Blackthorn Festival

Published on July 31st, 2016 | by Nigel Cartner


Blackthorn Festival 2016 – Sunday

So after about three hours sleep due to noisy neighbours, attempted carnal relations outside our tent (seriously) and someone playing Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ at full pelt at an indie rock festival at 2am! Who does that? I woke up to face the final leg of the festival. Sunday had more * next to band names that I wanted to see, meaning I’d have to cut a few bands short to make it to the next stage. The sun decided to take a break, so it wasn’t as hot as the past two days, and we were even blessed with very minor showers a couple of times. After the Costa Del Sol like temperatures and subsequent lobster skin colour, it was a welcomed change.

Blackthorn 2016 shot

The Paddock Stage

Easing us into the day was Dollar Bombers at The Meadow Stage. I knew nothing about them beforehand, but I liked their name, and they proved to be a pleasant and easy way to start. The two piece country guitarists from Tameside played a mixture of originals and covers, with some catchy and delightful song writing that the crowd very much appreciated as an opener to the day’s festivities, before the louder acts eventually find their groove.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 Jess Kemp

Jess Kemp

From here it was over to an artist I daren’t miss who goes from strength to strength – Jess Kemp. I’m running out of words for this kid as she is an absolute diamond. This is her third year performing at Blackthorn, where she has grown from a solo act with bags of potential, to a full band that just seemed to click. It’s the missing piece to a puzzle that wasn’t really missing anything. The Paddock Stage was about a third full before they played the first song, but by the end it had considerably grown, showing how influential the music is. She doesn’t write classically emotive tunes, but there’s a thin layer of sadness and emotion that sometimes sits somewhere in the midst of her cheery, upbeat and charming song writing. ‘Two Coins’ is an example of this quality. It was apt that she played her debut single, ‘Stars’, as it’s written about her first year at Blackthorn, and she jokingly says “Because you can see the stars here and you can’t see them at home.” She ends with recent EP leading track, ‘Camden’, a song that seems to go up a level when performed live. It’s a fantastically catchy pop record that again has this emotive quality slotted between the great musicianship and dreamy and sometimes snarling vocals that make the tune what it is. The ending of it is bigger live as the band freestyle with the guitars and it becomes a much more captivating performance that really gets the crowd going. I have to admit, somewhere in the midst of ‘Camden’ I felt a wave of emotion, and I have no idea why. I believe I wasn’t the only one too.  Is it the songs climax that strikes a certain sentimental chord? Or is it a sense of pride seeing someone I rate so highly receive the accolades she deserves.

You could argue that for the second year running (possibly third but I wasn’t in attendance that year) she stole the weekend yet again, and even Mr Peeps echoed that sentiment when he took to the stage afterwards to encourage a final applause. If Jess Kemp (the band) is given half the opportunity to progress in music then I see no reason whatsoever why they will not be known nationwide soon enough. She appeals to people on all levels. An absolute class act!

Blackthorn Festival 2016 - Rum Thief

Rum Thief

Rum Thief is on a little later at The Paddock Stage and is similar to Jess Kemp in so far as he was a very talented solo artist who has now grown into a fiery full band line-up. I’ve played him several times on the show, and even reviewed a single, but I’d never had the pleasure of seeing or meeting him live, which finally changed at Blackthorn. Jon Green is the main man in Rum Thief and he’s a great performer. I love a frontman/guitarist who really believes in what he’s singing about from his stage presence, and judging from his expressions and delivery, Jon has that quality in abundance as the passion and forceful nature of his northern inspired lyrics and vocals really do shine through. His songs are catchy, and with a full band behind him something a little more dynamic gets added to them. There’s an explosive nature to songs like ‘Dirty Shoes’, ’Reach For The Weatherman’, and ‘Changed Mind’ and it’s very hard to ignore just how captivating they are. He’s not totally ditched the solo scene though, as he drags ‘The Harmonica Man’ onstage for a cool rendition of a track supported by the bluesy Harmonica that added an air of sentimentality to the set. Rum Thief probably sit somewhere on the same level as the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Libertines and Twisted Wheel, but with very much a Mancunian grit forming the true essence of the bands soul.

A pregnant Little Sparrow, a hit wherever she plays, never mind last year’s festival, is up next. For this, I bring our camping chairs inside The Meadow Stage so I can let her gentle musings wash over me from a place of relaxation. Her tones are simply beautiful, and the wonderful craft in her song writing and delivery is eloquent. She opens with ‘Polly’, shortly followed by ‘By My Side’ and I feel like I could just shut my eyes and go to a place where creatures play in some fairytale land not far from Etherow Country Park (see the video for ‘Wishing Tree’ to understand where I mean.) The gentle guitar strums are supported by a cello, chimes and pedal steel guitar, which in true folk fashion can add an element of darkness to something that is already wrapped in delicate emotion. She carries on her elegant folk tunes with ‘Garden’, ‘I Found A Way’, and ‘Struck Gold’ and as ever she’s quick witted and funny when speaking to the audience in between songs. Always a pleasure to see a Little Sparrow set and I hope her hiatus isn’t too long after giving birth to another ‘tiny sparrow’.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 - Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow

Matchstickmen were up on The Main Stage next and I was disappointed to find that their bass player was unable to make it so they had to draft in a female replacement who wasn’t familiar with their songs. Usually a rough n ready classic rock band, they had to tone down their amps due to these unforeseen events. They opted for a series of covers instead, which at a festival still worked well. ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi, ‘Time After Time’ by Cyndi Lauper, ‘Hey-Ho’ by The Lumineers and a cover of Pearl Jam and Roxette made up some of the numbers on the set list. It still didn’t detract from frontman, Lewis Wright strutting his stuff and performing like a true rock star. I was disappointed more for Matchstickmen because their heavy, classic rock sound would’ve ignited The Main Stage. With a series of singles being released this past six months, and with an album due out in Autumn, I thought they would’ve been great for Blackthorn by playing their noisy original tracks. If you get the chance to see them properly in full band line-up then take the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 Heavy on the Magic

Heavy On The Magic

Heavy on the Magic were an intriguing proposition. They had quite the reputation as The Minx, who were a ska inspired band, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out. However, this new line-up seems a little more up tempo with a bit of punk/psych thrown in, yet still staying on the alternative side of music. They seemed to hit their groove and make quite the impression on those watching on The Meadow Stage.

Blackthorn 2016 Scenic

Family fun at Blackthorn

Sixty Minute Man were a must see after I missed them last year. The Salford based six piece band packs onto the stage and their numbers suggest big sounds are going to blast the Paddock Stage off into orbit, and we’re not disappointed. Many people gather for their anticipated set. I’d seen several people throughout the day wearing the Sixty Minute Man t-shirts so quite a gathering came in. Recent single release, ‘You Made Me Say Please’ is a great onslaught of explosive indie rock with soaring vocals and rip roaring guitar rhythms. Like a couple of the bands from yesterday their alternative brand of anthemic rock really gets the crowd’s adrenaline pumping, and a series of meaty guitar riffs and pulsating bass and drum arrangements get the show in free flowing rock mode. They end on ‘Tantalise’, their upcoming single that the video was being recorded for there and then. The song has a lot of hype and buzz about it and I’m certain it’s going to get a positive response. Expect to hear it on Sonic Bandwagon very soon.

Much like Saturday, the layout this year helped me catch snippets of other bands before moving on to a regimented pre determined destination. Sunday was hampered with such bands given the nature of the quality music on offer all day. So to name a few we start with the first band on The Paddock Stage, The Claremonts, whose infectious brand of indie rock was the pick of the early arrivals who packed out The Paddock Stage. Paris Georgia graced The Country Stage, and her EP, ‘Stranger To You’ had recently reached No. 2 in the iTunes Country Charts. Due to the contagious nature of her country pop anthems you could see why.

Blackthorn 2016 Sixty Minute Man 1

Sixty Minute Man Fans

Some great blues like guitars from Louie Louie caught my ear as their slot neared its end, and I really wish I’d caught the full set because what I was hearing really did sound right up my street. The dynamic, bluesy sounds complete with kick ass female led vocals sounded like something I needed to investigate further once home. Southern Junction looked like they were going to be a real bluesy band too, but surprised me with some gentle and captivating country musings. They played the recent Buckle & Boots Festival at Blackthorn so you could see why they were asked to return.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 - Sly Antics

Sly Antics

Disappointingly I could only catch the end of Sly Antics, a band raved about by Phil Howe and Sharon Matthew from Mancunian Ways. Their anthemic indie rock made a lasting impression and judging from the scores of people gathered for their showing, their single release of, ‘Captive Heart’ on 3rd September at The Academy is going to be one hell of an event.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 - Cabbage


So as late evening approached, we make our way to The Meadow Stage for Cabbage. I mentioned ist ist being a band to shape the future of dangerous and exciting music in Saturday’s review, Cabbage are the other. What a surprise this was: mental, bonkers, rude, and inappropriate, but fuck me absolutely exceptional. These are a band so important for British music. Their performance just reminded me of what it must’ve felt like at Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976 when Sex Pistols changed the face of music. They’re neo post punk thrashings are a bit like Sex Pistols too, with a bit of Stooges meets 60s surf/garage rock band The Trashmen thrown in too judging from the way they scream down the mics to create a fuzzy echo like sound. Elements of Joy Division can be attributed to them as well and they’re stage antics can be related to early Happy Mondays. When all this comes together it’s just so hypnotic to watch and is music at its pure unadulterated best. Frontman, Lee Broadbent, leads the craziness, first of all bringing a handsaw onstage with him and proceeding to beat the railing in front with it. He’s on the floor rolling around, attempting half somersaults onstage, sat down casually singing, screaming down the mic, venturing into the crowd and he even jumps onto the rig at one point. The stage is his personal playground to do whatever the fuck he wants. Songs like ‘Dinner Lady’ are cheeky with genius like lyrics that you can imagine are going to be sung back to them by crowds everywhere in future. The explicit nature of the track makes it unsuitable for radio, but what a track. I’d heard the EP before and thought it was good, but after seeing them live I was completely overwhelmed by how good this band are and where they can go. They got a little carried away at times, but who gives a fuck, they certainly didn’t, this was rock n roll! After the set had finished it’s all anyone could talk about. “Did you see Cabbage?” It was met with a look of knowing we’d seen something special…the kind of impact that is rare! If British music continues to bow down to the safe pop scene and ignore the likes of Cabbage then it should be ashamed of itself. We need Cabbage in our lives…..a statement that has a double meaning. This is a band who the people will demand to see again and again and again. 28th October at The Ruby Lounge is their headline gig…..I cannot stress enough how you need to be there!

Blackthorn Festival 2016 Jade Assembly

The Jade Assembly

Indie rock giants, The Tapestry and The Jade Assembly both crossed over each other and were the two finishing acts on Meadow and Paddock Stages respectively. The Jade Assembly were a fine way to round off The Paddock after a day full of fantastic music that crescendoed to this point. Their mixture of faster rocking indie tracks, complete with some cutting guitar work, mixed with more emotive ballady numbers was a hit with a watchful crowd who showed their appreciation with constant chants of ‘Jade Army! Jade Army!” 

The Tapestry have a stalwart reputation, always on the peripheral of spilling over into the next level of current indie rock elite. So many people back this band to make it and we’re waiting for that moment to manifest. They have a no nonsense approach to their up tempo and raw rock delivery, full of attitude and energy, and they were one of the more sought after acts of the whole weekend with several people making their way over to The Meadow Stage for the final act. A tongue in cheek cover of B-52s ‘Love Shack’ worked well, as did personal favourite, ‘Infatuation’. The crowd lapped up the opportunity to being invited onto the stage as the gig ended as the party on The Meadow Stage blew up at its final point, cementing the notion that The Tapestry are rated as one of Manchester’s finest.

At this point I think it’s only right to pay tribute to the main organisers of Blackthorn, namely Karl Hancock and his family, Mr Peeps, Dan Adams, and all the other organisers who put a lot of time and effort into making Blackthorn its biggest event to date. Huge thanks to the photographers, Richard McCann, Nidge Sanders and Paul Husband, for giving me permission for use of their photos too.

Blackthorn Festival 2016 - Tapestry

The Tapestry

It also has to be said that huge credit has to go to the cleaning crew who were present all weekend. One of the biggest fears for many people who attend (or don’t as the case may be) festivals is the bathroom situation. The two cabins were plumbed in and were completely spotless all weekend. Similarly, rubbish bins were removed when overflowing. It may only be a small detail to note given people don;t see passed the great music on offer, but it’s such an important aspect to the festival, and it made everything run a little smoother with a little less worry over the weekend.

So with that it was time for the main event of Blackthorn, and for Maximo Park to take to the stage. I have to hold my hands up here and confess that I know little about them. For a festival that has given me so much, I felt that words needed to be said in more detail than I can give, so I invited a true fan, and friend, and newest contributor to Sonic Bandwagon, Amy Barraclough, to pen her first review for us about their performance. You can read her review here. As for me…..see you in 2017 and listen to the Radio Show 10pm Fridays Pure 107.8FM to hear more great music that needs discovering.

The Paddock Stage, Rum Thief and Sixty Minute Man Fan Pictures by Richard McCann – Labrat Photography

Jess Kemp, Heavy On The Magic, Sly Antics, The Jade Assembly Pictures by Nidge Sanders Trust A Fox Photography

Main Picture, family fun shot, Little Sparrow, Cabbage & The Tapestry Pictures by Paul Husband Photography

Please ask the photographers permission before use on any of the photos.

Click for Blackthorn’s Friday, Saturday and Maximo Park reviews.

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About the Author

Nigel is a huge fan of music from the 60s and 70s with an emphasis on rock, psych, blues and indie. This spreads to music of the same genre into the modern era. Being a Manchester lad he also has an affiliation with local music past and present. He has also recently released his debut novel, 'Lost in Manchester, Found in Vegas' which is available on amazon or

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