On Blackheath promises “an unforgettable two days of music, food, and family entertainment within an atmosphere that feels communal, inclusive, creative, welcoming, surprising, and offers an escape from the working week.”. An ambitious statement for what could be just a couple of gigs in a rubble filled wartime gravel pit.
While the history of the heath might not be romantic, the setting is beautiful. A short walk from the closest stations (Blackheath and Lewisham), it's a quick easy journey from anywhere in London. The wide-open grassland contrasts the peaks of canary wharf on the horizon.
As the tail-end of summer sails over the horizon, the final festivals of the year can depend on the forecasts. Striking lucky with the sun on Sunday and no so with clouds and showers on the Saturday. While the Sunday was noticeably busier in the afternoon, there were still plenty of people out on the Saturday knowing they could slip off home to a bed rather than get stuck into a tent.
This site itself is well laid out, with only some areas where the sound bleeds from one stage to another. Enough bars and food stalls that the only queues that formed were for the surprisingly clean toilets. The local Meantime breweries provided the bars, so for the £5.50 price tag, you at least got a decent tasting drink. I can't say spent any time over in the food village watching the cooking demonstrations as a 3yr old's attention span barely extends to load music on a distant stage not seeing someone cook.
Close to the entrance was the large children's area. With a focus on storytelling and books there was enough scope to engage with any children there. A cloud of bubbles greeted you as you walked in, overflowing from a stall. The main events were stories made interactive with characters from Beatrix Potter, the Clangers, to the Dinosaur that pooped and the Wimpy Kid. Further in, Mr McGregor's garden offered events from a tug-of-war to sack races. Peter Rabbit even hopped over to grab a radish and excite the smaller children. A 'meet and greet' with Peppa Pig, a talking maze, a small crafts area, face painting and a circus skills tent completed the area. On top were easy wins – ice creams and helium balloons - to keep the little ones entertained while you ducked out to the stages to see the big acts.
The music on Saturday stayed on-theme and child-friendly while still being adventurous. From the blistering Thundercat, the lounge-psychedelia of Connan Mockasin and eclectic Roisin Murphy. While a sleeping child might have led to only seeing 30 mins of Primal Scream, Bobby and co gave it their expected enthusiasm. Hot Chip on the other hand had no shortage of energy. Not just writing new music amongst their array of side-projects, they hone their live sound continuously. Sarah Jones' relentless drumming barely stopped during the entire set matched only by Owen Clarke's dancing. Its fair to say that everyone watching had joined in by 'dancing in the dark'.
Sunday was a little safer musically but still plenty to keep you entertained. Locals Squeeze were cool for cats in the late afternoon and the sunshine stayed unbroken to sit down to James. Belle & Sebastian were a delight to see headlining. The almost fragile songs don't seem like they'll carry well from a large stage but the warmth carried them well. Taking a couple of minutes to explain the Thatcher reference in 'Step Into My Office, Baby' as Canary Wharf glittered in the distance highlighted a disconnect between them and the audience. Part of me hopes playing 'Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie' was a little John Lewis joke. Either way, finally seeing 'Electric Renaissance' live topped off the night for me.
The festival was easily one of the most relaxed family days/weekends out in London I've had. From getting through the gates to going home there was nothing at all to worry about. Plenty of food, entertainment and fun. Whether you're taking your tentative first steps with taking children to a festival or looking for a good day out its perfect. If your hoping for a real communal festival experience, camping really brings people together more. Rain or shine, On Blackheath was a great easy break from daily routine.
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