Onblackheath – A Reflection

Art & Culture

So with the inaugural 2 day OnBlackheath Festival now complete, what did we learn? What did they learn, and what do they need to look into for future events?

Firstly, as alluded to in the preview, they’ve had to deal with a bunch of issues to finally get to a point where actually being able to hold the event was possible, issues with the local council and issues with locals themselves aside, they managed (with assistance from John Lewis and Harvey Goldsmith) to pull it off in the face of adversity.
One of these tales of adversity is regarding the cost of the tickets. The full weekend ticket was over £100, when you consider how many artists you get for less than that at other festivals such as SW4, Lovebox, Wireless or Field Day, having just a handful of acts on each stage is small beer. Many people baulked at this price so they either need to cram the line-ups with more acts to reflect the ticket charge, or lower it.
The fact that many local people in the area expected to be offered heavily subsidised tickets shows a general sense of entitlement of many local people. One person even went to the lengths of quoting common law land, complaining to the host borough, asking the police for emergency noise complaint numbers and even trying to drag those ‘men of the people’, The Levellers, into an argument about public land, all this stems from not being ‘allowed’ to pop in. A basic misunderstanding of the concept of festivals aside, it seems that there is an element of the Blackheath area who will be hell-bent on being as obstructive as possible, unless they get their own way, but this is Blackheath, people don't piss in the streets there, it's not Finsbury Park.
Being pushed as a food and music festival where the emphasis is on being family friendly means Queens Of The Stoneage aren’t going to be scheduled on the main stage any time soon, it also means there’s not much look in for dance music either. Having a festival without any elements of a 4/4 beat does feel strange, although people who are there for Aloe Blacc, Imelda May or the dreadful Billy Bragg meets Bruce Springsteen-isms of Frank Turner are highly unlikely to be turned onto the latest Dollkraut album.
Grace Jones
Grace Jones turned back the clock with a hit packed set and a costume change for every song, “My Jamaican Guy”, “La Vie En Rose”, “Private Life”, “Love is The Drug” and of course “Pull Up To The Bumper” all get em grooving, Grace is obviously having a ball (and well done for being on time!), she shouts how she wants to “Fuck you All” at one point. She closes with the set with a scrumptious extended version of “Slave to The Rhythm” where she does a repeat of the now infamous hula hoop twirl throughout the song’s length, even songs from her last album are greeted with the kind of warmth she receives from her bigger hits.
Massive Attack
Their most recent albums may have suffered from the kind of claustrophobia that means instant drag when you press play, but their live set has them seemingly morphing into “In Rainbows” era Radiohead. A brain melting light show with a screen which flashes facts about the conflicts in the Middle East, alongside images of war and devastation has them entertaining whilst playing a set which incorporates a number of new tracks, each of them taking on a minimal electronica approach with skeletal post-punk guitars, devastating bass, Horace Andy’s quiver and a rasping Martina Topley-Bird. However, it seems the majority of the audience left this train after 1998’s “Mezzanine” album so the biggest cheers go to “Safe From Harm”, “Teardrop” and the emotive closer “Unfinished Sympathy”, all of which captivated a surprisingly huge audience.
Giles Peterson
In amongst the latin, exotica, broken beat and calypso, he drops a lounge version of Pharrell’s “Happy”. For anyone who is anything but when they encounter this damn tune for the umpteenth time, they will find major joy in this cheeky shuffler of a version which pushes the original’s Northern Soul influences to the fore.
London five piece TOY have spent the last three years slowly building into a killer live act. True, there’s barely any stage interaction but it’s not needed. Tracks such as ‘Colours Running Out’, ‘Kopter’ and ‘Fall Out Of Love;, are heavy guitar heavy jams which suck the audience in with ease. There’s a even a three year old losing their shit to the heavy shoegazey white noise of ‘Join The Dots’, start em early, this kid’s already got better music taste than all the other ones.
Radiophonic Workshop
Although only Dick Mills remains from the original set-up, this rebooted workshop performs a set which modernises the originals with live percussion and  extra bass woomph but using huge banks of analogue equipment with minimal use of digital machinery. When they perform Delia Derbyshire’s ‘Ziwzih Ziwzih – Ooo Ooo’ it’s more than apparent that this was the very first techno track dating right back to 1968, new tracks start off as some kind of jazzy prog act then beak out into mental synth jams, so many acts are born of this stuff, all prog and electronica owes them, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Orbital, The Orb, Underworld, Aphex Twin, it all stems from here, hearing people cheer for tv theme tunes (Hitchhikers Guide/Doctor Who) is an oddity but they’re performed with expertise, the latter being extended into a ten minute jam. Two kids about seventeen underwhelmed by Frank Turner turn up in the tent to see what they’re all about, the look on their faces, the look they give to each other as they try to hide losing their shit was a great thing to experience.
So, a success. OnBlackheath succeeded having an antitode to the commercialism of the main stage, for those who didn’t fancy Aloe Blacc, they could mosh the hell out of surfy grunge trio The Wytches, not fancying Imelda May?  Don Letts was there busting out dubplates, the abominable Frank Turner had the way more satisfying competiton of Squeeze and Radiophonic Workshop on at the same time. It was pushed as a music and food festival and the food aspect did apparently go down well, a fiver a pint is a typical London pint price but seems a pound too much in the confines of a festival, especially with so many of them being bought, minor niggles aside, the first OnBlackheath proved to be a big success, here’s to the next one.

Chris Todd