Blissfields is for the birds as Guillemots rule the roost

Blissfields 2012 review

published: Tue 3rd Jul 2012

Guillemots

Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2012
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£74 for weekend
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Fri 8th Jun 2012

Given the weather over the past few weeks, several festivals have had to cancel due to the extremes of wind and hail that have been battering the UK this week, we set off to Blissfields in the hope that it wouldn't befall the same fate. On arriving at the site we were pleased to see conditions were pretty good. The move to the new site last year provides a sheltered location from the worst of the weather, and the ground was fairly dry and solid under foot.

around the festival site (1)
Now in its second year at Overton, Blissfields festival is starting to find its feet, and growing into the space available. With the second stage (Bradley Bubble) moving up closer to the camp sites, and the Hidden Hedge receiving a massive overhaul to almost feel like a separate intimate festival within the main event. Another new arrival this year is a mini-golf course – which was free to play on (although a deposit was needed for the clubs), quite refreshing when you consider the way some festival's wring every last drop of money off you once you are on site.

Ben Goddard
Thursday night is always a fairly relaxed affair, with no main stage performances, and limited programming elsewhere. Most of the music on the second stage was given over to the winners of a series of local competitions titled 'Road To Blissfields'. The regional winners were: FlashFires, Ben Goddard and The Heartbeats, Kamikaze Test Pilots, Half Crown, Novatones, and Bigtopp. For us the standout acts from these were Ben Goddard and The Heartbeats whose songs are a good mixture of Blues and Rock that seemed to get the crowd interested. Also Half Crown, a swing and ska influenced rap group with infectious and bouncy melodies which soon had the crowd on their feet and dancing.

SixNationState
The two headliners for Thursday night were both Blissfields veterans. First up SixNationState, who after eight years together were performing their last ever show. I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this group – musically they are fantastic, and can get even the most stubborn of crowds moving, however the ego of the lead singer Gerry del-Guercio can get in the way and spoil the performance. On this occasion the bands performance was impeccable, maybe knowing that this would be the last time they play together, made them more determined that each song should be given the best attention it could, and the desire to play as much of their back catalogue as possible meant Gerry's ego took a back seat and the band's strength really shone out.

Imperial Leisure
Completing the line-up on this opening evening were festival regulars Imperial Leisure. Performing old favourites and songs off the much-delayed new album, the newly expanded line-up meant that the small inside stage was struggling to accommodate them. Fortunately lead singer Denis' frequent trips into the pit and even the crowd gave them more room to perform. As always their shows end way too soon and leave everyone wanting more, which they would happily provide if it weren't for the curfew. The festival however, continues on into the small hours up in the hidden hedge and around the 'school bus' with its various DJ sets.

During the night the winds got up and the rain closed in, fortunately the rain passed over by mid-morning, but the winds continued and caused a few issues during the opening acts - the security staff and ground crew had their work cut out as the strong winds were determined to try and blow over the fencing around main stage, as well as cause trouble for the flags around the site.

Jake Bugg
Opening the main stage on Friday was upcoming new musician Jake Bugg, the 18 year old brings to mind Noel Gallagher in his stage presentation, seldom smiling and with a serious demeanour that is more focused on the music than anything else. Not that this is a bad thing, and his mix of country/folk brought a young Bob Dylan to mind and songs such as 'Country Song' and 'Lightning Bolt' woke up the crowd and even got a few dancing despite the hangovers and the relatively early hour.

If you fell asleep during Jake's set and woke up during Josh Kumra, you might not have noticed the change, as physically and musically they are very similar, the only change being the arrival of extra musicians on stage. Although similar his musical ability isn't a patch on Jake's and whilst pleasant enough to doze to in the afternoon sun, he lacked the extra 'something' that was in Jake's performance.

around the festival site (2)
Hidden Hedge at night is a weird wonderland of coloured mood rooms, a constantly tended bonfire surrounded by sofas, weird sculptures - mostly of strange creatures torturing and consuming Barbie dolls. But by day it becomes the festival's chill-out zone with acts performing acoustic sets in the main tent. Seeking refuge from the festival and somewhere to sit out of the wind we caught the excellent Bebe Black, whose vocal style reminded me of Amy Winehouse or a more chilled-out Paloma Faith.

Back on the main stage the laid-back acoustic theme was continuing with Lucy Rose but we were feeling in need of a bit of a wake-up, and with Oresteia playing in the Bradley Bubble that fit the bill perfectly. I first discovered this band at last year's festival, and was immediately gripped - they bring to mind the best of eccentric British rock, such as Kinks and even Pulp at times. The live show is just as flamboyant, with front man Darrell Swainston assured and charismatic performance balancing out Jed Carr's flamboyant guitar playing nicely.

Man Like Me
For the rest of the day it was all about the mainstage acts for me, starting with eccentric electro-pop from Man Like Me (live), whose on-stage antics and performance never fail to amuse. It's just a shame that they mostly perform to backing tracks rather than having a live band. Following them were Dreadzone, who performed an assured set of reggae/dub. Speaking afterwards to people who'd seen them before I was told that this was the worst they'd seen them, but coming fresh to the show they sounded pretty good to me.

Taking a short break from the main stage, I wandered back up to hidden hedge, where rockers [ME] were performing. I was interested to see how a band often described as the Australian Muse would handle an acoustic set, but actually the songs transcribe over pretty well. Still managing to carry that epic anthemic sound without having access to full amplification and instruments is quite an achievement, and Damien Tipley's vocal seems to have even more power when allowed to come through.

Blissfields is a festival that, like a Sun grabs wandering comets, seems to suck in bands to return again and again, and the latest to get caught in its pull is King Charles. Looking like a scruffy casualty of the new romantic era, lead singer Charles is a gifted performer, and it's not long before the crowd is up and dancing along to their funky pop.

Guillemots
Another entrant for scruffiest frontman of 2012 was Fyfe Dangerfield, lead singer of Guillemots, a band whose performance was the stand-out of the day for me. Playing a mix of new material from the first of four albums they are releasing this year, and old classics such as 'Trains to Brazil', and the epic 'Sao Paulo', there music just seemed to fit in with the early evening sunshine that had found its way out of the clouds form earlier in the day and bathed the site in its warm glow.


Patrick Wolf
Definitely not a contender for scruffiest frontman was Patrick Wolf, who arrived on stage impeccably attired. Patrick is an interesting man, as although the music is fairly run of the mill light pop, his decision to play it on violin, grand piano, and even harp while supported by a string duet, gives it a slight otherworld feel that elevates what are quite simple songs to something far greater. Sound problems before and during his set unfortunately cut it short, which is a shame as I would have liked to hear more of his music. Although Patrick was billed as the headliner, the last act of the day is held for Subgiant, the drum-and-bass trio whose energetic live performance, never fails to disappoint the glow-stick waving crowd.

As last year, once the main stage closes for the night, the bar is turned into a comedy venue, showcasing half a dozen up-and-coming comedians. Last year this location caused problems as the differing groups of people in the bar – one there for the comedy, and the other just to have a drink, meant that the comics had to work above a high level of chatter and even higher level of indifference. We were interested to see whether they had made any changes to this set up, but sadly nothing had been done, leaving the comics to once again fight against a room that by and large had no interest in them at all. The comics that fared better were those who actively engaged the audience, such as Tony Basnet, and David Morgan, while others struggled, none more so than Red Redmond, who halfway through a joke appeared to have a breakdown when he, for no reason, stopped where he was, stripped down to his underwear, covered himself in oil and then walked off without saying anything more.

Compere Ruth Cockburn tried her best to get the crowd on-side, but to little success. I think that having a comedy venue is a good thing, as it provides a variation from just the music. But some work is needed if they are going to make this side of the festival a success - after two years it's clear it isn't working in its current location and time, and they either need to take it out and give it its own dedicated area, so that people who want to see some comedy can go there unhindered from those who just want a drink. Or just remove it altogether. Despite this problem, it was still a good start to the weekend, and we were looking forward to where the festival would take us tomorrow.

around the festival site (2)
review by: Steve Collins

photos by: Steve Collins

Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2012
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£74 for weekend
daily capacity: 1200
last updated: Fri 8th Jun 2012


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