There are plenty of top quality and very impressive festivals on the scene these days, in fact we’d say that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing which one you fancy taking a punt at. With that in mind, it’s quite astonishing to find an event that has not only been quietly doing its own thing for 14 years, but one that excels and outdoes itself in every single aspect of festival organisation, operation and provision. We last visited Blissfields in 2013 and it’s fair to say we were blown away by what we discovered, so this year we decided to return and see if Blissfields could keep the momentum going. To be honest we knew it would be good and we certainly weren’t prepared to be let down, we didn’t really think it could either top or even equal our last visit but our expectations were high, as we all know that usually leads to major disappointment…
Festival organisers Paul and Mel Bliss, as we noticed last time, somehow manage to turn Vicarage Farm into a 21st century Jollity Farm for Blissfields, combining art, music, craft, great food and good times – all in a totally non-corporate environment. The fact that the Bliss family care about the event for all the right reasons means that profit is not the motivation for this one, this is altogether a very different affair, one which brings about a vibe that only ever happens when something is really rather special.
Blissfields is ultra friendly and totally relaxed in nature, the party vibe is strong whilst simultaneously laid back and there's a massive sense of community. If you were to go to this festival all on your own you would be welcomed with open arms and be part of the community in the blink of an eye, I kid you not, it’s that relaxed and welcoming, I don’t think there’s another festival out there that I would feel confident in saying you could go to all on your own and have a good time. Likewise, if you were a parent you could drop your teenagers off and feel confident they would be fine, safe and very, very happy.
That’s not to say that Blissfields doesn’t have a proper festival edge to it, of course it does. You can party the whole night away at this one and the acts are not your safe ‘boring’ usual, they are carefully chosen and offer something a little different to other festivals. You can, and you most certainly will, discover some stunning performers over the course of the weekend. Top marks have to go to the person who books the Blissfields acts because there’s just so much on offer with such an eclectic variety of genres, it’s got that ability to both surprise and delight. It is a mystery to us how a festival of this size can offer some of the most up and coming, hotly tipped acts of the day alongside some well-established acts. But then again that’s Blissfields for you, it remains resolutely a cut above the norm in all aspects, which is obviously the reason why, in an overcrowded market, it’s not only survived but also, unlike many others, really thrived.
The brilliant casting undertaken by Blissfields ensure that the musical delights on offer are a non stop plethora of discovery, Flo Morrissey brought a very gentle vibe to the main stage while in direct contrast battle of the bands winners Duveaux were ripping it up in The Den. Songhoy Blues brought some delightful Malian sounds which was absolutely perfect in the summer sunshine and Alex Adair landed with a superb mix up to get folk raving.
One of the most unusual sights at Blissfileds is the fact that the main stage is frequently unpopulated by crowds. To the untrained eye this is a really strange phenomena and one not normally found at a festival, however, once you get it you realize that people are dancing and partying, they are well into the music and loving it – the thing is it gets so hot at Blissfields you’ll find those dancers and partygoers seeking shade under the numerous trees dotted around, that seems to be the way to get down to it at Blissfields! As soon as a band starts these shade chasers saunter at varying speeds towards the stage and you've got yourself a festival flashmob in no time at all.
Blissfields regulars The Dub Pistols were having none of that sauntering, there was to be no respite for this crowd, oh dear me no, everyone was expected to get to the front for the annual tradition of total raving out as madly and as energetically as possible with the Dubs and everyone duly complied. The crowd was heaving as the Dub Pistols took to the stage and proceeded to turn the afternoon into one huge party; no-one was left out and the Blissfields community were again as one, the intensity of the set was palpable and the crowd-surfing antics from the band was joyous, Blissfields without the Dub Pistols would be unthinkable!
Two further outstanding acts came in the form of Ghostpoet who proceeded to provide a captivating set and Public Service Broadcasting. Obaro 'Ghostpoet' Ejimiwe has no difficulty in winning over a crowd and leaving them a little more informed than they were before, another artist who has the ability to catch you just a little off guard. Public Service Broadcasting proceeded to deliver a storming set with J. Willgoose, Esq. firmly at the helm; they simply get more fascinating with each performance.
A touch of dark gothic music came in the form of Kat Marsh, aka Lionface, a great frontwoman and some serious sounds were evident in a very professional and gripping set. Another brilliant female front woman came in the form of Fable, a fiercely mesmerizing performer whose dark, impulsive music captivated those at the Hidden Hedge.
The Horrors took to the main stage as the Friday night headliners. Faris Badwan and co slew the crowd with an impressive set that included all you’d expect from the guys. It couldn’t really be captured in photographs though because Faris is clearly not a fan of light, preferring, as he does, the mean and moody look, this is all very well and groovy but the light is so bad you can’t even capture that look! But still, this was Blissfileds and this was The Horrors and it all proved to be a perfect fit.
Sunday proved to be yet another rip roaring day, consolidating the fact that Blissfields festival has a great wow factor, it was another blistering hot day and to compliment it there were some blazingly hot acts set to destroy what was left of your sanity following on from a hard day and night of full on partying fun.
Beans on Toast took to the main stage having been told to calm it down a bit for the family audience – well – this is Beans on Toast and he wasn’t about to be tamed. Frank, truthful, a tad political and very, very entertaining he was the perfect choice not only to keep everyone entertained but also to curate the Larch Stage for the afternoon. He has a voice and is not afraid to use it, similarly Blissfields likes to give the folk a voice.
Hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing Cosmo Sheldrake before and was in for a pleasant surprise. This young composer/producer is a masterful lyricist and a highly skilled multi-instrumentalist, for one so young he has done rather a lot and clearly will be doing a lot more in the future.
Plastic Mermaids hail from the Isle of Wight and are certainly making a bit of a stir on the music scene at the moment. Quirky, ethereal and very engaging they brought a strangely eerie feel good vibe to the proceedings.
The hugely talented John Grant has a very powerful presence, and that power permeated the arena during a delightfully well-targeted set, this is a man who has been there, seen it and done it and those experiences translate into some pretty amazing music. Proving a set awash with songs to loose yourself in, this self-effacing musician offers a lot more than meets the eye.
The top set of the afternoon had to be Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster by name and Grandmaster by nature, for the duration of a very powerful, fun enthused and blindingly good set, he was Blissfields. Arriving on stage and demanding that his rig be moved closer to the crowd, the maestro started as he meant to go on, this was a Grandmaster Flash performance to remember.
Portsmouth’s psychedelic pop rockers Kassassin Street have been quietly building up a rep behind the scene, they have now burst forth with a great sound and quite a bit of stage presence, making big waves in their native town they are ready for the next step and they are going for it. They could quite easily have commanded the main stage this weekend; it’s only a matter of time!
Gypsy Disco are an amazing collective who feature fire-breathers, circus performers, interactive theatre and dancers. They brought their spectacle to Blissfields and provided an enthralling and engaging level of entertainment over the weekend, creating something of a wonderland within a wonderland Gypsy Disco and Blissfields in perfect synergy (even if they were cut short for over-running).
More female strength came in the form of DJ Missil, a veritable powerhouse of creativity who proceeded to blow the roof off the place with a very strong set, as did Minie Da Minx – yup – both feet in the groove for sure.
Another stand out act amongst a raft of ‘stand outs’ came in the form of steampunk pioneers The Men Who Would Not Be Blamed For Nothing. We hadn’t caught them before and were rooted to the spot by a thundering, raucous performance, quite different to anything else we had seen that weekend, memorable and left us wanting to see more.
Kingslee James Daley, aka Akala, was another act we'd not seen before, so wandering over to get some pics we were astonished to find that The Den was packed and heaving because of one very energetic young man who was holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. No one was left unimpressed as this very powerful performer pulled out all the stops, this was not just any rap going on here, this was seriously good rapping from a seriously good and hugely talented performer, a bigger stage was definitely needed for this one.
The much talked about headline act closing the main stage this year were non other than Simian Mobile Disco, apparently the Bliss family have been trying to get them on board for years and for 2015 they finally did it. Simian Mobile Disco’s remixes of popular tracks are renowned to say the least, drop in a rather cool light show and you’ve got quite an explosive finale to an explosive little festival.
There were so many other acts we caught over the weekend and among them all there really wasn’t a duff act to be found, from the Main Stage to the Den and the Larch, that utterly delightful Hidden Hedge and the ever banging Blisquotech the wealth of acts on offer was in essence quite miraculous for a festival of this size and nature.
The food on offer at Blissfields is some of the best festival food we have come across at any festival we’ve covered. Just one word for it – quality. Our particular favourite was the pizza stall that kept us fed over the two days, fresh pizza with some funky toppings cooked freshly for you, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The range of food and drink was without exception mind blowing, from fabulous vegetarian options to curries, burritos and a wonderful whole food stall selling really healthy yet ultimately delicious offerings. There was also a pretty impressive ice-cream stall, an absolute necessity in that heat and a very busy little area it proved to be. Not many festivals are able to offer the range and quality of food and drink found here and it’s yet another example of the Bliss family’s determination to make this event one that just screams quality because quite clearly quality on every level is something that matters here.
Everywhere you turn on the site there is something to do. Whilst it’s a small site and easy to get around it’s so cleverly set out it seems far bigger, there are so many areas catering for everyone, kids, teens, parents, grandparents – no-one is left out at Blissfields. It’s a mind-blowing little phenomenon really, how do they manage to fit so much on what is in essence a small site? Yet fit it all in they do with great aplomb the whole things fits together, nothing seems to clash and you can get a very different feel in each specific area.
The workshops and activities on offer keep all those eager to learn and participate well engrossed and the range on offer is stunning. The fire shows at night are magical and the entertainment for the little ones is plentiful, you don’t get tantrums or trauma at Blissfields because there’s simply nothing for anyone to get wound up about. You’re free to participate at this one or you can just chill out with a cool drink and just soak it all up, whatever, you’ll find it refreshing and enthralling.
Another example of the organization that really sets Blissfields apart from the others is the ease of access. Once again we found no nasty traffic issues, getting there and getting onto the site was easy and pleasant and parking was a doddle, it’s not something we are used to and to be honest it’s a bit of a shock to the system. Likewise you won’t find the usual breed of security hell-bent on making life as difficult as possible, instead you find security that enter into the spirit and understand that they are dealing with customers as opposed to criminals. In essence, Blissfields go for quality in every aspect and you get a breed of security that are different to those found at other events, it all adds to the positive, welcoming vibe that defines this festival.
Blissfields is a touch of festival perfection, set in the Hampshire countryside it’s one that is small in stature and yet absolutely mega on delivery. You could fit the whole festival into Glastonbury's back pocket. You won’t get your Beyonces or Paul McCartneys on the bill (although to be honest I would not be at all surprised if one year…) but you will get a perfectly crafted and surprisingly range of quality acts that will take you by surprise.
This is a festival that has a magical touch and offers far more than could ever be expected or achieved by any of its contemporaries and without doubt it can give the big boys a run for their money, in fact many of the bigger festivals could learn a huge amount from the way that Blissfields run the event and treat their festival crowd. The attention to detail is stunning and the watchword for this one is quality.
To achieve this level of quality whilst simultaneously providing a proper festival experience just goes to show that the Bliss family have that magical touch that as been lost by so many other events.
Blissfields is a festival experience that is quite unlike the others, it is not part of the common herd and it’s true to say that this one is as good to work as it is to attend – that is unusual and yet another factor that sets it well apart from the norm. Safeconcerts don’t do festival awards but if we did this one would be top of the pile, there simply isn’t anything to moan about and nothing to critisise, when you have a slice of perfection leave well alone – and what you have with Blissfields is that little slice of perfection.
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