Blissfields Festival 2009

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Alex Fahey | 07 July 2009

Overall - 8/10

After having to cancel last year’s event due to poor ticket sales, Blissfields should have no problems in 2010 following a fantastic showing this year. The festival became its own state for the weekend with Jo Rees being voted in as the president of the United States of Bliss and under her reign the organisers created a country where diverse unknown acts lie in the same bed as festival stalwarts.

Add to the mix a generous dose of Saturday sunshine, friendly people and a chilled, family orientated vibe the word Bliss gets banded about more than just referring to the festival bosses Paul and Mel Bliss.

For once headliners take a back seat to local talent and emerging acts that either feature in The Big Top or Main Stage, which are easily accessible in the modestly sized field. Food stalls, the Bubble Bar (a red double-decker bus serving cocktails and spinning tunes) and an arts and craft tent break up the walk between the two arenas and a late night dance tent is hidden between the trees.

Getting there and back - 6/10

Blissfields is tucked away from the outside world in the tiny village of Bradley, around a 25-minute drive through single lane country tracks from Basingstoke. The organisers ran mini bus shuttling between the site and Basingstoke train station on Friday night and a similar service for the return journey on a Sunday but if you wished to leave in the intermittent times then a taxi or a lift from a generous festival goer is the only option.

Atmosphere - 7/10

The tiny site gives the festival a very intimate feel, the older generations use the weekend to slow down the pace and they sit and relax on the grass whilst their children race around using the free space to play football, rugby or any other ball related sport, all within earshot of the main stage.

The main demographic seems to be 16-20 year olds, who are fuelled up on laughing gas and bottles of cheap cider bringing energy to the stages. They are eager to dance, cheer and shout and their liveliness becomes the lifeblood of the festival.

Music - 7/10

Blissfields hits big, acquiring Laura Marling and Super Furry Animals as the two solid headline acts but it is the local and emerging talent that makes the festival thrive. The music range throughout the day is extremely varied, from acoustic folk to drum and bass via jazz and skate ska, meaning for the audience there is always something that will appeal.

Laura Marling - 8/10

Dressed in a large white blouse and black leggings, Laura Marling looks like a china doll. The few words she speaks in between songs show a sincere and timid personality, “Hello Blissfields. This is the only festival I could enjoy as much as today.”

But her coy persona is lost when she plucks the first string and a confident version of ‘Ghosts’ opens her set, which includes  a moving version of b-side ‘Blackberry Stone’, ‘My Manic and I’ and from her upcoming album, ‘Hope In The Air’. “I’m just trying to play songs that will make you all happy,” concedes Marling, but the crowd are so transfixed by her performance that a rude ditty would still be cheered in awe.  The set ends with the single ‘Cross Your Fingers’ being played straight into ‘Crawled Out Of The Sea’ and a beefed up country version of ‘House Across The River’, “a big thank you to the best festival in the world,” says Marling retiring back into that shell of hers.

Mumford and Sons - 8/10

Marcus Mumford is much more than Laura Marling’s drummer, his instrument repertoire appears to know no boundaries and his performance as Mumford and Sons vocalist he excels on drums, guitar and ukulele.  
Mumford has a grinding voice that sits well against the plucked acoustic guitar as well as the more vigorous strums and harmonies. ‘White Blank Page’ gets a positive response with the crowd returning the chorus as it is sang, before Mumford admits, “This is the best festival I have ever been to. Blissfields was cancelled last year and I didn’t understand the tragedy, now I do.”

‘Little Lion Man’ is achingly good and even sees a crowd surge, “Can we move back please some people are getting crushed at the front.” The set ends with Johnson taking to a full drum kit (he’s been keeping beat with just a bass drum throughout) to perform ‘Dustbin Dance’ and they leave the stage with the polite, “Enjoy Blissfields and Miss Marling.”

Open Mic - 9/10
After Laura Marling’s Main Stage appearance the entertainment continues in the Big Top, with the infamous Blissfields’ Open Mic. It appears that most of the crowd have made their way to see the late night jollities and with all open mic nights, the rule to playing to a busy, well lubricated crowd – sing-a-longs.

The talent ranges from the bad: “I think the guitar is out of tune,” – its not; the middling, Tommy Reilly a capella cover anyone?; to the experienced:a thunderous acoustic version of George Michael’s ‘Faith’, which is so good it causes mini stage invasion, a cracking way to end the night.

Six Nation State 7.5/10 (half a point taken off for needless drug references)

Native to Southampton but now located in Reading, Six Nation State have built up a strong local following. The front man Rich Hansen is energetic and uses his humour to interact well with the crowd, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Paul Bliss, much better looking than Michael Eavis.”

The irony of ‘I Hate The Summer’ is not lost on the crowd as rain begins to fall but despite the moody weather the crowd stay put to see the sun reappear again for ‘Keep Dancing’. ‘The Do Song’ is the bands stand out track, awash with its 50’s doo wop harmonies and plucked electric guitar, its just left for the frontman to leave the midday crowd with this little insight, “I’m off to get drunk and off my face,” before retracting back into “on laughing gas – it’s legal,” after noticing the young age of some crowd members.

Super Furry Animals - 6/10

Keeping in theme with the whole festival, the Super Furry Animals introduce themselves as “The peoples republic of Super Furry Animals, we’ve just flown in from Vietnam,” before thundering through ‘Crazy Girl’.

The band appear to be in good spirits, with Gruff Rhys holding up cardboard notes with instructions such as “Applause” and “Woah!’” to which the crowd are happy to respond. The audience is also asked to turn and howl at the moon before the band meander through ‘Do The Dog’.

‘Hello Sunshine’ is interrupted by feedback on two occasions; with the frontman stopping it, “oh fuck this!” and when restarting they decide to do so from the 2nd verse. “This is a live song, incase you thought you were watching TV.”

The psychedelic rockers aren’t in particularly poor form, it is the set list that lets them down, with a new album to promote they are of course going to showcase the material of which ‘Moped Eyes’ is the first, but the old classics needed to be thrown in earlier. Although it must be said new tune ‘Inaugural Trams’ makes a strong addition to their set list. Maybe they can mock up some more of those cue cards, next time with the lyrics of the new songs written down.

Life In Film - 5/10
Frontman Samuel Fry has a voice akin to Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon and the bassist, dressed in checked shirt and eye wateringly tight shorts, could have been cherry-picked out of Vampire Weekend but comparisons can only get you so far. The band lack variety and enthusiasm but it is set-ender ‘The Idiot’ that is their strongest track it’s a shame the bass line is lifted straight from The Knacks ‘My Sharona’.
Hijera - 5/10

The band had dressed in uniform for this gig, well, I say uniform, they had all tied what looks like jumpers round their necks.  The vocalist has an Ian Brown whine to his singing style but it is the fuzzy synths and mono beat drumming which cements over any melody the vocals had.  Check those levels boys!
The Toilets on Friday night - 1/10
The toilets in the camping field didn’t leave a lot to the imagination after day one and with a crowd of only 1000 people who was to know that they would fill up so quickly? Paul Bliss made a personal apology on the Main Stage who endeavored to get them cleaned more regularly.

Random Events

The attempted coup by the young man who had taken it upon himself to overthrow President Jo. Dressed in camouflage gear and with bullets taped to his chest the hero looked ready for war. The last sighting though was him walking back to his tent – he’d left his lager.

A mention must go to Lucy who has had the absolutely ingenious idea of Beer-occa (she’s patented it – or so she’s says) which works in an identical way to Berocca, with a tablet that dissolves in water to become a pint of beer. Just think you won’t have to steal that trolley from Sainburys to cart your beer across the field next year. Lucy, a millionaire lifestyle awaits you.

The five-a side football match that took place in the camping field where everyone had their shoes off except one numpty who thought wellies were a good idea when making a tackle. Fortunately for tent dwellers a shower stopped play – despite the protests of the men playing.

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