Blissfields' Paul Bliss interview

founder of the festival talks to eFestivals

published: Mon 20th May 2013

around the festival site (Paul and Mel Bliss)

Friday 5th to Sunday 7th July 2013
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£80 for weekend - sold out, only Friday available
daily capacity: 3500
last updated: Wed 15th May 2013

Festival organiser Paul Bliss has seen Blissifelds grow from a party in his back garden in 2001, to a festival for 3,500 people which returns from Friday 5th to Sunday 7th July 2013 to Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, in Hampshire, in the South of England.

It's been three years since eFestivals last interviewed you, what's changed at Blissfields since then?
The main that's changed is the new site. 2010 was the last one we had on our farm we've moved about six miles away to a friend's farm, and it's really grown since then. Immeadiately we moved over there we added a couple more stages, and activities. It's also grown in size too over the last two years.

You did attempt to expand the festival in 2008, unsuccessfully, if you had moved hen to the site you are now on, do you think you would have been able to accomplish that upsize?
Yes, in 2008 we tried to move to Matterley Bowl which had a legacy of much bigger festivals being held there really. If we had moved to Vicarage Farm in 2008 I think we would have been able to pull it off. The infrastructure we would have had to put in in 2008 would have been much less, if we'd gone to Vicarage Farm. Going to Matterley, although it felt like a very prestigious site, we overstretched ourselves really.

Any plans to make Blissfields back up to the size you planned it to be then?
Well next year, growing things gradually it actually it will be as big as we had planned in 2008. We have a licence for just over 5,000 at Vicarage Farm. This year we've sold 3,000 tickets, and with another 1,000 people on site, that takes us back to 4,000 so it's not that much of a step up to 5,000, which is what we were looking at in 2008.

The whole time since that last interview we've been under the credit crunch, you said back then that it was hard to gauge what impact it would have. Are you in a better position now to say what the effects of the recession have been on festivals?
Well, the same the weekend that we have sold out for, The Hop Farm has failed. I think it has been very hard trading conditions for everybody in festivals. What we learnt was to just let the festival grow naturally. Don't try to up prices, just try to improve what you're doing so that everybody comes back and encourages their friends to come. That's what we've relied on so much – word of mouth. We don't spend much on advertising or promotion really, and we know that it's word of mouth that has resulted in that steady growth over the last few years.

You've sold out of weekend tickets so you've done very well this year, so that's 3,000 tickets sold?
Thank you. Yes, 3,000 plus quite a lot of day tickets as well. That's compared to just over 2,000 that we had last year. So, we're 50% bigger than last year on tickets. Admittedly, last year we probably had more competition winners, more press, more everything. So, you won't notice it that much busier on site. But, the truth is there's much more people who have bought tickets actually on site this year than last.

What is the appeal of Blissfields is it the line-up?
I think it appeals to two types of people really. Musos who are really interested in seeing some of the bands that we are putting on and then a lot of local people from within Hampshire who come along because they know it's a great weekend. They probably only know of four or five bands on our line-up, but they know it's going to be good music, but they're not there to follow any particular band. They just know they're going to have a good relaxing, fun friendly time as well.

We've been very lucky with the booking team that we have. Who tend to start to see the next big thing coming through. Luckily, we seem to have got a bit of a name for ourselves for that. Agents are so happy to talk to us about their up and coming bands, and also through coming to the festival they are in with a good chance of being the next Mumford & Sons, Jake Bugg, Bastille, and the like still playing on small stages.

What criteria do you use to select the bands for Blissfields, is there any criteria you use to select the acts for Blissfields? Is there a checklist for acts that fit?
I'd like to say no, but we do have a leaning towards to indie and folky acts. The stages we have now are really eclectic. On one of our stages throughout the whole afternoon this year there's pretty much only heavy metal which is a new move for us. The only thing really we look for in acts is quality whether they are known or not known. Usually people push you in the right direction, there's so many acts out there with so much quality, that in the end you will start picking up the good ones.

If they're not known how do you unearth them?
Well we run a battle of the bands, the Road to Blissfields. This year we had seven local ones and five across the Midlands, and the winners of act local one gets to play the festival, and the winner of the national one. We are inundated with entries, we try to filter it as much as we can, and out of every 1,000 bands we are only looking at five to ten applications. Obviously, because we're a local festival we always look at booking for the lower down acts local people, and they're more likely to bring along their friends and family.

Do you spend all year organising the festival?
You have three months off I suppose between the end of the event, but you still go to other festivals of course, so it's not really time off. But you do have quiet months before looking to make bookings and the first announcements after Christmas. But after the festival you're always thinking about things whether it's looking at putting another stage on or what the the theme is going to be.

That's another thing that's new this year. We've got a cinema to go with the film festival theme this year. The cinema is showing an independent film festival which is going to be interesting to see how that gets on, and whether it goes on next year and becomes a strong part of the festival. We might well keep the cinema as a strand of the festival depending on how well it goes down. I do think festivals are great testing grounds for ideas as well.

I hadn't considered before that themes are a good way of trying new elements at an event.
Well this year it is, a couple of years ago we weren't testing out UFOs! If they had found a wormhole i think I probably would have given up running the festival.

What were the pitfalls that you weren't prepared for when you first started Blissfields?
Well we didn't really start it, it began as a party. I don't think we really anticipated very much, apart from the noise thing with the neighbours, it was a bit loud that year. The big pitfall we had was when we had to cancel that year. We just tried to take it too far too fast. We don't have a huge amount of finance to hand, we are pretty frugal with how we spend our money, we just get by, and we make sure that the money goes back to the people who bought the tickets to have a good time. I think as long as you don't over-reach yourself it actually works pretty well. We've been very lucky with everything, we have a Council that we work with they don't impose a huge amount of restraints upon us. If somebody had come to me with a business plan to run a festival I don't think I would have gone for it. But, now it's upon us it's a part of the family.

It tends to be the cases that once you're a successful festival you tend to attract the bigger guys, have you had any approaches by the bigger festival chains?
No, not at all, we obviously need to get a lot bigger (laughs).

And if you were would you be interested?
I can't see it, I think if you become involved in a bigger group, you do start to lose your identity. There are lot of people who have worked very hard for us over the years, and I think if it became successful I'd rather see that everyone involved in it was rewarded, more than somebody else in some large corporation.

So basically, no we've got no plans to. I'm always in admiration of festivals like Larmer Tree that have gone for many years and been successful for themselves. I think it's amazing that people do that. I've got children getting on for 20 now, and they're very interested in the festival now. It's a little cottage industry, and it keeps everybody who's involved already interested in it.

What's been your favourite act you've hosted over the years?
The act that I was most excited about booking, and having them play in my back garden was Super Furry Animals. That was just crazy, and it was literally in our back garden, to have them play there was amazing. I think Mumford & Sons probably put us really on the map. Having them play that same year, and my son's band last year I was excited to have them play. They were called Cut Corners but they're no longer.

And, for people going this year what are your must see recommendations for them?
As well as Bastille obviously, having the Mystery Jets back who played for us last seven years ago when they played for free, which shows how long ago it was. It will be great to have them back and show them what we have done with the festival as well. I think Clean Bandit are going to be really interesting on the main stage, they've got a good buzz about them at the moment. London Grammar as well, I think they're going to be huge. And, a festival favourite which always brings a smile to our face when they play is Dub Pistols. Mike Skinner and his new project The D.O.T. that is going to be very good I think. We have a lot, there's a lot out there that I'm really excited with.

I'd just like to add that we do hope that all the other festivals do well over the summer as well, and we wish everybody luck, and for the festival goers we hope the weather picks up this summer as well.
interview by: Scott Williams

Friday 5th to Sunday 7th July 2013
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hants, SO21 3BL, England MAP
£80 for weekend - sold out, only Friday available
daily capacity: 3500
last updated: Wed 15th May 2013

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