Blackthorn Festival

Published on August 2nd, 2015 | by Nigel Cartner

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Blackthorn Music Festival – Sunday

Thankfully, getting up on the Sunday proved less of a struggle than the Saturday, having being forced into sensibility with drinking the previous night. A quick look at the weather on my dying phone confirmed that rain was due from 11am, and wouldn’t really halt throughout the day. I suppose it wouldn’t be a real camping experience if we weren’t subject to heavy rain at some point.

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This Little Rocker Cannot Wait For The Day To Start

Seeing that the rain would arrive at 11am, I made a masterstroke decision by taking the tent down whilst conditions were fine. I seemed to be getting into this festival lark, and judging by my ‘Swampy’ look, I looked like a seasoned pro of the scene.

The rest of the morning was spent huddling under a tree as the rain began to pour, speaking to a few of the acts that had performed over the weekend, all agreeing that the past two days had been brilliant. The rain couldn’t put a downer on the day though considering the fantastic array of music to finish what had so far been an exceptional weekend.

Blackthorn Flight of Arrows

Flight Of Arrows Giving It Their All

At 1pm, Nottingham four piece band, House of Thieves, graced The Main Stage and played a series of eye catching indie rock tracks to set up the day’s exciting events. Formed in 2012, their romanticised lyrics about British life resonated with the audience. Add a series of well crafted melodies and a tight musicianship onstage then this band proved to be one requiring further investigation when they next play in Manchester. Their set ended with the lead singer inviting some of the crowd onstage to dance to the final song, creating a real party atmosphere.

Flight of Arrows followed immediately after, a band made up of members from Preston, Sheffield and London. On the back of past support slots with the likes of, Twisted Wheel, All the Young, Catfish and The Bottlemen, The Strypes and The 1975, there was a lot of hype about their showing. Their energetic and exciting brand of indie rock didn’t disappoint as songs such as, ‘Streets of Our Youth’ and, ‘A Way To Pass The Time’ were anthemic. Again, they were another band at Blackthorn who you can expect more from in the future.

Then it was down to The Meadow Stage to watch Sonic Bandwagon favourite, Little Sparrow, which was the first live show I’ve seen of hers. After watching her set it made me think why the hell haven’t I seen her live before? Complete with three band members on guitar, percussion and cello to help bring her songs to life, her soft, folky approach, layered with gentle, yet soul piercing vocals had such an effect that it made the rain stop falling.

Blackthorn Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow’s Performance Was A Highlight

Being her usual charming self in between songs and in performance, Little Sparrow had the audience eating out her hand. ‘Sending A Message’ was simply stunning, a song about how the ease of modern day communications hampers basic human communication in expressing our own feelings being heard. She then goes on to talk about the filming of the video in The Lantern Theatre in Sheffield, telling us the history of the building, which ended in true folk story fashion……death. ‘Polly’ is another product of her vivid imagination, told from the perspective of a room that yearns for the return of the girl who used to live there. ‘I Found A Way’ apparently had no meaning at all until today’s set, where she just decided to simply say that it’s about ‘stalking’, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Her delightful and humorous anecdotes continue between songs before performing latest video release single, ‘Wishing Tree’, a very trippy folk song with a video to match. It was also an honour for Sonic Bandwagon and Pure 107.8FM to be named in her announcement that the song had been played all the time on our show….aswell as Radio 2 and 6 Music Live!

Also, a special mention goes to Tony Husband who was around all festival to draw the bands whilst they were playing. I only noticed this during Little Sparrow’s set and it was remarkable how quickly he worked and how much likeness there was. A real talented artist!!

Sticking around on The Meadow Stage at the recommendation of Sharon Matthew, we awaited Manchester artist, Livvo, another favourite of The Scruff of the Neck label. Not hearing his music beforehand I didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away by his unique sounding elctro/acoustic guitar that possessed a psychedelic/power ballad feel to it. His single, ‘You’ was brilliantly performed where he reached such remarkable high notes, and is a tune that has stayed with me long after his show. His footwork on various pedals during songs was equally as impressive as it served to change the sound at the most precise moments, and must’ve taken a lot of work and energy to choreograph.

Blackthorn Millie Manders

Don’t Cross Millie Manders

Being another frantic day of music with stage clashes, I had to scarper halfway through to catch the latter stages of Millie Manders on The Main Stage. Hailing from London, Millie’s brazen and sassy portrayal is imposing and captivating. ‘Little Big Mouth’ is a cheeky, catchy song that has a great little story behind it. She states beforehand that it’s the true story of a girl on a night out who stepped up to her being a complete bitch, so she decided to write a song about her. Be careful not to cross her as you could end up being her next subject! Her mix of ballsy pop, ska and punk rock was an interesting blend of genres that seemed to merge so easily when her and her three band members fused them together. They ended with a Ska version of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, a very interesting way to hear this famous song performed in such a unique way. 

Gary Quinn was next at The Meadow Stage, backed by guitarist, Luke Thomas. Their chemistry was a joy to behold as they played a selection of wonderfully written songs, showing why Gary won song of the year two years in a row in 2013/14 at the British Country Music Awards as well as ‘Songwriter of the Year’ at the same awards in 2014, amongst a series of other awards at various other shows.

Hailing from Ireland, but now living in Leigh, Gary’s velvety, charming Irish country vocal was a breath of fresh air, sung with such emotion and lyrical poignancy. I like artists who explain song meanings in depth between each one, something that goes well with solo/acoustic artists as I believe it creates more of a connection. Gary does this the majority of the time, and with it carries a great rapport with his audience. Most songs are about love, highlight being, ‘He Don’t Show Her Anymore’, but there were a couple of humorous ones, one about a guy who fancies himself as a bit of a player, who ends up being the pray for a female equivalent. Also, ‘I Love to Watch You Leave’ is a light hearted revelation of Gary’s favourite part of a woman. ‘On Your Way Out’ is a typically, fun and bouncy American country song, showing  the range of topics Gary can make interesting in his song writing. All songs were performed at such a professional level that I stayed for the whole set when only planning to stay for half so I could rush back to The Main Stage, but his songs held me captive, and hopefully he’ll be making an appearance on Sonic Bandwagon in the not too distant future. 

Blackthorn Jeramiah Ferrari

Jeramiah Ferrari Kept The Crowd Dancing Despite The Rain

I just managed to catch the end of Jake Evans, formerly of Bad Lieutenant, but I would’ve loved to have heard more given his song, ‘This Is Life’ was one I instantly loved. It’s a fantastically arranged melodious rocking track, which has a resemblance to Noel Gallagher’s latest solo offerings. His album, ‘Day One’, was released on 31st July, so until his next live date, I can at least become more familiar with his work in preparation for that day. 

Jeramiah Ferrari was a crowd pleaser recommended by Sarah Bancroft. Despite the rain, this youthful band, that were full of exuberance, ignored the dull weather to brighten up the atmosphere with a scintillating performance as if it came straight from the sun soaked beaches of The Caribbean. Their brand of fused Reggae, Rock, Punk, Ska and Calypso tunes pleased the crowd who continued to dance like they were on a Sunkist island, rather than a drizzly barn in the North West. This fresh brand of music has seen the band perform at Manchester Arena to 20,000 people as part of a Key 103 competition, as well as reaching number 4 in the reggae iTunes chart with EP, ‘The Dubby Rock’. It was the perfect way to change the mood to a funkier vibe in preparation for what would be one of the festival’s most anticipated acts due up next. 

Blackthorn JJ Rosa

JJ Rosa – Too Cool For Words

JJ Rosa was to appear next to shower us with her unique blend of soul, funk, rock, blues and hip hop. In a nutshell, she was sensational in every way! As soon as she steps onstage there is an immediate WOW factor with her style and look, the complete epitome of modern fashion onstage. Her striking appearance transfers into her music, which is spellbinding right from the first funky riff. Opening with personal favourite, ‘Step Aside’, her influences of Prince and Jimi Hendrix are immediately recognisable, looking completely at ease following in their footsteps. A series of mashups and covers follow with the highlight being ‘Kiss Billie Jean to Get Lucky’. When she hits her guitar solos she’s phenomenal, stood at the edge of the stage, eyes closed, letting the music and vibe wash over her as she wails effortlessly on her fender, just a beacon of coolness to the watchful crowd. Her solo in the track, ‘Go’, was particularly eye catching that exemplified this!

It’s not just JJ who’s the talent in the band. Matteo Galesi’s playing on the bass is one wrapped in gust and swagger, complimenting JJ’s lead well. The keyboardist, Alex Turney, was also an extremely talented individual, also helping on backing vocals, but his animated performances whilst keeping the groove smooth aided the visual aspect of the whole band. Add the rhythmic funky drumming of Jimmy Wood into the mix and you get a supporting line that makes JJ Rosa one of the most exciting bands in the scene today. Latest single, ‘Feel Loved’, played at the end is another upbeat cocktail of funkpop.

Blackthorn JJ Rosa 3

JJ Rosa And The Band In Full Funk Mode

JJ left to rapturous applause, but was duly asked to reappear for an encore…..possibly the only one at Blackthorn…. that I saw anyway. She performed another mashup of classic 90s hip hop and R&B songs that kept the crowd dancing. It still bemuses as to why JJ Rosa isn’t at the pinnacle of British commercial music. She has everything that’s appealing to the scene; an iconic and fashionable appearance, and a funky, original sound that a younger crowd can surely appreciate as well as the older generation. She is the bridge between pop music and underground rock, and this performance tonight was nothing short of breathtaking…..the best I’ve ever seen from her! Hopefully the name ‘JJ Rosa’ will be a household one soon enough.

Unfortunately, time constraints meant I wasn’t able to stay for the main act on Sunday, The Sunshine Underground, but by all accounts they gave a cracking performance deserving of a headline slot. It was also a shame that I missed out on The Sherlocks and Sixty Minute Man. The former have featured on The Sonic Bandwagon Show a few times with their indie track, ‘Escapade’, and the latter have had rave reviews from our new friends met at Blackthorn, Hannah Tinker and Amy Barraclough. 

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Finding A Quiet Spot On The Bales Of Hay

It should also be noted that The Blastbeat Music Challenge was won by Dee Rig. Second place went to Tale of Two Counties, with joint third going too Cruel Kingdom, Tilly Botsford, Jake Molly and Bright Conclusions.

So that brought an end to the festival, my solitary camping one to date, and it’s one that will live long in the memory. What struck me most was that my own lack of festival experience wasn’t uncommon amongst several others that camped. Over the course of the weekend I learnt from many people, musicians included, that this was the first time they’d stayed over at a festival too, proving that Blackthorn really had captured the hearts and imaginations of music fans of the local area.

As the weekend unfolded, initial perceptions about Blackthorn were correct, and it turned out to be an unforgettable event in every way possible. The quality of music was an obvious reason why, but the food was great, the beer was readily available with minimal queuing at the bar, there was something for everyone, the atmosphere was electric, and it was extremely well organised. A big, big thank you goes to Karl, Dan, Laura and Jan and the rest of the organising team for what wasn’t just one of the music highlights of 2015, but for me, it was one of the more memorable occasions to date.

And Here I Am Looking Better Than Usual!

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the weekend, including not to drink too much on the first night of camping, tents get very cold at night and roasting hot in the morning, as long as I have a hat I don’t have to worry about my hair, it’s ok to not shower for two days, and it’s ok to look a pillock in wellies, shorts, zip up top and hat. So here’s to next year, may it be another fun filled weekend boasting a similar level of talented acts from across the North West and beyond.

Special personal thanks to the following for helping make the weekend so fantastic: Susana Sheridana, Dan Adams, Mark Adams, Matt Fryers, Stacey Knowles, Sarah Bancroft, Laura Handford, Hannah Tinker, Amy Barraclough, Sharon Matthew and of course the whole Blackthorn team!

Special thanks to photographers Paul Husband, Andy Carson and Nidge Sanders (Trust A Fox) for allowing me to use their photos over the three reviews.

Flight of Arrows, Millie Manders, Jeramiah Ferrari & JJ Rosa Photos by Trust A Fox Photography. All photos must not be reproduced, used or altered in anyway without prior permission.

Little Sparrow Photo – Shay Rowan

Main Photo – Andy Carson

2 Crowd Photos – Paul Husband

Photo of Nigel Cartner – Nigel Cartner

Enjoyed this Review? Find out what happened on Friday and Saturday.

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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 njcartner.com



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