Blackthorn Festival 2017 – Saturday

Saturday morning duly arrives at Blackthorn and the first thing I do is check the weather to see that the forecasted all day rain has been pushed back to later in the day. We may even get some sun. Hooray!

It seems that our borrowed tent has holes in the porch section as a few puddles have formed during the night. Not to worry – my innovative idea of using an empty coffee cup to scoop up and discard the water means the tent is dry in no time.

Time for more music after a hearty breakfast to get refuelled. First up on the Paddock Stage is Stockport band, Kashmere. There’s been a lot of hype about them over the past year or so, and having seen them near their inception I struggled to relate to what all the fuss was about. I now stand corrected. They were sublime. It was a great way to kick off the Saturday and I was thoroughly impressed with their Electro/Indie/Doom/Pop hybrid. They have definitely gone up a level with tunes that immediately connect with their audience, like new single, ‘Hoxton’ and the more poignant, ‘Porcelain’, which was released earlier in the year. Kashmere have a huge gig coming up on 12th August at Gorilla – I’d recommend attending that one.

Down at Mr Peeps’ larger Paddock Stage, I manage to catch the end of Factory, a band I assumed are Mancunian given the name, but are in fact from Runcorn. I like the ballsiness of that, and I more than like what I was hearing. Described as, “…intense, energetic, passionate displays of raw rock and roll, infusing 60’s blues with a modern rock edge”, I was blown away just from the final two songs alone. ‘Dynamite’ is a great track which is available for download.

Staying on the Paddock Stage a little later on were Southampton four piece, The Novatones, who’s loud, energetic and fiery performance was a mixture of classic British mod, mixed with American punk. This was a band that carried a hell of a lot of commercial appeal so expect to hear more of these guys before the year’s out.

It was at this point where the stage hopping started to kick into overdrive and I missed a few artists, and only caught snippets of other acts set. Special mention goes to, Where Fires Are, as a couple of people told me they were completely mesmerised by their performance. The same goes for Jade Helliwell, who’s superlative vocal had most of the audience picking their jaws up off the floor by all accounts.

Manchester Indie Pop band, Corella, were solid on The Main Stage, with ‘Barcelona Girl’ being the best track of a likeable bunch of catchy, melodic songs. Sheffield three-piece, Floodhounds, provided some sizzling blues rock from the Paddock Stage, with some proper hard hitting, stomping tracks complete with gloriously shredding guitars. Happy Daggers were a must see after last year’s set left me in awe with their blend of funk, soul and strutting basslines. Being bumped up to The Main Stage meant more exposure, and there wasn’t a still person in sight once they started laying the grooves down. The highlight this year was a cover of Black Box’s, ‘Ride on Time’.

Jess Kemp was much anticipated as always, and having arguably stolen the show at past Blackthorn Festivals, her Main Stage slot was well deserved. I’m running out of words for this bright, young talent as she gets better and better, seemingly attained another level of confidence. Jess has always been one to do a cover, but in this set, every song was her own, showing that she’s building quite the catalogue. A couple of newer ones were thrown in – one being a little different to her usual tone, but still sounding fantastic. ‘Stars’, written about Blackthorn, went down brilliantly, and the emotive ‘Camden’ is just one of the best tunes I’ve heard over the past ten years, always making a few people cry despite it not being an obvious emotive ballad. The full band kicking into overdrive towards the end of the song and set after Jess has announced them is one of the best sights in today’s music scene. Yet again she proved to be a contender for highlight of the weekend. A fantastic singer/songwriter that Britain needs. I always appreciate the shout out she gave about my book launch at Manchester 235 Casino on the 30th September. Details here! (Nice plug!)

I just managed to catch the end of Scottish rockers, Jamie & Shoony, on the Meadow Stage, and I wished I’d caught more as the crowd that spilled out of the tent bounced about from the pulsating energy created inside. Described as an, ‘urban indie punk quartet’ with ‘ballsy anthems’, the unique blend of genres is something a little different from your average rock band. No Hot Ashes were another band I barely caught, but again, another excellent Stockport band who’s tunes are really coming together with some unique psych based funk full of northern soul that carries an appeal beyond the underground. They are due to play Club Academy on 16th December and I’ve been told that’ll be a sell-out so get your tickets quickly.

The final act on the Paddock Stage was one that had many mouths racing over the course of the day. Whenever I spoke to people and asked for any band recommendations, they always said, The Blinders. I’d heard one or two tracks before but never seen them live, but the fact that they are supporting Cabbage at the moment leads me to believe that something special stirs within this band – and ‘special’ was an understatement. To hear recorded is one thing, but to see live was something spiritual.  The three-piece come on and as soon as the first twangs of the guitar are felt I’m instantly hooked, and I find that my eyes widen and a wry smile arises. It sounded incredible – like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack on acid – dark, unnerving, and mysterious. ‘Swine’ highlights this. If the sound had me hooked, then the vocals from Thomas Haywood really sent me to another planet. This was Jim Morrison-esque…..and done well, which isn’t an easy thing to do (believe me). It wasn’t just a resemblance in look, but also in clothing and the way he hurls his life affirming words at you like a true eccentric poet for those moments when the music quietens. This was modern day psychedelic rock at its very best, and the rest of the UK needs to listen and take note. The words and themes of the songs were very Doors like too – speaking of current political and social affairs in a way that makes you listen. ‘ICB Blues’ is a great example of this, and the tune was just as mesmerising as the words – brilliantly psychedelic and dangerous. What a tremendous performance this was. Highly recommended that comes with government health warning that’ll blow your mind into smithereens.

It was back to the Main Stage for the headline act on Saturday, coming in the form of 90s rockers, Reef. They come on to rapturous applause, with a couple of members donning long beards. Admittedly, I only knew there most famous number, ‘Place Your Hands’, so I was intrigued to hear what else they had to offer. The truth was something very different to what I expected considering the legendary song associated with them. There was quite a cutting southern rock/surf rock edge about them, sounding a little like Lynyrd Skynyrd in parts. It was a fantastic set, and one that’s made me delve further into their back catalogue to see what other hidden gems lurk within their repertoire. Of course, when ‘Place Your Hands’ was eventually played, the atmosphere soared to hedonism as the whole of Blackthorn raised their hands in appreciation to the songs famous lyrics.

Howling Rhythm, a club night held at Ruby Lounge, rounded off the evening nicely as the best tunes from the 60s Soul / Motown / Rhythm & Blues / Funk kept the festival goers in jubilant mood for the next hour or so – keeping the atmosphere fun and light hearted.

It was another great day of music, and despite light rain throughout the day that eventually turned heavy as the evening drew, it didn’t deter people from getting into the festival spirit. Wellies were a necessity as the ground began to cut up, but in some perverse way, being out of your comfort zone is what makes the weekend much more fun. Food throughout the day was to the usual high standard, and even for two people being a bit more vegetarian these days, there was plenty to choose from…..falafel wraps are my new thing!

Photo by Richard McCann

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