display, age inappropriate humour and language (even in the kid friendly shows) and plenty of bare breasts and bums.

But equally it is a breath of fresh air where people are completely comfortable being themselves, whether that's cross dressing or wearing a shower curtain on their head.

From a camping perspective the family field is a great spot to be as the dedicated family yurt has stories, sing-a-longs, yoga and more. We had a decent size pitch which accommodated our fab new Adhara tent which was quick and easy to assemble. It also suited us perfectly with its separate sleeping compartments for adults and kids. The toilets were not too far away either and if you got your timing right queues for the showers were short.

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Nevertheless since this was our fourth outing at the festival it was difficult not to compare it with other years, and in all honesty we were a little disappointed. The film tent had disappeared, the hidden jazz club was no longer hidden and there didn't seem to be as many random street/circus performers wandering around as before.

And although the festival is still meat-free, and has an array of amazing food outlets, it has dropped its dairy-free approach (although it is 100 per cent organic).

But these quibbles aside this year's festival remained a cornucopia of colour and expression and like an old pair of (sparkly) slippers Shambala made us all feel warm inside.

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