You know those parents you see (read: pity) at festivals, with the baby wearing ‘cute’ ear defenders strapped to their chest, and pushing the ill-advised huge prams through crowds of drunk people and ankle high mud in the dark? Well that’s me now and Friday was my first experience of festivaling with baby in tow.
And in terms of first time festival experience for the little one, a good few boxes were ticked. Rain, tick. Mud, tick. Overpriced beer, tick. Ok well the last one was just me but you get the idea. I also love watching the people at festivals and unique crowd feature of Bluedot which I first observed last year, stood out even more in 2019. Its proximity to Manchester and affluent areas of Cheshire and the heavy promotion of day and evening tickets makes the festival very accessible. And I can’t blame it for that – that’s exactly why we were there. However this has unintended consequences.
You can see them from a mile off, unencumbered by waterproofs, in their ironed shirts, expensive jeans and yes, even in rainy North-West England, white espadrilles.
While all that is part of the experience, there was one main reason we were there: the music.
Before we get on to that, we need to talk science. A big part of the draw of Bluedot are the talks, lectures and demos from geeks and astronauts alike, as befits the festival’s location at Jodrell Bank with the main stage beneath the monumental Lovell Telescope. This isn’t exactly my cup of tea but I dabbled with DNA, munched some high-protein snacks made of insects (turns out we’re already eating them in marshmallows), learned about Antarctic sea probes and marvelled at the giant moon installation. There’s plenty to keep kids of all ages occupied in the daytime which, arguably, is a necessity with the heavy rain and lack of many big musical draws before late afternoon.
Du Blonde was the first act we saw and despite a well reviewed new album and podcast debate, I’m ashamed to say I’d not made any effort to listen to her music up until this point. It was my duty therefore not to pass up the opportunity to see her live. I’ve heard the word “grungy” used to describe her and while this is fairly accurate I was pleased to be able to challenge any preconceptions of a word that would normally be a turn off for me. The heavy guitar and gravelly (and very good) voice mark Du Blonde out as a singular artist – I genuinely can’t think of any contemporaries who I could compare her to. The disappointingly sparse crowd (turns out Cheshire’s orangest were all huddled in the real ale tent to keep their trainers white) missed not only a musical treat but also a genuine festival ‘moment’ as it began to pour it down on cue to ‘Holiday Resort’s line “hold my face up to the rain”.
I went to see Grace Lightman on the basis that fellow bastard Tom Burrows had recommended her in one of the “Best things we heard…” features. However there is no evidence of this on the PBs website. Not to bang on about the new parent thing but I’m really tired and this wouldn’t be the first odd thing I’ve done in the five months since my daughter’s birth. So some sort of serendipity was at work and luckily for me Grace was excellent having dragged two companions with me through the rain. She owned the stage with effortless cool and we were quickly captivated. On the basis of what we heard she was absolutely the discovery of the day with tight backing band, and dreamy electronic sound which brought Goldfrapp to mind.
Back to the main stage and the early evening line continued to be dominated by women. Amazones D’Afrique played an energetic if predictable set. Next up I was pleased that the party I’d wanted from Ibibio Sound Machine materialised. ‘Wanna Come Down’ and ‘Give Me a Reason’ were highlights and both figuratively and literally dampened crowd finally got going. They make so much more sense as performing, rather than recording act.
Having been suitably livened up, Kate Tempest was not who we needed to follow Ibibio. Now this isn’t her fault and her lyrical prowess is not in dispute, but, alone on what is not nearly the biggest festival stage, she just didn’t work for me. To reiterate, this is not a criticism of her, she was very much a victim of circumstance on this occasion. I would love to see her in a dark and dingy venue somewhere on a November night where the attention she deserves can rightly be paid.
The only all male act we saw all day was headliner Hot Chip.
When heard live, the at times overly slick production of songs from latest album ‘Bathful of Ecstasy’ is happily lost in favour of the charm of the ramshackle sound of earlier classics like ‘Over and Over’ and ‘Night and Day’.
If I was being harsh I’d say they not yet fully matured as festival headliners, despite not being short of material having just released their seventh studio album. They even had space to throw in a Beastie Boys cover and I swear I heard a borrowed Eurythmics chorus. Nostalgic? Yes in part but while they’re still putting out top tunes that are received as well as their classics nobody in a field somewhere in Cheshire was complaining.
Word by James Spearing.
Pictures by (and of) James Spearing.