Following the unsuccessful attempt to change venue and step up from an event of around one thousand capacity to five thousand with subsequent cancellation due to poor ticket sales in 2008, Blissfields 2009 returned back to its roots, down at Bradley Farm in Hampshire. This year however Blissfields sold out weeks in advance. With headliners Super Furry Animals playing their smallest festival of their year and Mercury nominated and Breaking More Waves approved Laura Marling appearing on Friday night, organisers Paul and Mel Bliss served up aces on a weekend when Britains tennis hero Andy Murray failed to do so at Wimbledon. Added to these headliners were a variety of other bands and DJ's, including Breaking More Waves very own alter ego comedy DJ persona HoJo Hits supplying some slices of musical mature cheddar interspersed with the occasional of the moment big synth pop tune (Yes Giantess, La Roux, Passion Pit) to a relaxed chilled crowd who lapped up the sun at the main stage. Here’s DJ Hojo Hits daring to play Hansons Mmm Bop.
This year Blissfields welcomed punters to the ‘United States Of Bliss’, from entry onto the site with signs stating ‘Border control, please have your papers ready,’ to the camp site which was labelled the ‘Shanty Town.’ The festival even had its own president who was elected by way of a competition prior to the event and its own national anthem which was played out at the opening of the main stage each day. Then at the end of it all, a so called ‘Ambassadors Party’ was held in the big top with the eclectic Bestival / Sunday Best residents Sombrero Sound System and DJ Little Chief bringing the house down with a bunch of big old party anthems, whilst in between Beans On Toast brought his gravel clawed voice, acoustic guitar and songs about festivals, MDMA and Laura Marling to an appreciative crowd, complete with a stage invasion at the end.
So what of the live music highlights ? On Friday night the main stage belongs to Mumford and Sons and Beans On Toast favourite girl Laura Marling. Mumford and Sons play as the sun sets and the site turns into a romantic twilight haze lit by the moon, trails of lights marking pathways through the campsite and a few carefully considered spotlights. Marcus Mumford charms by explaining that he didn’t understand why there was so much disappointment when Blissfields was cancelled last year, but now he does. There is a real glow from the bands set, their sound unhindered by fashion; it pulls at the heartstrings. There is a tendency for the songs to be formulaic based around simple acoustic guitar and banjo building with a swell as kick drums take the songs rolling forward, but it's a formula that works. With the bands harmonies and bluegrass sound Mumford and Sons win many new fans at Blissfields and are probably the highlight for many. Half of the group then remain on stage to accompany Laura Marling who has grown massively in confidence since we first saw her about two years ago. Playing a mix of songs from her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim and new songs such as Hope In The Air, Marlings voice seems to be maturing, less girlish and more rasping and hearty; the sound of American country / folk played by a girl from Reading, England.
On Saturday three bands define the festival. Imperial Leisure first wowed Blissfields in 2007 and return as triumphant heroes, pulling one of the biggest crowds of the day, their energetic blend of rock, rap and ska skanking like Rage Against The Machine sparring with The Specials. From the word go the audience are in the palm of their lairy sweaty hands, their punchy brass and adrenalin soda fizz exertion creating a bouncing bottle of an audience that almost explodes with too much shaking. You can’t see the band in this video, but an audience reaction says it all.
“Last weekend we were at Glastonbury and it was too much like hard work,” announce Subgiant , echoing the thoughts of a number of punters at Blissfields. Subgiant are almost on home turf here, having been a Blissfields favourite and regular for some time now. Occupying the same sunset stage time as Mumford And Sons the day before, Subgiant bring samples and beats so large that we swear we feel the earth below our feet vibrating. A hedonistic warm old school festival vibe sweeps over Blissfields as bleeps and electronic riffs build and rise, strobes flash wildly, electronic drums pound and hands are raised in the air. Dancing outside has never been so much fun.
The final highlight comes from Super Furry Animals. Just last month we reported on their performance at Wychwood 2009 and suggested that they failed to move or engage. Tonight with a radically revamped set list SFA show us exactly why they have remained an essential part of the UK music scene, with their unconventional approach to song writing, ability to pen flawless pop songs, fine beards and sense of humour. “This is a live show just in case you thought you were watching the TV,” announces Gruff Rhys at one point. Later he gets the crowd to turn to the moon and howl at it. The songs they play have a spliffed out psychedelic oddness and inventiveness, but the band are never afraid to create just plain old infectious pop such as on Golden Retriever, which they dedicate to the kennels next to the festival site. Super Furry Animals are a fitting end to the main stage and whilst they may still not be a band we can adore, our admiration has been significantly increased.
Blissfields is the antithesis of corporate festival monsters such as Reading, Isle Of Wight and V Festival. It has a laid back, good natured feel that is suited to both young and old alike. With no over zealous security, lots of smiling faces, a site so small that it takes only five minutes to get anywhere, and this year a number of artists who gave excellent performances, Blissfields has firmly reasserted itself on the independent festival map following its stumble in 2008.
And to finish this review of Blissfields 2009 here’s a little more of our very own DJ set from a pod next to the main stage. Sun, dancing, and a bit of Wham. See you there next year maybe ?