Eventim Spotlights caught up with Paul Bliss who founded the beautiful Blissfields Festival, Hampshire in 2001 with his wife Mel Bliss.
Blissfields is an annual music festival in Hampshire, England founded by Paul and Mel Bliss in 2001 at Bradley Farm, Bradley, near Alresford. In 2011 the festival moved to a new site in Vicarage Farm, Woodmancott near Winchester.
The festival is currently a 5,000 capacity event, and has previously seen appearances from huge stars such as Mumford and Sons, Bastille, Laura Marling, Super Furry Animals, Tricky, Jake Bugg and Ben Howard.
As winners of the “Best Small Festival” award at the 2007 UK Festival Awards, a ticket to Blissfields is one of the most sought after of any UK festival.
Now heading into their 15th year of the festival, we chatted about how the event grew from a party in their back garden, their dream headline acts and the high points halfway through their second decade of running the event.
So, when was the moment the idea struck you to create Blissfields?
Well I’d always been keen on starting a festival, ever since watching Woodstock the film when I was 18, I thought ‘ah that would be nice on our farm!’ but we haven’t got quite that big!
In 2000 we had a musical friend staying and he and Mel thought about a music collaboration and we just decided to do a party for 50 people.
That’s how it started, in our back garden!
Oh wow! So you actually live on the farm?
Well the site has now moved as it’s got too big for where we are, right on the outskirts of our small village. It just didn’t work anymore, I think we had 1500 last time we were at our farm.
It’s not a working farm, in fact for my day job I run boarding kennels. Everybody says I have really nice jobs!
I definitely agree! How much work was it to get the first festival off the ground?
That first one was literally just two couples – my friend Andy and his partner, and Mel & I. We just did it!
We hired the sound desk that morning and got on with it. We’d been planning it for about a month so we just had a bit of a party.
Well now you’re celebrating 15 years so congratulations! How has it all changed since 2001?
Thank you! You start getting more professional really. For the first four years there was no charge it was just donations, so that quickly gets people to come along – a free weekend in the country with a bit of music!
That expanded quite quickly from 50 people to 500 people in the first four years and that was just word of mouth. We didn’t do any promotion then at all. When you get to that number you start having to put stewards, and loos and start worrying about health and safety.
We actually did the first five years without even having a licence! We were that friendly to all our neighbours, the council didn’t even know it was happening really. Once you start having a licence it becomes a bit more than a hobby.
So yeah it grew from 2005 when we had our first band that went on to bigger things, which was The Mystery Jets. They brought down quite a trendy London crowd with them, and kept that interest from musos, as well as people who just wanted to come and enjoy the festival.
We’ve always been quite respected for putting on new bands. It’s been great for us with the promotion that gives when those bands go on to greater things.
Blissfields is growing, but what can people who have never been before expect? Tell us about the overall festival vibe.
They can expect to be surprised. For a five thousand capacity festival, we put on a lot of stuff. We have as many areas as a lot of big festivals! They’re just a bit smaller, a bit friendlier and a bit more approachable.
We’ve got a cinema, we’ve got the hot tubs, we’ve got a children’s area and sports day – fun things like that going on – as well as five stages, DJ music, and one of our big additions we have is an area called The Hidden Hedge which is almost a festival within a festival.
It puts on quite different music to the rest of the areas and gives it a bit of an edge at night. That goes on until 4am and the DJ’s out there aren’t just playing House and Garage, it’s a bit heavier up there!
There’s something for everybody.
I think your Litter Bond* scheme is an absolutely wonderful idea. It’s so sad to see so much litter and debris on a festival site during and after the event. How successful is it?
Well, we actually cadged the idea from Boomtown and we thought it would work well for us [laughing]! We have a lot of teenagers come, as well as families and older people because of the bands we’ve put on in the past, there’s a lot of interest from the sixth form colleges, and some of those need a bit of persuading that they need to pick up!
With a £5 bond, you can actually get a £7 bar token, so it works really well. It got us some extra revenue from the people that weren’t interested in getting back their bond to go towards the collection and recycling, and the people who were picking were helping our rubbish collection too.
* Here’s how it works: You are given a rubbish bag and voucher, on entry to the festival. You fill the bag with your rubbish as you produce it and return to the exchange point with your voucher for your £5 back, OR and this is the clever bit, you bring back your bag during the weekend and get a £7 bar voucher a 40% Increase on your deposit! You make money on the deal, we have a much tidier site…Hurrah!
Who is your dream booking for Blissfields?
Basement Jaxx is the booking that the whole team would love to have on. Saturday night with them playing…well it’s going to be a great gig isn’t it!
Muse on the Friday with Basement Jaxx on the Saturday…we’d have to go a little bit bigger, and charge a heck of a lot more for our tickets!
Are you allowed to give us a hint on the line up for 2015?
Can’t really do that [laughing] but we’ve put more into our artist budget this year though, so we are really looking at getting some great headliners, making it a very solid line up right through to all the really great local bands who play as well.
What is the focus for Blissfields 2015?
Over the last three years we’ve brought in a new area and we want to spend this year building up on what we’ve done so far. We’re not going to sit on our laurels but we want to build up on our past achievements.
I bet there has been several high points over the years but can you tell us about one or two?
When we were back at the farm it was a huge thrill, because it was great to be literally sat in our back garden on our patio with the Super Furry Animals, talking about life, the universe and everything way into the night. That was a big one for me!
More recently after having had Bastille play for three years and basically be friends of the festival, to see them come back on their last year to headline the stage and all the excitement that engendered was a really great evening for us!
The one thing I love every year is just seeing people arrive, and how happy everybody is. Just walking into the camp-site when people are putting up their tents. It really does just send shivers down my spine.