It never rains at Blissfields is quite a boast given this year’s event comes just a week after a notoriously changeable Glastonbury. But it held true, and despite huge thunderstorms soaking most of the South East of England, this corner of a Hampshire farm a few miles from Winchester did indeed stay dry all weekend!
Now in its 15th year, the 3 day Blissfields event has remained refreshingly under the radar but it’s also had an enviable ability to attract those “just about to break big” acts over recent years including Mumford & Sons, Bastille, and Sam Smith.
And this year was no exception. Public Service Broadcasting and Ibibio Sound Machine are already getting lots of Radio 6 airplay to move them along, but there were also some real quality acts on other stages such as Kassassin Street, Rinse and Gengahr all of whom deserve to break big. And like so many festivals, there were acts who may not be household names, but are 110% entertainment and massive crowd pleasers.
On Friday I had the joy to witness Blissfields favourites, the Dub Pistols who despite the blazing sun gave a full on an energy charged performance to one of the biggest and noisiest crowds of the weekend. And on Saturday the ska inspired One Step Too Late who managed to empty the marquee by getting the entire audience to form a conga (which they joined of course!).
But what’s so great about Blissfields is its size. The site isn’t massive, so unlike some of those monster festivals, if you suddenly realise that band you wanted to see all weekend is on in five minutes, you’ve still got a decent chance of catching all of their set. And because attendance is kept manageable, you can also get close to the action on every band. This is good news indeed, and was recognised in the Blissfields daily newspaper which ran an article on the increasing popularity of smaller festivals.
The music starts on a Thursday evening, and with a limited number of stages running it gave me the chance to check out some of the less well known acts. I rapidly became a fan of the Larch stage, situated in a large open sided tepee with its own bar, comfy sofa’s and carpets. There I witnessed the super lovely Emma Stevens and the polished New Rising complete with cardboard box percussion.
There’s also the larger Now And Den stage which housed the aforementioned gritty indie of Rinse, the synth based We Have Band and the truly unique, energetic and quirky performance that is The Correspondants. If you’ve never seen them, go soon before his legs and energy wear out. I’ll say no more!!
And sitting alongside all of these musical stages is the Hidden Hedge sort of like a chilled out little brother to the main festival, nestled in amongst the trees. In the daytime on a hot weekend it’s a perfect place to stay cool and relax in the shade or on the beanbags of the Elysium Lounge. But come night-time it takes on a more atmospheric, trance-like and dance vibe with some impressive mood lighting, smoke in the trees (belched by a luminous orange scorpion) and the massive Area 51 dome hosting some great DJ sets until the early hours.
The main stage gets going on Friday lunchtime, and all the acts found a sweet spot with me. Standout performances of the day were definitely Dub Pistols, Public Service Broadcasting complete with a monster TV and a fake Sputnik satellite, and the amazing Songhoy Blues. Coming from war torn Mali, theirs is a story of struggle and dedication to their art, and their unique blend of bluesy African rhythms and some unique dancing soon had a slightly apprehensive crowd in full African dance mode.
We were also treated to the trippy and chilled vibes of Ghostpoet before the awesome appearance of The Horrors. With a full theatrical light show they reminded me a little bit of The Damned, especially as they blended in to their background. But they did a great job of closing the day on the main stage before those with enough stamina retired to the extended dance action in the Hidden Garden.
Saturday had a different feel to it; definitely slightly more mainstream but equally as exciting. On the Now and Den stage we still had a great mix of new bands, including the really interesting Kassassin Street,who were getting a lot of coverage from fellow photographers, and have a great fan base already. On the main stage we were treated to the (visually) brightest band of the weekend, Ibibio Sound Machine, or more specifically their lead singer Eno Williams. Dresssed in a vivid pink shimmering outfit, they gave a great showcase of their unique Afro beat sound, all driven by a solid percussion and guitar backline. And then it was throwback to the 90s time with Grandmaster Flash. Still full of attitude, he drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and probably more “hands in the air” per square metre than anyone else (well from where I stood anyway!) Playing a mix-up of dance, rock, funk, hip hop and rap classics he was onto a winner from get go and put a huge smile on everyone’s face.
So that was my first Blissfields experience, and I think it was that Grandmaster Flash set that captured the essence for me. Standing in the photo pit it wasn’t a crush with hardcore fans flaking in the sun. It was a relaxed vibe with teenagers, 50-somethings, families and young kids all there to have a great time. This is a festival like they used to be before they became the size of a small county, and sponsored by soft drinks brands. The Blissfields news was right; smaller festivals ARE the future.
[photoshelter-gallery g_id=”G0000hlEq1q5sqe4″ g_name=”Blissfields” f_show_caption=”t” f_show_slidenum=”t” img_title=”casc” pho_credit=”iptc” f_link=”t” f_enable_embed_btn=”t” f_send_to_friend_btn=”t” f_fullscreen=”t” f_show_watermark=”t” f_htmllinks=”t” f_mtrx=”t” fsvis=”f” width=”600″ height=”450″ f_constrain=”t” bgcolor=”#ffffff” bgtrans=”t” btype=”new” bcolor=”#CCCCCC” crop=”f” twoup=”t” trans=”flip” tbs=”4000″ f_ap=”t” linkdest=”c” f_topbar=”f” f_bbar=”f” f_bbarbig=”” f_smooth=”f” f_up=”f” target=”_self” ]
Photograph and Review by Andy Sampson. Andy has his own great site here: www.soundritualphotos.co.uk