New year and a new site for Blissfields

Blissfields 2011 review

published: Wed 6th Jul 2011

around the festival site (2)

Thursday 30th June to Sunday 3rd July 2011
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£65 for an adult weekend pass
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Wed 25th May 2011

As Blissfields enters its 11th year, its organisers have been looking at how to improve a festival that has gained plaudits and awards over recent years. The conclusion was to move to a new location, a sensible move given that the old site, was located next to a small village and subject to sound and size restrictions. However, the festivals last attempt to move location in 2008 saw the event cancelled due to poor ticket sales – something the organisers must have had weighing heavily on their mind when they announced the new location.

around the festival site (2)
The new site it has to be said, works really well, although about 50 per cent larger than the old one, it still manages to keep the sense of intimacy of the old site – due in part to the trees dotted about the site that make a natural division helping create a picturesque and appealing venue. As previously the site has four main areas: The main stage; Bradley Bubble (a tented stage area); Blisscoteque (an old London Bus that has DJs playing all day) and the Hidden Hedge (chillout zone by day and music venue by night). Ultimately though I felt the site benefits from the simple fact that the organisers, Paul and Mel Bliss, love and care deeply about the festival they've created, and are determined to ensure that everything that worked on the old site would work on the new, and by and large it has. Inevitably there are casualties with any change, and one of these is the Hidden Hedge. In the old site, this was literally a gap in the hedge, leading through to a natural clearing, bedecked with sculptures and light shows – a location to chill out during the day, and dance till the early hours in the night. Although the sculptures and aim of the venue remains, the path now leads to a small square tent, which loses some the charm of the original location.

One of the main advantages of the new location is a less restrictive license, which means that Blissfields now has a music program on the Thursday night for the first time. Headlined by festival regulars SixNationState, a talented group who let themselves down by incessant comments about drugs in between the songs. Last year they used the stage as a chance to advertise a sideline in selling laughing gas – this year a police ban has stopped them from doing this, so instead they use the time to tell us how great the ketamine at Glastonbury was. It's a shame as the band have some really good songs, and great stage presence – if they could focus on this more then they might have a bigger future ahead of them.

Before them was one of my personal highlights of the weekend. Alex Clare reminded me of Joe Cocker at his peak, with the incongruity of a bearded man in a flat cap with a voice reminiscent of Stevie Wonder at times. The music mixes soul, rock and occasional bursts of funk, and Alex's passionate performance combines to make a memorable set from someone I'm sure we'll hear more of.

Colin MacIntyre (Mull Historical Society)
Friday saw the start of the festival proper, with the main stage opening for business, one of the first acts on was Colin MacIntyre, better known as the lead singer of folk-pop outfit Mull Historical Society. Although the small crowd in front of the stage, mostly sat on blankets, seem fairly ambivalent about who's playing, undeterred, Colin cheerfully plays his way through MHS's back catalogue and throwing in a few new songs too. Meanwhile in the Bradley Bubble, Oresteia took to the stage – self described as "a satanic Arcade Fire" rather than diabolical Canadian alt rock, what we actually got was a pretty funky rock outfit whose lead singer's moves and vocals reminded me of Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.

Stinger
Sadly one of the bands I'd been looking forward to seeing, Fool's Gold, had pulled out for unknown reasons. They are replaced by a band who performed earlier on Thursday night – Stinger. The band is obviously pleased with this unexpected promotion and launch into their songs with a vigour and energy that was missing from the night before – they even manage to get a few people on their feet and dancing along by the end of the set – given the relaxed nature of the audience at this stage, no mean feat!

Next up were Flight Brigade, one of the winners of the regional competitions to give local acts a slot at the festival. Flight Brigade are a seven-piece folk rock group. Having heard recordings of theirs, I was looking forward to hearing them perform, but after a couple of songs I just wasn't getting it live, so left to go and see Polly and the Billets Doux – a band that I've always managed to miss the last couple of times they played the festival.

Polly And The Billets Doux
Polly & The Billets Doux are an old fashioned country music band that, while straying towards the realms of Hoedown and Dolly Parton, manage to steer clear of the cheesiness. Polly performs with a 'rabbit in headlights' stare that betrays her discomfort at being on stage. However her voice is clear and strong, and she gives an assured performance, leaving the more flamboyant guitarist Andrew Steen to do most of the talking between songs.

King Charles are probably one of the more interesting bands I've seen in recent years, arriving on stage the lead singer looks much like the king the band are named for, albeit one who has been through a Captain Jack Sparrow-esque makeover, then dragged backwards through a couple of hedges for good measure. His performance verges on pantomime and he struts about the stage, climbing the speaker stacks and drumkits with abandon. Fortunately the music backs up the showing off, mixing eccentric pop and rock with occasional stabs of guitar that bring to mind Hendrix or Plant.

Dub Pistols
Blissfields is a festival that seems to worm it's way into the hearts of both performers and punters. And one band making a welcome return after performing last year are Dub Pistols, a band who mix hip-hop, ska and punk together. The band seem to be as excited to be there as the audience are to see them, as band member Barry Ashworth says "We're not the best musicians, were borderline alcoholics, but we fuckin' love playing this music for you." And this attitude really sums the band up – it's the joy of seeing a band play the music they love that draws you in, and leaves you with a smile on your face.

Next up are a group that somehow have managed to avoid the success they are probably due. Delays are a local band who have all the elements to really make it big – strongly written pop songs with big sing-a-long anthems, excellent stage presence and very good musicianship, yet with several albums under their belt they have never quite managed to break through. It's a shame, because, as the performance today shows they are well liked and well worth seeing live –big anthems such as 'Nearer than Heaven' and 'Valentine' really get the crowd moving – even technical problems with the sound during the set don't deter crowd or band enjoying themselves.

Frank Turner
It's not often the headliner of a festival doesn't play last on the main stage, but Frank Turner did just that, making way for drum and bass act Subsource to have the final slot and make full use of the night time to show off their light show. Frank Turner is a local boy, growing up in Winchester just a few miles down the road from the festival site, and this show was billed as a homecoming gig – and plenty of his home town turned up to see him play. Frank is a singer songwriter very much in the tradition of Billy Bragg, mixing folk and punk with political comment in his songs. I've seen him live before in an acoustic show and was impressed by the intensity of his performance then. This time however, he was backed by a full band, and the added musicians gave his songs a snarling punk edge that would have made the Clash proud.

The Jim Jones Revue
Speaking of snarling punk, over in the Bradley Bubble, The Jim Jones Revue were putting on a show and a half. The band play old fashioned rock and roll but turned up to at least 12, with lead singer Jim Jones growling his way through the songs while Henri Herbert attempts to beat his way through the keyboard like a demented Jerry Lee Lewis. The band manage to work themselves and the audience up into a sweat despite the cold evening air, and although the set seemed all too brief, it was definitely the highlight of the weekend.

Another new venture for Blissfields this year was a comedy stage, set up for an hour or so in one corner of the main bar once the mainstage finished. While seemingly good on paper, the venue didn't quite work as the bar was full of people looking to take advantage of the 2am opening, so the comedians had to deal with a constant hubbub from the back of the tent and drunken hecklers passing through. That said, those who did persevere were treated to some pretty good up and coming comics, including Lewis Charlesworth and the hilarious Freddy Quinne, who finally managed to quieten the two worst hecklers with one perfectly judged line where the previous three acts failed.

The Bradley Bubble continued on into the night with James Yuill, and Beans on Toast entertaining the crowd into the night. All in all it was an excellent start to the weekend that left me looking forward to seeing what tomorrow would bring.

around the festival site (2)

review by: Marie Magowan / Steve Collins

photos by: Steve Collins

Thursday 30th June to Sunday 3rd July 2011
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£65 for an adult weekend pass
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Wed 25th May 2011


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