Blissfields' Paul Bliss interview

founder of the festival talks to eFestivals

published: Wed 11th Feb 2009

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Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July 2009
Bradley Farm, Bradley, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9RY, England MAP
weekend ticket £41 - SOLD OUT, Day tix - Friday £20 only left
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Tue 16th Jun 2009

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. First off, for those who don’t know Blissfields, how would you describe it?

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Having basically grown from a party in our back garden it really retains the feel of a bunch of friends getting together for the weekend. The fact that a lot of acts also seem to appreciate that feeling means we get some great bands and acts supporting the size of gathering they wouldn't normally play. The festival attendee, I wish there was a better word than that, or 'festie goer', therefore gets great access to some brilliant bands in such a friendly atmosphere. Having children ourselves and friends of all ages has meant the festival has grown to encompass a huge range of ages which gives it a wonderful feeling as well.

What does it offer in terms of:
Music (genres)?
As far as the music goes it's a pretty mixed bag, everything from folk, electronica, indie, dance, alt. rock, reggae, and a whole bunch of dj's binding it together!
Family and other entertainment?
Tractor Rides! :) Music and Art workshops, Friday Night open-mic, Family Area, Stage Magician, Stage Hypnosis, Great bar with real ales and pub prices, & great quality food.
The Hidden Hedge chillout/late night area, & the second stage 'The Bradley Bubble' will be open until 1.30am both nights.
Value for Money?
It's £44.95! Not much else you can say!
Musical open-mindedness and having fun whilst respecting those around you. Environmental factors?
We have in place recycling and composting policies and review fuel usage in order to reduce carbon footprints. We have a leave-no-trace policy as I don't want to see rubbish left behind, we also encourage all attending to clear up their own patch and take responsibility for their own waste. We also fund raise for Practical Action who put in place many sustainable projects for communities in the developing world.
Local Train and Bus station is Basingstoke (6 miles) and there is a limited bookable bus service to our rather remote village. We are looking into running a shuttle minibus. Festival Coaches are also offering a service direct from London to the site and we have a travel share scheme registered with Freewheelers.
Extremely close to car park and arena! Specific family-camping and live-in vehicles area. Very friendly and relaxed, late night partying is encouraged to keep to other areas. You can see the stage and probably your car from your tent! Also camping from Thursday.
Stewards and security firm are on site through out the festival and Police will be present at specific times. Since we started we have not had a reported incident and want to keep it that way.
Space (capacity)?
1250 people in 8 acres.

What are the festival's unique points?
Size, friendliness, very easy and relaxed weekend. Quality music at a very affordable price.

Laura Marling
Friday night headliner is Mercury-nominated Laura Marling – a fine coup – what's the story behind that?
Traditionally the Friday night in Bradley has always been a more relaxed and mellow feel than the party on the Saturday. Having booked Laura for 2008 which didn't go ahead and having a strong connection with a number of the nu-folk acts such as Mumford and Sons who are booked as well, she seemed perfect to be queen of the stage for Friday this year. We are really looking forward to having her down and she will really match the Friday atmosphere of Blissfields. Booking her has certainly created a lot of interest, excitement and comments from those coming to B9.

What else would you like to tell us at this stage about the line-up?
Well we have about 60% of the line up announced so far but that doesn't include the Saturday headliners and a number of the bigger acts for us. Expect them to increase the noise level of the festival. We hope for some really great surprises, and I can tell you now that Laura Marling will not be the only Mercury-nominated artist.

What new things are you introducing this year?
A big top second stage, The Bradley Bubble, allowing us to party later.
The Hidden Hedge chill out/ambient music area.
The Tractor Stage: Open-air DJ's and loads to dance to!
The President of The United States of Bliss: We will be running an election on Facebook in March for those with tickets to be able to attend as the ceremonial head of state for the weekend. Together with a theme of spending the weekend of the festival in the US of B. The election winner will have a number of fun duties to fulfil and will get a load of perks for the weekend... watch this space!

What pre-festival events are you planning or have you had?
Well we just had an amazing Ticket Launch Party in Southampton and have one this Friday at 93 Feet East in London. It is headlined by Subgiant, and includes Beans on Toast, Gerry (Six Nation State), Barefoot Confessor and loads of DJ's ... and it is free entry.

See you there! How else can people enjoy the festival in advance of it?
We try to be as interactive as possible before the festival to get people in the spirit, as well as the US of B elections and events mentioned above we have other stuff planned. In 2007 we introduced podcasts with live recordings and interviews conducted by The Girls in Green Shoes (who book the acts for us as well) and will be doing that again this year. This now includes videos of the acts and increases our output on YouTube with some great exclusive content. Our website, has a TV page with many videos of the acts attending, past festival footage and associated videos. It's amazing how much is out there now! I believe there is talk of an online fanzine running before the festival as well.

Tell us a bit about the history of the festival.
As mentioned already the festival started as a party for about fifty people in 2001 and slowly grew with mainly local, amateur bands, and with all the work done by a handful of wonderful volunteers. No stewards/fences or even tickets for those first few years!

During the next few festivals we picked up Subgiant as great friends and other stalwarts such as Chris TT, bringing fans from further afield and swelling numbers considerably.

The big change came in 2005 when a great coincidence landed us with The Mystery Jets playing their first festival. This put us in a position of having loads of interest from fans, press and acts associated with such an up-and-coming band. When they returned again in 2006 (playing for free for us having enjoyed 2005 so much) our profile had raised considerably and allowed us to approach nationally-know acts and get them along to the party. It was also the year that funnily enough we got loads more wonderful volunteers and helpers on board who have now taken over a number of roles. After the hiccup of 2008 we are so excited to be back at Bradley doing what we do best!

Blissfields 2008 alas didn't happen. With time and hindsight now on your side, what have you learnt from that?
Maybe we were too ambitious in the planned increase from 2007, however we couldn't be faulted for effort in trying to put it on in a larger venue. In the end a number of factors combined against us which made selling tickets that weekend very difficult. Weather/credit-crunch/festival fatigue/too many events? Who can tell?

The ability to be able to read the future and not picking a weekend that is suddenly host to five more festivals in competition to you nearby (two of which also then cancelled and a third that probably should have!) would definitely have been useful.

I've also learnt that to put on a festival for 5000 you need the backing to risk a lot more money than we were able to do over a long period with no guarantee of a return. Although cancelling a month before it was due cost us a lot of money, the gamble to go ahead without guarantee of selling enough tickets could have seen us lose a lot more and we were not going to put our family through that.

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I very much enjoyed 2007 for many reasons. For those that know the festival, what did you think worked really well that year?
Well the weather for one, amongst the downpours of June and July 2007 we had a weekend of wonderful sun! It stopped raining Thursday and started again as the last people left the camp site on the Sunday. We were truly blessed! The line-up also worked so well, little did we know that our headliners Scouting For Girls would go on to be such a huge name but they were amongst such an enjoyable line up of vibrant acts it really helped make it special. However as always it is the crowd who really make a festival and 2007 was packed with people who wanted to really enjoy themselves on such a lovely weekend. Anyone who was there for the open-mic session, which has rather taken over late night Friday of the festival, could see that everyone just wanted to have fun!

What's been the hardest aspect of it all?
Cancelling last year was truthfully one of the hardest decisions we have ever made, that was definitely the low point, however even then the messages of support we got and the optimistic feeling towards 2009’s return to Bradley were such wonderful surprises.

Tell us some favourite memories of the festival?
Seeing the camp site fill up with people I'd never met before in 2003 was great, before then it had basically only been people we knew.

Seeing the crowd go wild for Subgiant in 2007, this was after the stage timings had over run and we couldn't put them on in 2006!

The impromptu iPod disco of 2007: 150 people dancing all night to the tinniest pair of speakers you can imagine, don't think many people could actually hear the music! It just shows you don't always need much to have a great time!

With all the money and persuasive powers in the world, who would you personally line-up as headliners in 2010?
There is only one choice in the Bliss household, from both generations, it would have to be Muse to headline the Saturday! We've seen them a number of times over the years and they never fail to blow us away.

We nearly had Jamie T play for us one year, and although now probably out of our budget I would love to see him headline the Friday.

And, as there's less money around overall with the credit-crunch, what impact are you currently anticipating for your festival and festivals in general?
So hard to gauge, I feel people will probably reduce the number they are going to in the season, but with less people going abroad for the summer due to exchange rates maybe the possible total audience could grow. For us I don't see a problem with over half the tickets sold and with such a small capacity this year we have budgeted for a sell-out and are well on the way to achieving it!

Finally, what one thing would you introduce if you could change anything about how festivals are run (whether possible or totally unrealistic)?
For it all to pack itself away by itself on the Monday morning after!

Thanks & good luck with it all.

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interview by: Clive Hoadley

Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th July 2009
Bradley Farm, Bradley, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9RY, England MAP
weekend ticket £41 - SOLD OUT, Day tix - Friday £20 only left
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Tue 16th Jun 2009

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