As is the case with many boutique festivals that have sprung up in the last decade, Blissfields is a family-friendly, small event set amongst lush countryside. Adorned with art installations that wouldn’t be amiss at Arcadia, it instantly felt intimate enough for its 5000 capacity crowd, with plenty of space for everyone.
With a few established artists to draw the punters, the line-up was fresh and current, buzzing with new talent and some of the hottest bands of the year. Duveaux brought scuzzy, glam-rock anthems and irresistible quirky guitar pop. Spikey loud Southampton four-piece The Novatones wore their influences literally on lead singer’s Union Flag emblazoned guitar.
But it was the reggae and dance fused beats of Dub Pistols on the main stage that first grabbed the festival by the scruff of the neck. It was also the first time that the crowd en-masse were on their feet. Sadly, the follow-up to this carnival vibe was Songhoy Blues, whose abrupt performance failed to engage the crowd. But all was not lost and salvation came in the form of Ghostpoet, whose languid voice delivered wise melancholic tales in the warm summer sunset.
With so much press and radio attention, it was no surprise that Gengahr attracted a serious crowd. And they didn’t disappoint. A little uneven in places, their set was a ferocious proposition with glimpses of something truly special.
Public Service Broadcasting, a band that enjoyed a considerable rise in their fortunes over the last couple of years, certainly delivered a special show. Fortified by the welcome addition of bass and keys, the new material from the latest album Race for Space went down a treat. Shrouded in darkness with only fleeting glimpses of the band amongst the smoke, lasers and strobes, The Horrors brought a brooding presence to the end of the night. Despite an initial lukewarm reception, they proved their headliner credentials, eliciting a response even from the more muted parts of the audience.
UK festival regulars, Beans on Toast, opened the main stage on Saturday singing about high mortgage rates and Northern Rock. The issues may have been a few years out-of-date, but the sentiment was welcome and not entirely lost. In contrast, Cosmo Sheldrake‘s sparse and complex electronica was possibly best suited to an after-hours show and not a mid-afternoon main stage set in the blazing sun.
The first big tunes of the day came from Kassassin Street who seemed to have taken the best of New Order and Primal Scream and fused it with the attitude of early Oasis. Unashamed slice of anthemic electro guitar pop, ‘To Be Young’ sounded worthy of a headline slot; and ending in a crescendo of noise, guitars and furious drumming their set climaxed with mass approval of the packed tent.
Given the gravity of the name, it was not entirely surprising that Grandmaster Flash drew the biggest crowd. These days the rap/hip-hop pioneer can be found behind the decks and laptop banging out hits like ‘Jump Around’ and eliciting pure joy from the excited crowd. Sadly, this also left the most excellent Ekkah coming on to a virtually empty tent. Glass Animals had the uneasy task of following Flash on the main stage to a smaller, but definitely passionate and appreciative crowd. Combining faultless vocals with frenetic dancing, singer Dave Bayley was the catalyst for their euphoric set. They sounded grittier live, and all the better for it. Their Kanye West cover ‘Love Lockdown’ was inspired, and found the frontman clambering over the barrier and into the crowd to deliver his vocals. As the sun was setting to the strains of ‘Pools’, this was a perfect Blissfields moment.
The big act of the main night was John Grant, whose introspective offerings didn’t fare as well after the inspired Glass Animals performance. Despite throwing ‘Marz’ into the set, it never felt that any new ground was broken with an audience who were not previously acquainted with his music.
All in all, despite some slight issues with sound bleed and perhaps less than premium quality food, it was by a truly enjoyable experience. In the ever-expanding festival calendar, Blissfields has found its place. And by all accounts, it is a good place to be.
Photo credit: Kevin Pick