An antidote to the troubles of the past week or so…
The story goes like this. A few years ago, a young man called Lee decided to hold a party in his back garden in West Wickham while his parents were away. He called it Leefest for a laugh, and got some bands to play along with DJs and a comedian. The 150 guests enjoyed it, so he did it again the next year. And then the year after that it moved to a field next to a nearby school. Two years later, it moved again, to a field further out of town. Now Leefest can hold 2,000 people, has a stellar line-up, and donates its profits to charity. What’s not to like?
There’s so many references to Lee at the festival, I came away thinking this figure didn’t exist. (“If you see Sid, tell him.”) But he certainly does, and it’s a brave man who puts his name to a festival these days, for fear of the curse of Field Day. Now in a field between Biggin Hill and New Addington, Leefest lasts two days, blends local acts with a few big names, but feels like attending a private bash. Diving down into the valley at the top of the North Downs, it certainly seems like the best secret party you’ll ever go to.
While next year’s On Blackheath can rightly claim to be south-east London’s music festival, Leefest – still run by Lee, his family, and a band of volunteers – was here first.
I’d only been dimly aware of the festival before, and only went because some pals with Saturday tickets suddenly couldn’t go. Even though I ended up investigating it on my own, I certainly didn’t feel alone and it’s the only music event I’ve ever been to where the security guards are actually friendly. Hell, they even cracked jokes. I was so won over I even had a pink heart painted on my cheek by Kids Company volunteers. I now remember why I had some strange looks later coming home through Catford.
It was also great to see Get Cape Wear Cape Fly on the main stage, but the biggest reason for going was to see British Sea Power. I wasn’t the only one – you could spot BSP’s older fans a mile off among the predominantly young Leefest crowd.
A few years ago I’d seen them play to thousands on a crystal clear night by the Mediterranean at Primavera Sound in Barcelona – last night they played to a few hundred in a field near Biggin Hill. If you like your rock majestic, with men wearing foxes’ heads and plenty of onstage pranks, they’re your band.
Leefest was terrific fun, and it’s the only time I’ve left a festival feeling slightly jealous of those camping over. It’s amazing Leefest doesn’t have a higher profile, but then more crowds would rob it of its charm. So next year, get the shuttle bus from Bromley or the 464 from New Addington, and tell your friends if you think using an Oyster card to get a festival won’t be too daunting for them. But let’s keep it our secret, eh?