even rain can't dampen the crowds' excitement at Blissfields

Blissfields 2014 review

published: Fri 11th Jul 2014

around the festival site

Friday 4th to Saturday 5th July 2014
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 3BL, England MAP
tier 1 £85 for weekend
daily capacity: 4000
last updated: Wed 23rd Apr 2014

As the bright morning sun warmed up the site and forced people out of their tents, the site was busy as last minute touches were applied to the site. Some festival organisers are not much more than administrators of a larger group, but Blissfields organiser Paul Bliss is not this kind, and so he could be seen on top of a cherry picker fixing a giant white gorilla to the top of a speaker stack. While the adults are still reeling from the nights celebrating, the site belongs to the children, and this is one of the areas that Blissfields excels at.

Whilst many festivals pay lip service to being 'family friendly' with a small area, or activities that will burn through your wallet at speed, Blissfields has an extensive area dedicated to entertaining the younger ones, and best of all it's largely free - with giant versions of Ker-plunk and Downfall, chance for children to learn circus skills, listen to storytelling sessions or make a mask. Parents don't need to be left bored while supervising them as it is placed next to the acoustic stage, ensuring that they get entertained as well. This mornings entertainment was a man with a giant bubble net and while the parents were able to sit back and watch, their children are eagerly chasing bubbles. Just how amazing are big bubbles? The adults were just as mesmerised by the show as the children.

As the sun moved overhead of main stage the festival truly gets underway. First up and very fitting with the theme of Walk on the Wild Side were Junk, whose African rhythms were produced using instruments made from recycled materials. On the subject of recycling the opening band in the Hustle Den were also recycling - in this case the sound of Muse, sadly Maths and the Moon weren't finding anything new in the sound and seemed a bit bored with it themselves, coming across as just a bit dull. Fortunately the small size of the festival means that if you don't like one band two minutes later you can be at another stage.

By contrast on the Wild (main) stage Wolf Alice were proving that you can recycle music and still sound fresh. The 'rock-chick led rock band' path is well-trodden, and while their bluesy rock sound didn't break any new ground, they had the passion and energy to carry it through. Even when they slowed down, as they did for a cover of Chris Isaac's Wicked Game which for me was up there with the original. It is often difficult for a band early afternoon to draw a crowd but as they worked through their set the crowd was being drawn in.

Seeking a break from the heat of the day, we took refuge in the Larch stage where we found The Cadbury Sisters performing a sound acoustic set that was enjoyable to watch, especially when they came off stage to perform an unamplified song in the middle of the audience.

I always believe that the best festivals are the ones that aren't completely tied to the music, and for Blissfields the main focus away from the music comes in the form of the games - ever since a School theme a few years back, the festival has had a daily programme of It's a Knockout style fun and games, loosely themed around 'Animal Antics' what this usually meant was that contestants had to dress up in animal onesies or horse heads, then complete an obstacle course, sack race or tug of war. In return for this public humiliation, contestants could win tickets to an after show party with exclusive DJ sets and free drinks, or for those under 18, a handful of sweets - both ages seemed quite happy with this arrangement.

Blissfields is a festival that has a reputation for discovering new talent, and this year it has cast it's net wider, with several acts appearing from across the Atlantic. One of these acts was the typographically challenging tUne-yArDs, whose drumbeat-heavy electro-pop was one of the standout acts of the day drawing one of the first big audiences to the stage. They were clearly enamoured of the festival too and frontwoman Merill Garbus frequently thanked the audience and said that it was one of the best little festivals they'd played.

Taking a break from the music we took the opportunity to get some food, and this is another area where Blissfields does very well. While most festivals will offer you five different versions of burger and chips, plus a noodle van. Blissfields ensure that there is a wide variety of different foods. And as well as the burger and chip options, they also offer Mexican (the now legendary Luardos), Thai, Indian, as well as handmade pizzas. The only trouble with all these options, is that the festival just isn't long enough to be able to sample it all - you need another couple of days to do it justice. Prices are pretty reasonable too, and £6 will get you a decent meal. Drinks are also pretty reasonable with the main bars offering cans of Becks and Thatchers for £3 each. Also making a welcome return this year was the Hobgoblin ale festival, offering a selection of beers and ciders from around the country.

Despite claims that 'it never rains at Blissfields' and after almost two days of bright sunshine, the clouds started to close in, not that this seemed to daunt Dan Croll, whose bright and summery pop seemed in contrast to the gathering gloom. Things got worse as Spector took to the main stage and the heavens spilled their load and the whole site was encased in a persistent drizzle. Rain is a mixed blessing at a festival, as while it can ruin a festival, a sudden shower can be a boon to the bands playing in tents as they will suddenly get a far larger crowd than they would have. This was the case for Thumpers who saw the crowd go from a few dozen to almost a 1,000 in the space of a song. What these rain refugees got in return (in addition to shelter) was a solid performance by the synth-pop band, I'm not sure it was enough to win them many new fans though.

Although the forecast was for the rain to get heavy, it instead stayed a light drizzle, which meant that the ground wasn't too bad, and we saw none of the mud that characterised the previous weekends Glastonbury. Presumably fear of getting her white shoes muddy was one of the reasons that as soon as Alexis Krauss arrived onstage with her band Sleigh Bells she kicked off her shoes and performed barefoot. Sleigh Bells describe themselves as a noise-pop band, but to be honest this doesn't really do them justice, as despite the walls of speakers and rock postings, what you get are actually quite a lyrical and musical band, more in line with the likes of Ash. Alexis's background as a member of a girl-group is betrayed in her clear and soaring vocals that contrast with the heavier sound the rest of the band produce. Although not overly familiar with them as a band, I was soon drawn into them and the large crowd that had gathered despite the weather was testament that we were not alone. This was their only UK date this year, but hopefully they will return again soon, definitely worth checking out if they do.

By complete contrast on the acoustic stage was a name that should be familiar to anyone who watched The Voice this year. Beth McCarthy was part of Ricky Wilson's team. Despite only just turning 17 a week before she performed, she is now plugging her way round the UK festival scene. Given that she has been on national TV she's actually quite a nervous person, and despite her easy banter with the crowd you got the impression that she doesn't find engaging particularly easy. That said, when she starts to sing, with no group and only a guitar a different person takes over and she has a confidence in the music that makes for a captivating performance. With most of her career still ahead of her, on the strength of this performance I see no reason why she won't make a bigger impression in the years ahead.

As we left the tent the rain was starting to intensify and so we decided to call it a night, despite the rain it's still been a great day with several new discoveries - which is what festivals are all about.


review by: Steve Collins

photos by: Steve Collins / Marie Magowan

Friday 4th to Saturday 5th July 2014
Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott, Winchester, Hampshire, SO21 3BL, England MAP
tier 1 £85 for weekend
daily capacity: 4000
last updated: Wed 23rd Apr 2014


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