Small Festival, Big Sound – Blissfields 2013

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A few days before Blissfields I was standing at a 10,000 person capacity stage watching The Rolling Stones, drunk and needing a wee for roughly two hours. It was an uncomfortable yet astounding experience. Boy was getting home a mix of emotions; the best week of my life was over, but then there was the huge relief of being able to wee whenever I wanted. I was in such a haze of emotions, a kind of musical purgatory, that I forgot that I’d have to pack for Blissfields just a few days after. I wasn’t ready.

But then, I was. Blissfields was a kind of half-way-home between constant musical/performing arts madness and the peaceful, quiet life back in Southampton. I could walk from one end of the site to the other in around 5 minutes, and everywhere I strolled lovely up-and-coming bands played in the sun. A circle of hammocks and a collection of craft stalls proved Blissfields to be the family-friendly festival it got its reputation for; the tiny crowds at every performance was a testament to this.

Man Like Me, enigmatic duo and champion of the Ikea advert, were the first band we saw on Thursday, opening the evening with casual toplessness and funky reggae beats. They played to an undeservedly small crowd, which made me feel like they were a band-sized gift of joy given to me at my exclusive birthday party… or something. They reminded me what a young and growing festival Blissfields is, in both audience and bands; a great start to the weekend.

The Staves perform on the Main Stage at Blissfields 2013

The Staves perform on the Main Stage at Blissfields 2013

Saturday began in a drowsy, hot haze and quickly turned into a drunken haze as I made the most of the press tent’s luxuries. If you were in an enclosed space presented with a bottle of gold-leaf cava I would expect you to jump at the opportunity just like I so spectacularly did. Happy and full of love/Blue Nun, Megan and I watched the stunning sister act The Staves, who put on a beautiful performance bursting with harmonies and instrument changes. The girls’ ease and comfort around each other really worked to their benefit on stage; their jokes spread infectiously to the audience, making us feel as much a part of the performance as they were.

Right after The Staves were the The Other Tribe, who got the audience moving with their signature synth-pop, Blissfields was again ready to take the night with a fight. I had so much dancing-potential to burn I didn’t know where to go or what to do; but that was okay, because London Grammar decided it was probably best if I didn’t dance. When they began to play the crowd went silent as they slowly put us all to sleep with unethusiastic, unentertaining drones. With so many recorded songs full of emotion, loss, and desire, they didn’t really get any of those sentiments across, even with the help of Hannah Reid’s stunningly powerful vocals. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was a mess up in the scheduling, either way it wasn’t London Grammar’s day.

Saturday started slowly, and I was just about getting used to the unusual festival lie-ins Blissfields promote with their late-starting lineups. Bastille’s crowd-pleasing set was obviously going to be the one to bring the biggest crowd the festival would see this year, but I have to admit I was more enticed by the day-time offerings. The first set I saw, a moment of respite in the 29 degree heat, was Sam Smith. Maybe best known for his collaborations with the likes of Disclosure on their hit single ‘Latch’, or Naughty Boy’s ‘La La La’, it was his solo work that stunned the audience. A faultless voice, full of passion, created by a shy and endearing Sam. Behind him, a woman on a cello, a keyboard player, and a guitarist. I have to say, the strings made an excellent accompaniment to Sam’s entire set, especially his own version of Latch (which I prefered to the original).

The tone quickly changed as Dub Pistols took to the stage with their vibrant reggae sounds. If I had to pick a genre to play on a hot summer afternoon, it’d be reggae. The small crowd and funky permeated the field as parents popped their kids on their shoulders and bopped, teens danced (or ‘skanked’ as the youth call it nowadays), and I sat on the grass eating a hell of a lot of cereal bars. From seeing them play The Talking Heads pub in Southampton back in November to the Main Stage at Blissfields I could tell these guys had come miles and will continue to grow. Fingers crossed.

A set less enjoyed was from Beans on Toast in the Hard Acoustic Café, whose stories about being a father I enjoyed but the anti-capitalist and anti-war ramblings maybe not so much. Not a fan of anti-folk in general, Beans would have had to done something spectacular to win me over. Unfortunately, the striking similarity to Frank Turner and the general apathy for anything political failed to make me smile.

Clean Bandit playing the Main Stage at Blissfields

Clean Bandit playing the Main Stage at Blissfields

Clean Bandit were, by far, my favourite performance of the festival. The only set I got truly in to, I felt like I could have been back at the hustle & bustle of Glastonbury at one of the smaller stages enjoying them. Big sound, big vocals, and a big performance set this London band ahead of the others for me. Strings and two brilliant female vocalists – what’s not to love?

While most festival claim to be “fit for the family” and all that lark, I’d much rather run around with a bunch of five year olds here than I would at Bestival. Best thing is, it’s so small here you’d struggle to lose your little ones. The music and size makes Blissfields a perfect first-timer festival, which would explain the sheer amount of hyper prepubescents which made the majority of the crowds all weekend. These kids mingling with the grey-haired folk made the festival a tiny microcosm of happy society.

Super Earlybird tickets for Blissfields 2014 are available here.

 

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