Review of LeeFest 2014: the little music festival that could

By - Thursday 24th July, 2014

LeeFest is Croydon’s music festival down the road, and its reputation is growing. Olivia Garner reports from the party frontline

Paint fight at LeeFest 2014.
Photo by Catherine Murphy, used with permission.

Many haven’t heard of LeeFest, the South London Music Festival. It’s a home-grown independent festival that takes place on Higham’s Hill Farm on the outskirts of New Addington each year. However, these three days of paint-covered madness are definitely on the up- and-up.

It took place this summer from Friday 11th to Sunday 13th July. The legend goes that when Mr and Mrs Denny went away on holiday and left Lee at home, he was banned from throwing a house party – so Lee threw a festival in the garden. He raised a substantial amount of money for charities and nine years later this is still the case, with the festival on a far larger scale but still non-profit-making. It really does still feel like you have been invited to a private outdoor party, as the festival has stuck to its roots despite its enormous jump in size.

This festival blew my expectations out of the water

My attendance was very impulsive and based on word-of-mouth – a friend grabbed tickets last minute and I wasn’t expecting much from such a low-key event. But my three days there have confirmed my attendance next year and blown my preconceptions out of the water. Hopefully this will encourage those of you who find yourselves in the sun with nothing to do next July to go ahead and book a ticket – you will not regret it.

The campsite itself is quite basic, as were the dreaded Portaloos. I’m still having nightmares, but this is standard wherever you go. One thing that could have been improved was the £5 charge for a shower – which brings me on to my only real criticism of LeeFest. Perhaps this was due to its being small and independent, but festivals such as Download have cheaper prices and Leefest was by far the most expensive I have experienced. I and most other people survived predominantly on a diet of cereal bars.

Lee Fest campfire.
Photo by Catherine Murphy, used with permission.

The campfire area of the site was a fantastic addition and the arena was beautiful. It is obvious that a lot of hard work has been put in by the LeeFest team. I particularly thought the Clocktower tent had been done well and the Wondersands beach at times made us feel like we’d been teleported to Malia when the sun was shining.

Silent disco dancing, glitter-wrestling – and we managed to meet the founder

On the Friday the highlight was definitely the comedy and poetry in the Clocktower tent and the No Limit Street Band had everybody up and dancing at Wondersands. Their contemporary mix of songs remixed as jazz instrumentals was fun and infectious. On the main stage, Frightened Rabbit really kicked off the festival for me and created a fantastic welcoming atmosphere. We also managed to meet Lee Denny himself!

The Cribs on stage at Lee Fest.
Photo by Catherine Murphy, used with permission.

Friday night was my first experience of the silent disco offered in the arena after midnight to limit noise in the early hours. This was great fun, but just a note for future partakers: remember when you sing along that everybody without a headset can hear you. Headphone removal mid-song provided a surreal but hilarious experience of some secret X Factor wannabes among us in the silent disco.

There was disco dodgeball and (best of all) glitter wrestling in an inflatable paddling pool – make of that what you will! The grand finale was taking a flavour-switching pill and then being handed a lemon to eat. This was genuinely one of the strangest moments of my life – the lemon tasted like pure sugar, not sour at all! It took a while to wear off and I have to say drinking orange Tango after that is not something I’ll forget for a while.

The paint fight is a LeeFest tradition and we were going to get in the middle of it

Sunday again was boiling hot and by this point we’d had just a bit too much sun. But the event many people come to LeeFest for took place that afternoon and we were going to get right in the middle of it. The paint fight is a LeeFest tradition and involves powered paint being thrown in every direction at once until the audience resembles a mismatched rainbow.

It was incredible. When the order was given to throw the paint the air was filled with a cloud that encircled all of your senses. Only when it began to settle could we look around and see the amazing sight it had created. I recommend to anyone to do this at least once as it really is indescribable. It plays absolute havoc with your hair – drying it out and making it twice the size like very colourful dry shampoo. So it was a very good thing that this was on the final day!

The real musical highlight of the whole weekend, however, was Blackpool’s newcomer Rae Morris. Her beautiful voice, stage presence and songs were the perfect end to our day. Her set was haunting, captivating and left me desperately trying to download her single, “Do you even know?” from iTunes on my dying phone. Definitely one to watch this year!

Altogether LeeFest was an absolute blast and it is not hard to see why it won the Best Independent Festival award in 2012 and is up for it again this year. To vote, visit the official Facebook page for details. See you in 2015, LeeFest – you made my summer!

Olivia Garner

Olivia Garner

I am a History graduate who has just moved back to Croydon from Bristol. I joined the Citizen for a chance to write about events within my home town whilst continuing my love for writing post-university. I am also currently working on a historical novel based upon my dissertation research.

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  • Anne Giles

    Thanks for that. I live in Selsdon, so not that far away, but had never heard of this festival.

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    I’d seen a news report about Lee Fest but like Anne had no idea how local it is. Thanks for writing this arricle.