Stranger in paradise, Bloodstock from an outsider's perspective

Here at ROCKFLESH we believe pushing the boundaries and this year we felt it would be interesting to get perceptions on Bloodstock from those who are not its usual clientele. So you have had Jo's glam queen at a Metal fest confessional, now we give you an indie kids perspective.... Yes, you heard right! Indie kid.....

Hello there, my name is Chris and I’m an Indie kid. Well, actually folk and classical kid, but indie kid sounds better for this quasi AA style confession.  Years ago, ROCKFLESH main stay and Def Leppard nemesis Stewart Lucas and I swapped gigs as Christmas presents (in the classical world we call them concerts but they’re essentially the same thing really).  It was a fun deep dive into someone else’s music and some of my favourite nights out.  But after he left me in London to return to his spiritual roots the game became unfeasible.  This trip to Bloodstock was a festival version of the same thing.  

It’s a festival, with tents and rain so some things must be in common.  It’s not Latitude so nobody is opening a fresh pineapple or paying their John Lewis bill (both true).  It’s not Towersey Festival of Folk so no pianos in some punter's gazebo (also true).  Just before I left I discovered that no gas cylinders are allowed on site, throwing me off my planning, what do I cook on?!?  But it is a festival - I expect squashed in tents, ale, pricy food and trying to find my tent in the dark.  

On the other side this is Bloodstock, I was in my tent for the clap of thunder on Friday afternoon, any other festival would have prompted glares at the sky but instead I heard a cheer followed by a cry “Thank you Thor!”.  You don’t get that at Latitude.  Musically it might seem a far cry from what I love, but the PROMS once ran an advert asking patrons to “leave their coats and preconceptions in the cloakroom”.  So off I went leaving my preconceptions (and gas canisters) at home.

Musically all genres are connected in some way; defining music is hard, although we all know it when we hear it.  There are loads of definitions on the internet but John Cage on his own has trashed nearly all of them. Folk music generally divides into traditional songs for dancing and contemporary songs relevant to a people at some time or some place.  Some tunes have a history that goes back further than our records – the antlers used for the Abbot Bromley Horn Dance were carbon dated to the 11th Century and they have been used - only 10 miles from Bloodstock - nearly every year since.  Folk is generally quite conservative in its style if radical in its politics.  But there are some crossover spaces, Glorystrokes were a regular on the ceilidh circuit and Stick in the Wheel’s drummer Si Foote never seems to gig without a t-shirt proclaiming some band like Death Angel.  But the best link I can find isn’t the music, it’s the battle vests - Folk music is surrounded by a have-a-go mentality of creation and craft; I cannot think of any other folk art created in the 20th century and so alive today.  I’m seriously considering my own, except the London Symphony Orchestra don’t make sew on patches.

The history of classical music, on the other hand is all about pushing the boundaries of what music can do and many themes and ideas are common with Metal.  Wagner gave us Ride (flight) of the Valkyries, Bartok’s opera Bluebeard's Castle is decidedly gothic and Stravinsky dances a young woman to death as part of a pagan ritual.  I would also offer rumours of Paganini selling his soul for perfect violin technique in 1800 - at the time they were so well believed that it took 36 years after his death before he was properly buried.

Metal music, at least at Bloodstock, seemed to divide into three groups:

Bread and butter Metal (For this I’d include sludge metal) peddled by bands like Metal Church, and to my ears there wasn’t enough musicality to keep me interested and there wasn’t enough raw energy to keep me excited.  But it also includes thrash and that had the latter in abundance.  If losing my phone while crowd surfing to Anthrax wasn’t on my bucket list I no longer have a need to add it.

Comedy - This is mainly the pantomime of Power Metal headliners but I’ll throw in Footprints in Custard and couldn’t possibly leave out Evil Scarecrow for this group.  All of them were wonderful.  Singalongs I could join in even though I had only just heard the name of the band for the first time, conscription to a crab army, etc.  But for all their glory on stage they’re not going to appear in my Spotify listening.

The rest - For this the stand outs were Cradle of Filth (the band I expected to hate but kind of loved), Swallow the Sun, Tesseract and Eluveitie - more on them later.

It was shortly after the Evil Scarecrow that I realised what was missing: Female performers; I had seen one solitary woman performing in a band in two days of music - sorry people, I don’t include the beautiful string quartet descending from the heavens to Parkway Drive, they clearly weren’t part of the band.  If you choose your festival by some Bechtel test then this is clearly one to avoid.  

Instrumentally it all became monotonous too - guitar, guitar, guitar, drums - wow this one has a keyboard - more guitar and drums, repeat.  The most interesting part was death growling - someone defended it to me saying “some people claim it isn’t singing…” I’m sure you’ve heard that.  True it isn’t, but so what, it is an exciting and raw exploration of what the human voice plus a Marshall Stack can create and one I have heard nowhere else.  More rhythm than melody, but find me music without rhythm.

Every festival needs a band that is so near the edge of the genre that it feels like they turned up on the wrong weekend.  For me this was Swallow the Sun, mournful, beautiful and tuneful.  They wouldn’t have been that far out of place in other festivals I’ve attended.

But by Sunday I had cracked, I needed to hear a female voice and I needed to hear a different instrument, and in two of the last three acts it delivered.  Women of War and then the final act of the weekend Eluveitie who were fantastic, genuinely mixing tunes I loved with the raw power around me, they were my stand out band and the only one I would take myself to a gig for.

I suppose the final test is will I be back.  Yes, probably, but not next year!

By Chris Marshall