It never rains at Blissfields. Or at least that’s what they say, but as we pull out of Bristol onto the M4, the sky tells a very different tale.
The festival has changed dramatically over the last few years, both physically and in line up calibre. It would be fitting of the weather to chip in too, but despite a few blustery nights and the odd downpour at breakfast time, Blissfields fairs relatively well – once again attracting the sun that transforms this festival into the event we all know and love.
Community is a very important factor throughout the weekend. This is the festival that offers a sense of camaraderie at every turn. This is the festival people keep coming back to. This is the festival that, by Sunday morning, will feel like your second home. Partly influenced by the close quarters of the site, but also because those attending seem to have known each other for years – even if they met yesterday. If you’re a regular attendee chances are you’ll bump into a familiar face or ten, but whatever the case, you’ll always be accepted into the fold.
Likewise the musicians performing offer a sense of déjà vu: Thursday night alone sees the welcome return of SixNationState and Imperial Leisure, both seasoned Blissfields artists. Alongside them come performances by Ben Goddard and the Heartbeats and Kamikaze Test Pilots, acts chosen from Blissfields’ Battle of the Bands pool. In previous years these bands were allowed a bigger profile – if memory serves right all performed on the main stage during Saturday daytime. Instead in 2012 they’re placed in the second tent on a night only open to those with an additional ticket. SixNationState even exclude their infamous Blissfields anthem, withdrawing yet more of that intimate charm exclusive to Blissfields.
Friday reveals yet more change. It's a change that has a negative effect on the entire weekend. We’re unable to take booze purchased outside of the site into the main arena with us. Apparently this new clause has been printed, in characteristically small font, on the back of tickets – but the message hasn’t got through. In previous years lugging plastic bottles around with you wasn’t a problem, but as the majority of the attendees try and fail to make it through the farm gate that divides campsite from arena - manhandled by particularly vigorous and unfriendly stewards - pre-drinkers are soon put in exile, and rudely too. So much for a friendly festival. Had we all clearly been told by email or notification on the Blissfields site, few of us would have bothered to lug five litres of cider through the countryside of Hampshire for the sole purpose of consumption in a field. Security clearly hope people will abandon their stash and buy more at the bar, but instead many of us resign ourselves to missing half the bands in order to save a good whack of money. Who wouldn’t?
Consequently, while Josh Kumra and Lucy Rose help to wash away the last fizz of Friday’s hangover, when the ridiculously cocky but undeniably entertaining Man Like Me warm the crowd up, the end is not met by the bar... But a trudge back to tents to refuel. We weren’t there to witness Dreadzone or Bear Cavalry, but we doubt many were.
We return in the nick of time to see King Charles light his trademark dreadlocks around the stage to “Love Lust” and other classics. Steadily rising in profile, he’s arguably now a ‘big name’ for Blissfields, but again – he’s a regular. This time the main stage is his, and so as he attracts an increasing crowd of teenagers to the front, this festival in the sun finally morphs into Proper Blissfields. Later joined by Guillemots and Citizens!, Friday night looks set to be a barmy collage of drink, bonfires and music.
And it is, but not before headliner Patrick Wolf plays a lazy acoustic set to only a handful of attendees. His shoddy primadonna nature rears its ugly head when his piano “doesn’t work” – though we can hear no malfunction in the notes of “Pigeon Song”, one of the few tracks he plays that’s not taken from his newest material. It’s easy to forgive Blissfields for their booking mistake: with a full electronic band and a few more singles, Wolf’s set would have been greatly improved. Instead it flutters in like a particularly delicate butterfly, before exposing its precious wings and exiting without making any significant impression. I dread to think what they spent on him.
The following morning we wake with one thing and one thing only on our minds: we need to get drunk before Bastille takes to the stage. Demonstrating ample charisma and tunes to match, despite their minor status in comparison to Wolf, they would have done a better job as headline last night. Playing their entire back catalogue, or at least all of the songs the public have thus far been exposed to, they round off their set with a turbulent cover of “Rhythm of the Night”, received in rapture. In delirium we announce we’ve found our festival highlight, and though the remainder of the day has its highlights, we prove to be right.
Strangely the next act of note are a Fleetwood Mac cover band, aptly named Fleetwood Bac and in possession only of the original’s better known songs. Half heard over in the campsite – again, our pre-purchased alcohol calls – for all we know they could be the real deal.
As the festival progresses through sets by Dub Pistols and Charli XCX, many attendees leave hot spots early to cram into the aforementioned second tent. Who for? Of all the musicians, Charlotte Church, who has decided to showcase new material at Blissfields. Weird, huh? We thought so too, until she opened her mouth and out came not an operatic shrieking or glistening pop, but something akin to Kelly Clarkson. She’s gone rock everyone, and she’s chosen a festival to launch her new image. The novelty wears off within three songs and we wisely leave to see Eugene McGuinness, who unfortunately rallies as much cheer from the crowd as a dead donkey but at least don't pierce our eardrums. It’s quite painful how little reaction his new, substandard direction receives, and though we’ve been a career long fan, we can’t help but admit it’s all a bit pants. Sorry Eugene.
At this point the legendary Blissfields haze kicks in: high on the community fumes, ever so slightly drunk on vodka, and enjoying the now blistering sunshine, we see Spector – but honestly we can’t remember a thing besides a mass of people suddenly running towards the stage. So it must have been impressive. Likewise Noisettes, Saturday’s headline, pack the main stage out – but their lighting system triggers some kind of ultra-violet comedown and we roll, steadily but in good faith, towards Dog is Dead and Theme Park. It’s a break from the madness, but only if you count ferocious, blinding talent as a break.
We’ve been knocked off balance by Spector, deafened by Noisettes, and now blinded by Dog is Dead and Theme Park. There’s little more we can do but sleep, and when we finally wake up, we do so to a very, very burnt forehead. Excellent. Another year at Blissfields done and dusted. Roll on June 2013...
- Tiffany Daniels and Sarah Paviour