Last weekend saw our annual Strong Island pilgrimage to Vicarage Farm on the outskirts of Winchester for the charming little festival that is Blissfields. Due to the day job getting in the way Tristan and I arrived on Friday morning. We’d missed DJ Yoda’s special Stranger Things DJ set the previous night but there was still plenty of going on for us to look forward to.
The Blissfields site evolves and transforms each year and this year was no different. I could instantly see that the Main Stage, Blisscotheque bus and the Hidden Hedge were exactly where I left them. Another welcome return was the Original Fry-Up Material food stall. They easily produce the best Burgers I’ve had at any music festival! I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs just thinking about it.
The Larch stage moved ever so slightly while The Bay had moved to the complete opposite end of the site. This was a clever move as it suffered from being tucked away last year. Over the weekend The Bay seemed much busier. During the day you found young’ens building sandcastles and playing with inflatables while being treated to chilled out beats. By night you found the volume was turned up for a large beach party.
New additions to the site were the carnival rides which included a Ferris wheel, Helter Skelter and Bumper Cars.
“Perfect for the whole family, great music, entertainment and lots of bars for the adults. Also I don’t think we’ve ever been to a festival with so much shade and seating, perfect for summer festival times with a little one in tow.” Bronia Martin
“Lovely atmosphere with just the right balance of weirdos and music lovers” Martyn Baldock
The Main Stage (or Theatre of the Bizarre as it was known this year) was opened by Anna of the North. Due to the baking sunshine, much of the crowd was forced to take shelter in the trees just to the side of the stage. Following singer Anna Lotterud on the stage were our friends from Pie & Vinyl who were DJing between live performances. Sadly I couldn’t hang around for too much of that as Strong Island Recordings had taken over the Larch stage.
The first of the two SIR performances came from psychedelic dream poppers, the Drug Store Romeos. The young trio from Fleet played a really good set and I’d love to reference or link a few of the tracks they played but other than a couple of YouTube live sets, the band don’t have any music online. I am reliably informed that will change over the next few months and we can expect a few tracks to surface online. Next up were their label mates Dancehall who treated the crowd to tracks including ‘Virgin‘ and ‘Digging.’
I was expecting Sundara Karma to steal the show on Saturday but that accolade went to the fantastic Japanese House. The solo project of Amber Bain, she interestingly settled on the name after a childhood trip to Devon where she stayed in a property owned by actress Kate Winslet, the cottage was called the Japanese House. Amber’s memories of her experiences are cited as huge influences for her intentionally androgynous presentation of her musical work. This performance was my musical highlight of the weekend, the dreamy electro infused tracks went down well in July sunshine.
The Japanese House
Another pleasant discovery was the New Forest Scotch Egg Company. Situated just outside of the Larch stage, they offered a selection of unusual and unique takes on the classic snack. The wild boar and apple was delicious! They even offered a side of mac n cheese to go with it but I fear that if I had opted for that as well then I’d have slipped into a food coma and needed a little nap!
If you were to check out my Top 25 Most Played tracks on my iTunes of the last decade you would find ‘Build A Home‘ by the Friday headliners, The Cinematic Orchestra. While I enjoyed their set, I was eagerly anticipating that track being played live with a full band. I have to be honest, I found the stripped back acoustic performance of the song underwhelming. It was the wrong setting for that type of performance, it needed to be relatively quiet around it and not have the echoes of the other stages and the fairground rides located about 20-40 metres away.
“Each set we saw felt way more intimate than at previous festivals we’d been to, which made the experience way better and I think we both got our ten year quota of vitamin D over the course of those 3 days!” Tanya Roberts
The Cinematic Orchestra
The Diamond Age
After having a go on the bumper cars, it was time for me to hit the sack. I wanted to stay up and check out DJ Luck and MC Neat but after a long day, I needed to recharge the batteries.
On Saturday afternoon our pals over at Strong Island Recordings had the honour of DJing the main stage between performances from Beans on Toast, One Step Too Late and Black Honey. The later has been causing quite a buzz and received rave reviews after their recent performance on Glastonbury’s John Peel Stage. Fronted by lead singer Izzy Taylor, she quickly captures the attention of the crowd. Blissfields is famous for seeing its performers going on to become huge acts on the world stage. I believe that Black Honey will be the latest addition to a list which already boasts Mumford and Sons, Bastille, Laura Marling, Ben Howard and Sam Smith. It was also great to see the band mingling with fans afterwards and enjoying the festival for themselves.
The festival offered free hot air balloon rides throughout the day but sadly I wasn’t quick enough to book in and missed out on that one. I made up for it with a trip on the big wheel which still managed to provide me with a great view of the site.
For the third day in a row, Blissfields was bathed in glorious and unrelenting sunshine. I have to mention the Dub Pistols who are as closely associated with the festival as organisers Paul and Mel Bliss. Barry Ashworth and co attracted the biggest crowd of the weekend for any band who performed during the day. Credit to those in the crowd who fully went for it! Personally, I was enjoying it from the popular shaded area under the trees. That was until it was time for the Area 51 stage to open so I can catch Portsmouth’s own Melt Dunes.
It was pretty empty at first for Melt Dunes and those who were in the crowd were stood quite far back. The band won the crowd over quite quickly and you could see everyone edging closer with each track. By the end of the set, the band had attracted a good sized crowd who enjoyed what they heard.
Another band who I would encourage readers to get involved with would be Pumarosa. If I were to compare them to anyone around at the moment then imagine if the Foals recruited Natasha Khan from Bat For Lashes or Kate Bush on vocals. The future is bright for the band, which seemed apt as lead singer Isabel Munoz-Newsome was dressed in a bright orange top, as was Nick Owen on drums.
The energetic electro gang of Metronomy closed out the festival and made sure that things ended on a real high. They were much more suited to the headliner slot than Cinematic Orchestra had been on the previous night.
“I’d heard Blissfields is the festival where it never rains, and that was definitely true this weekend! We enjoyed scorching sunshine over this gorgeous boutique festival whilst watching some world class music. The entertainment and food were great, and the late night Area 51 had us dancing til the early hours. Thank you Blissfields and Strong Island!” Jessi Dimmock from wheresmytent.com
The Melt Dunes
Many might not realise it but the festival owes a lot of its success to the community of staff and volunteers that put on the event. The Blissfields team have always made Strong Island feel so welcome and we cannot thank them enough for their continued hospitality, especially Alex and the rest of the Greenhouse Group. Many of whom we consider personal friends.
The Blissfields team are following the example of Glastonbury and having a (sort of) break next year. Whilst Vicarage Farm recovers there will be a much smaller event which will be an invite-only party. However, those that attended this year’s festival will have a chance to be there and you can register your interest for 2018 tickets at here. Get in early to avoid disappointment as available tickets will be limited.