It’s getting hot in Hampshire again as festival season rolls around and the guys and girls of Blissfields Festival take over Vicarage Farm bringing big noise, big crowds and a big programme packed with local and international talent. This year’s theme is “taking a walk on the wild side” and alongside the music, there’s a tent run by the Born Free Association and thousands of happy go lucky punters in face-paints and tiger print onesies… plenty for us to get our claws into then, yeah?
Kids.. They’re everywhere. Toddlers toddling, babies in buggies, teenagers with hip hair doing that thing where they pretend to be drunker than they are because it’s oh so cool. Summer’s well and truly here and if you can’t beat them join them. The Friday afternoon queue to get in is huge which is in some ways a great sign for a festival and gives us a chance to take stock, fall head over heels for girls in floral dresses and oversized sunglasses, sip sunshine temperature red wine from a paper cup and trawl through the jam-packed program to plot out our next few days.
Incidentally, if you picked up a programme for this year’s festival, flick through for a bit and you’ll come across the interview we did pre-festival with Paul Bliss.
With tent up and wine downed it’s finally time to hightail it down to the festival site and round to The Larch acoustic stage. Everyone seems enthusiastic about the new layout and total lack of sound bleed this year and rightfully so. A hushed crowd completely enthralled by The Cadbury Sisters are enjoying a delicate folksy rendition of ‘Milk’, which although light on bass and percussion is a beautifully harmonious and summery start to the festival. They promise to get a little louder with ‘Fire’, the closer from their latest EP and the crowd and sound crew acquiesce. Vocals, guitar, bass and percussion crash and crescendo before rippling applause and the soft splash of ale hitting plastic glasses signals the end of a set, sweet but all too short.
There’s little point in wasting the early July sunshine huddled away in a tent and Luke Sital-Singh is welcoming one and all to the main stage. Dubbed the ‘Wild Stage’ this year, it’s flanked by lion and gorilla statuettes and whilst not dishing out Baz Luhrmann-esque sunscreen advice, Singh is ripping through some summery sounds with ’21st Century Heartbeat’ and better known singles like ‘Nothing Stays The Same’ and ‘Fail For You’. It’s quite a big name to have on early in the day; hotly tipped and warmly received.
Heeding the warnings from the main stage, we take a breather in the ‘Hustle Den’, a second stage of sorts that’s playing host to London indie outfit Listening Party. They’re clearly having fun up there as are the crowd packed around the barricades hanging on every gloriously 90s indie hook. It’s a bouncy Brit-pop tinged set that works well at the time on a festival bill. There’s still time for a little Blissfields romance though as ‘Back On The Road’ is dedicated to the lead singer’s fiancée.
Back in The Larch, in what’s become our spiritual home for the weekend, Nick Tann is flogging copies of his latest album, or at the very least reminding us that there are copies of his latest album available. He’s bossing it round these parts in more ways than one, with commanding stage presence and also venue managing throughout the day. We caught Nick’s set last year and this time around it’s all change. There are little hints of electronica rhythms and on ‘Strong As I Am’ there’s an almost Hare Krishna beat that late 60s Harrison would have lapped up. ‘Can’t Stop Missing You’ is preluded with a namecheck for Café del Mar and a stern telling off to the talkers down the front… and one last reminder that the latest album ‘3am’ is on sale now.
Sticking around for Fawn is the best move we’ve made so far. Astounding harmonies and arrangements drawing from Tali Trow and Becks Johnstone’s respective folk and classical upbringings in music.‘Who Are You’ is reminiscent of the work of Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan from some years back. At times the backing vocals come across a little overpowering particularly on ‘Holy Grail’ but for the most part it’s aurally fantastic, traditional, modern, classic, a refreshing departure from the singer songwriter scene.
Ward Thomas take a more straight forward approach to their country infused tunes. Great vocal harmonies from Catherine and Lizzy, twin girls born and bred on a Hampshire farm. It’s as real life country as it gets in middle-class middle England. I’ve been pre-occupied fetching a Marston Charge ale brewed by the band Elbow from the bar and only manage to catch the last few tunes from these girls but rest assured you’ll hear more about them here soon.
Drums are thundering up at the main stage and an upright bass is being bowed hard. Nick Mulvey has raised the bar. It looks like this is the cut off point where afternoon hits evening, the beers kick in and festival comes to life. ‘April’ is dark and brooding with it’s wintery sun references but in contrast ‘Meet Me There’ is the perfect summer’s day tunes to be enjoyed with sunglasses on, laid back on the grass enjoying those choppy, little guitar strums leading into ‘Juramidam’.
Early evening is when the big hitters come out to play. Dan Croll, Tune-Yards and Spector taking the main stage by storm raining down stunning indie and pop while the sun continues to shine on the Blissfields crowd. Thumpers are doing their thing in the Hustle Den and while all this is going on, we bump into the wonderful Martin and Helen Hall, who are celebrating their first wedding anniversary having tied the knot at Blissfields last year. At the insistence from one Irishman to another I feel obliged to indulge in a Tequila before the rich, warm, baritone sounds of Johnny Flynn lure us back to the Hustle Den.
Johnny Flynn is a great performer who I’ve seen several times around Belfast but this time round I just didn’t feel that connection. Starting with ‘The Ghost of O’Donahue’ may have maintained the Irish theme but it was far from the big hitting opener you come to expect from a festival set. Followed up with ‘Lost and Found’, things get slightly more upbeat but in the vein of ‘lost and found’ we’re mostly feeling lost and somehow find our way back over to The Larch where Chris T-T has taken the stage for a solo return to Blissfields. Chris is on top form, ripping it up as much as one big bearded man with an acoustic guitar can do. He’s playing political folk-punk for the adults with the likes of ‘Market Garden’ going down well and name-dropping references to Winnie the Pooh for the younger members of the crowd. There’s talk of upcoming shows with full band ‘The Hoodrats’ in the Autumn. Check back for more on that.
Chris hasn’t played ‘Ninetendo’ despite its fan favourite status. It’s a quiet piano track and there’s no time for that kind of thing at this stage on a festival bill; certainly not on the main stage where Sleigh Bells are unleashing all sorts of beautiful apocalyptic pop noise, firing out big riffs and shimmying dance moves with both barrels. Lasers beam out overhead as the big headliners of the night treat the ecstatic masses to all the hits; ‘Rill Rill’ and ‘Bitter Rivals’ are highlights as Alexis Krauss slinks around the stage on the band’s only festival appearance of the year. It’s a massively entertaining end to day one on the Wild Stage but there’s still time for a bit of Pulp Fiction style boogieing with London girls to the sound of Electric Swing Circus, drunken rap battles, and a big singalong as Beth McCarthy tackles Lorde’s ‘Royals’.
Pretty wild indeed.