Over the past few years the UK festival scene has reached a point of saturation. The demand for the ‘festival experience’ has brought with it an increase in events that showcase the best of live music, if not always the best of British weather.
With the number of festivals at an all-time high there are obviously going to be casualties. Increasing ticket prices often dictate that music fans have to pick and choose their events as value for money, travel and on-site expenses also become a consideration.
Over the past few years we’ve lost the likes of The Big Chill, Oxegen and Cloud who simply found it impossible to sell the amount of tickets to cover the cost of putting on the actual event and paying the performers. And while the more established festivals will always flourish (Glastonbury, Reading and Leads etc.) it takes something a little different for the rest to keep their heads above water … to their credit OnBlackheath have done just that.
The organisers of OnBlackheath realised that to become a successful event it must not only have the obligatory big names but must also offer something that separates them from their competition. In reality what they’ve done is attract headliners who have graced the world stage over the years (Massive Attack, Grace Jones, Elbow and Belle & Sebastian to name but a few) and repackaged the standard festival as ‘family friendly’ – and by ‘family friendly’ this doesn’t mean a few baby changing areas and a ‘lost child’ pickup point (even though both obviously exist). OnBlackheath turns over a large proportion of its site to an area that is as entrancing to adults as is it to children.
Bubble factories, a secret maze and a huge selection of live shows are just some of the incredible activities that slowly introduce children to the hussle-and-bussle of the festival scene. If they happen to chance upon a live set from Squeeze as well then it sets them in good stead for later in life – musical education with a play-day thrown in for good measure. It’s a cleverly thought out two days that has something for every member of the family.
This year in particular was a real thumbs up to this family ethos. There was a vibrant feeling to proceedings and more than ever the entire weekend felt very natural and struggle free. The main stage was adorned with accomplished, well toured artists and it’s testament to the organisers that they can now pick and choose their acts.
On Saturday Primal Scream and Hot Chip gave effervescent performances that cut through the September drizzle. However, it was an hour in the presence of Roisin Murphy that produced the highlight of not only Saturday but the entire weekend. It was a set of hits, incredible energy and more costume changes than London fashion week. The cream from her ‘Hairless Toys’ LP and her ‘Ten Miles High’ performance (yes, the yellow jacket made an appearance) stopped even the most sugar fueled children in their tracks as all were captivated by a performance that was as fun as it was musically on the mark.
Sunday brought with it sunshine and more spectacular music. Local boys Squeeze stole the show with a set of back-to-back hits cataloging their incredible career. There was not a spare blade of grass to find in-front of the main stage as the band was given free-range to entertain. If truth be told they could have headlined the Sunday such was the wealth of material on show.
As dusk surrounded the pulled-pork sellers, beer tents and picnicking families it was the turn of James to entertain. A set of hits and beautifully performed lesser known numbers (a treat for the fans) showcased a group of musicians that clearly show no signs of slowing down, even though they’re now over 30 years old as a band.
Belle and Sebastian finished things off with a set of triumphant storytelling and wonderful melodies – a band so underrated it beggars belief. Again, the reception was appreciative and it was a perfect way to finish not only a gloriously warm September day but also another triumph for the OnBlackheath organizers.
So, will the festival return in 2017? Absolutely! OnBlackheath has an almost unstoppable momentum that shows little signs of slowing. While there are other child-friendly events out there none are done so well as this.
All photos taken by Jemima and Antonia Darling