LIVE: On Blackheath Festival, 2017

The organisers at On Blackheath Festival should be proud of themselves. They have created a cracking little festival that certainly aims to please a wide demographic. It ticked all of the important boxes, which should from now on include having a bubble stall. Note to any aspiring festival organisers, make sure you have a bubble stall.

It’s actually surprising how many festivals get it wrong. From poor lineups, overcrowding or sketchy logistics, lots can scupper a music event. On Blackheath Festival had no such problems and instead offered an epic lineup, a smorgasbord of tasty food (with the help of sponsors John Lewis) and even some sunshine (on the Saturday anyway).

Covering a festival with three stages that have artists playing on them simultaneously all day made it a mission, especially as I was photographing as well. A lot of what I did see was fantastic. So many genres were covered with some big coups as well as up and coming bands from “Blackheaf” itself.

Here at Gigslutz we like to cover new kids on the block and such and I didn’t have to look very far for some ‘ones to look out for’…  

Let’s start with the Lottery Winners. These guys aren’t exactly ‘unknowns’ and, in fact, were snapped up by Warner Brothers last year but a household festival name they are not yet. Their brand of indie pop has an immediate pull on the ears. It’s fun, it’s energetic and it got the crowd going. Lead singer and guitarist Thom Rylance donned socks and sandals, some impressive ink work, a big beard and gangsta threads – a photographer’s dream. These guys are full of character; check them out if you get a chance!

I discovered a lot of artists I had not heard of before like Keir, who’s rampant energy and thundering sounds almost blew my earplugs out. Just as impressive was My Baby. I’m not sure what genre these guys from Amsterdam were but I liked it, they were so refreshing and very tight! They even had the Seasick Steve seal of approval as he was watching on from the pit just before his set on the main stage!

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Then there were names I did know, but have somehow not seen until now. The Mariachis are legends and will brighten up a drizzly Sunday all day long with their warm Mexican versions of many 80s hits like ‘I love Rock n’ Roll’ and ‘500 Miles’. The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Club just know how to get people grooving, even the stewards couldn’t stop the rhythm from taking over. Bring your kids to The Cuban Brothers for a bit of sex education and truly inappropriate but infectious comedy. That’s just their side note though, their choreographed dancing, rapping, singing, stripping, “you name it they got it” will blow your mind.

Festival veterans took to the main stage, even if some are only 23 years old. Jake Bugg played a solid set of crowd pleasers. He might be young but is totally at home with festival slots today. KT Tunstall brought colour and a vibrant revamp of her old stuff to compliment the new in a very cool performance. Speaking of cool, Fun Lovin’ Criminals just rewrote the book. Huey and co. rocked the crowd, smoked spliffs, shotted tequilla and generally made everyone appreciate true legends of the game.

Seasick Steve did what he does best and produced some of the best sounds of the weekend with amazing vocals and guitar work. It was the first time I had seen him on stage with a drummer, it kicked ass. Steve even got a bit emotional when thanking the crowd for everything. It’s been 10 years since he broke onto the scene on Jools Holland after a real slog of a time he would rather forget. Everyone loved Steve and rightly so.

Special mention goes out to local lady and poetic scholar Kate Tempest. Not originally my cup of tea, but I soon realised what all the fuss is about. Her fire, anger and passion stirred the crowed into silence as she tore into just about everything that is wrong with the world in nothing less than genius rhyme and reason. 

Onto the headliners where chalk and cheese just won’t do. Travis and The Libertines probably don’t share mutual party habits but are both experts in their own fields and both put on a show for everyone in this particular field on Blackheath.

Saturday brought a moment to treasure with Travis as they played their 1999 album The Man Who in its entirety. We were even treated to an acoustic rendition of ‘Flowers in the Window’ with the band accompanied by the Lewisham and Greenwhich NHS Choir and it was just perfect. Travis were sweet and endearing, something told me it was the calm before the storm.   

Sunday goers waited in anticipation for The Libertines and hype gathered pace throughout the day. Will Pete turn up? Will they get along? Will he be off his head? Questions that detract from the music yes, but do ramp up the rock and roll vibe that our beloved music industry lacks these days. There were a few issues here and there, timings, mic stands getting launched off stage, you know, the usual. But it was authentic, honest and organic. Real musicians, real rock stars. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat were fascinating to watch. Their chemistry ran from hot and cold in a second and you just wondered what was going to happen next. They played a belter of a set with big hits and little gems, interluding between songs with moments of musical mastermind.  The crowd watched in awe and the band got better with each song to close the festival in inspiring fashion.

I will be going next year.

Words/photos: Aaron Parsons