Blackthorn Festival

Published on July 25th, 2018 | by Nigel Cartner


Blackthorn Festival 2018 – Friday Review

From a major name standpoint, this year’s Blackthorn Music Festival was perhaps the most enticing of its six years. With the likes of Peter Hook & The Light, Pete Doherty, The Sugarhill Gang, The Bluetones, We Are Scientists and Tom Hingley & The Kar-pets performing over the weekend, Blackthorn had demonstrated its pulling power to attract the more ‘glamorous’ acts. That’s not to say the supporting cast wouldn’t be anything to kick start the adrenaline. The likes of Twisted Wheel, William McCarthy from Augustines, The Blinders, Stillia, Findlay and Winachi Tribe were just a few bands/artists to mention that whetted the appetite for the whole weekend.

As usual, we arrived early afternoon on the Friday to put the tent up. The idea being it gives us time to settle into the festival, meet some old friends, drink a couple of beers, have a bite to it, and then onto the live music for the rest of the night. But as always, the proverbial spanner in the works (our inability to put a tent up in a timely fashion for a variety of reasons) sees to it that we’re behind schedule. This is fast becoming an annual Blackthorn tradition and my days in cubs and scouts were obviously a waste of time.

Just as we finally completed our mission in constructing a tent and two beds, the heavens opened and the typical British downpour left us stranded in the tent until the rain decides to relinquish. Weeks of glorious sunshine and it decides to do this now on the only weekend we camp!

It’s not long after the rain halts that the festival is up and running. Only two stages are open on Friday, and the Main Stage kicks off with The Claremonts. Given that they played one of the first sets on the Sunday at the Paddock Tent last year, this represented a step up for this talented, funky Manchester band that suitably impressed the festival early-birds. There’s a noticeable maturity and confidence to them. The fact that they’ve played several gigs on the Manchester gig circuit since last year’s festival might have something to do with their craft being honed and sounding sharp. Their next outing at Night People on 20th October is one for the calendar.

Before the tribute acts lined up there was time to catch a glimpse of the Psychedelic Circus at the Meadow Stage, which debuted last year and offers an evening of vibrant and diverse psychedelia, which mainly hails from Manchester. Azraq Sahara were playing on arrival, and the first hidden gem of the weekend had been unearthed.  I was sorry I couldn’t watch more, but I saw enough for me to make a mental note to buy their album, ‘Radamenes’ when I returned home. The band formed in Athens and is the project of lead singer/songwriter, Sara D. Satàn, who devises melodies that are darkly wistful, and are injected by a potent, hypnotic pensiveness. They describe their sound as being ‘Desert Goth’, and their Mediterranean origins and influences are drenched all over the blueprint to their sound, reminding me of New York based Psychic Ills, who capture this specific brand of psych sound so well. If you’re into the slower, moodier side of psychedlia, then this is a band to check out.

It was then back to the Main Stage to watch tribute bands, Stipe: R.E.M. Tribute Band and Happy Mondaze. Given the popularity and familiarity of the classic songs both bands belted out, I found myself sucked into the realms of nostalgia, leading me to miss Hey Bulldog and Afghan Sand Gang back at the Psychedleic Circus, two bands who’s quality is unquestionable. Stipe were fantastic, and ‘Michael Stipe’ did a great job in emulating the charismatic lead singer’s look and vocal. Regards the other band members – I have no clue if they looked like their equivalents, but what was evident was their ability to excel in covering the colossal Americans, who’s career spanned over thirty years. You realise just how good a band REM were when their greatest hits are presented this way, with songs like ‘Orange Crush’, ‘One I love’, ‘Everybody Hurts’, ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Shiny Happy People’ and ‘Losing My Religion’ being just a handful of songs to appease the crowd.

Happy Mondaze were next, and given their association to Manchester and the nature of their vibe, the crowd were even more vocal when they took to the stage. They graced the same night two years ago and were well received back then. They were no different this time around, despite being without the ‘Rowetta’ member of the band. But there was a ‘Bez’, who was fantastic in mimicking Manchester’s favourite lunatic by prancing about with maracas and a straw hat. His partner in crime, ‘Sean Ryder’, was equally as convincing and brilliant in delivering music from the ‘Madchester’ era. Powerhouse hits like ‘Loose Fit’, ‘Lazyitis’, WFL’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘24 Hour Party People’ merged with lesser known tracks like ‘Kuff Dam’ and ‘Tart Tart’, to help create a great atmosphere, but it was ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Step On’ that really brought the house down.

Before Tom Hingley & The Kar-Pets rounded off the night on the Main Stage, Deja Vega were finishing their set at the Psychedleic Circus, and what a performance they delivered to a packed crowd. With a wealth of raw energy and dark overtures that layer their ferocious tenacity, Deja Vega are an exciting prospect in the North West scene and beyond.

Tom Hingley & The Kar-Pets finished the evening, a band derived from Inspiral Carpets, who Hingley fronted from the mid-eighties. Not having a great deal of knowledge of their back catalogue, I was interested to hear a side of Manchester I hadn’t explored before from that illustrious period at the height of their powers. The distinctive keys were the hook to their sound that had their passionate fans fully engaged. I could see why they were such a hit back in yesteryear, as a series of upbeat and fun songs befitting of those times created a party like atmosphere to close out the first night, especially with tracks like, ‘Saturn 5’. The best was saved for ‘This is How It Feels’, which is actually lyrically sad, but has become somewhat of an anthem over the past thirty years or so and has been adopted to be uplifting, especially as it’s sometimes heard at Old Trafford on the terraces. That brought an end to Friday, and after the initial burst of rain was over we looked forward to a dry weekend, and the first full day of live music on the Saturday over three stages.

Photos by Labrat Photos. Please ask permission before use.

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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