Published on July 27th, 2016 | by Nigel Cartner0
Blackthorn Festival 2016 – Friday
The fourth year of Blackthorn Music Festival finally arrives and I can hardly contain my excitement as me and Sue arrive early afternoon to get our tent set up. The sun is out believe it or not and the heat is blistering. It’s not the ideal conditions when putting up a tent and building camp beds (god send by the way) as the sweat profusely poured from me. We’ve packed certain things to prepare against the typical cold and rain, but the extent of our weaponry against the sun only stretches to sunglasses. As if I’d think to bring sun cream to a festival in the North of England. Well I should’ve because I was like a lobster before we’d even started the weekend’s merriments. Once everything was set up I was dying of thirst so we head to the bar in the barn by the main stage for a well deserved pint, where the selection of beers and ales had been broadened this year.
The layout of Blackthorn is different this time around, swapping over from last year with the campers being moved to the open field, and the stages being moved to the other side of the hill in a narrower walkway style strip. It’s a completely different looking festival in this set up and pros and cons can be debated till the cows come home (pardon the pun), but most importantly it didn’t detract from the overall experience as we’re still sat in a picturesque green setting of rural Stockport.
There was the addition of the country stage too this year, taking the number of outlets for great music to four over the weekend, but this and The Paddock Stage remain closed for Friday. Tonight the focus is on The Main Stage and The Meadow Stage.
18.45 comes around quickly after a couple of beers and a tasty and meaty Angus beef burger. I’m ready for the opening act, Cruel Kingdom, who were last year’s winners of the Blastbeat Stage. People must have remembered their competition winning performance as they gathered in their numbers around the Main Stage. They’re a young looking cool band, and their funky rock rhythms were an ideal way to open the festival as the fans wasted no time at all in dancing along to kick off the party. For such a young band they commanded the stage well and they had no fears about performing a ballsy, but successful funked up cover of The Beatles, ‘Come Together’, which was shortly followed by Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’. The impressive nature of the delivery of those two classics shows why Cruel Kingdom are highly rated, evident by the fact they bagged a support slot for the esteemed Alexander O’Neill back in December. This is a band you’re likely to hear more of in the future!
Next up on the Main Stage were tribute acts, Antarctic Monkeys and Kazabian. The original bands have been key to the shaping of British indie music over the past decade, therefore appealing to the younger attendees who grew up with them being at the forefront of indie music. The atmosphere began to intensify as the scores of people began to filter in just in time for Antarctic Monkeys. As the hits began to fire out the crowd sang and danced more, which spilled over when Kazabian took to the stage shortly after.
I noticed more people are in attendance this year on the Friday, but I felt the mix of last year’s tribute acts focussing on Manchester legends (Smiths Ltd, Happy Mondaze, and The Complete Stone Roses) worked better as a whole, but that didn’t really hamper the overall meaning of what Blackthorn gives you on a Friday night…. a real party like atmosphere, aided by Clint Boon (and his young son) on the decks in between tribute acts to really keep the energy and stimulation high.
I was able to take a time out from the tribute bands to watch an act I’d only heard of a couple of weeks earlier. Happy Daggers are a Leeds based funky band with an indie backing and soulful, bouncy vocals that gets the feet moving and the hips shaking. Off the back of a support slot with Stevie Wonder at BST Hyde Park a couple of weeks earlier, and a run of festival appearances in a short space of time, Happy Daggers are quietly becoming a force in the industry. ‘Get Yourself Together’ is a standout original track that merges disco, indie, soul and funk in breathtaking fashion. But it was an immense cover of Warren G’s ‘Regulate’ that was the real eye catcher. I’d not heard the song for years but I surprised myself by still knowing all the lyrics from my youth after all this time. The funky basslines continued to assault the senses and it’s impossible to stay still when watching the cool beats this band throws at you.
Towards the end of the set we had the unfortunate incident of a power cut, but did that stop the band? Not at all. They proceeded to play their guitars with no power and lead singer, Sinclair Belle, carried on belting out the tunes in his classically soulful vocal. Still no power, and most of the band stop playing apart from drummer, Tommi Stubbs, who was the beneficiary of not needing power as he showcased his own talents with a couple of minutes of seismic drum solos that kept the crowd entertained. He abruptly stops, sarcastically announcing, ‘I’m Bored now’, which was greeted by cheers and applause. Their professionalism and talent when the power went off has to be commended and they made a lasting impression on those watching them. Keep an eye out for this band. A support slot with The Winachi Tribe at Gorilla on the 20th August is a must attend.
We moved back to the Main Stage to catch the main tribute act of the night, Bootleg Beatles, whose global accolade to arguably the biggest and most celebrated band in history was simply sublime. For most of us who have never seen The Beatles, this is the closest we could get to reliving the magic they imposed on 60s pop culture and beyond. Not only are they said to be the best Beatles tribute band around, they are said to be the best tribute band ever, and after their set tonight there is a strong case for such a claim. Their collective resemblance of their idols is uncanny in terms of look, outfits, vintage instruments, soft scouse accents, singing vocals and playing ability. It all ‘comes together’ in such a scarily familiar way and I was pretty sure the ‘John Lennon’ was a reincarnation.
They come on as the clean cut fresh faced lads The Beatles were, all dressed in the same suits and possessing the same haircuts. They play all the early classics from albums ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘Rubber Soul’ and the screams from the female side of the audience was like we’d stepped into a time warp. After they played the songs from these albums, ‘Paul McCartney’ is left alone to sing ‘Yesterday’ while the rest walk offstage. The reason being is a wardrobe change that sees the band return in full psychedelic suit mode, and they have miraculously grown their hair and moustaches in the space of five minutes. They played songs befitting of this new look, from the classic 1967 album, ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to the final albums of ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Abbey Road’. They ended their colossal set that saw hit after hit after hit bombard us with the anthemic, ‘Hey Jude’, much to the delight of the singing crowd who stood chanting out the “Na Na Na Na Na Na Naaaaa’s” with arms held aloft and swaying to the tune until the final notes on the piano fade. Huge applause ring around Blackthorn for a performance so astute I felt like I can say “I’ve seen The Beatles.” Would the real Beatles have been any different to this?
With little time to rest to soak in the performance, many of us make a dart to catch the legendary actor, host and broadcaster, Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club at The Meadow Stage. An act known throughout Europe, his skills have earned him several residencies and you could see why when you see and hear what he has to offer. He kept the party going with an inspirational blend of funky music, intricately mixed to keep the campers and festival goers partying till late in the night. A series of crossovers from older classics to modern hits, sometimes mixed together kept everyone entertained as the funk that had graced The Meadow Stage earlier continued into the night.
Day one was a success and with only two stages open it whetted the appetite for when all four would be in full flow. Saturday would prove to be a full day of wonderful music worthy of such a festival.
All Photos by Richard McCann – Labrat Photography
Please ask the photographers permission before use on any of the photos.