When you’re on the way to Blue­dot, that first glimpse of the Lovell tele­scope is always a ‘wow’, moment. There it stands, on the Cheshire plain, com­muning with the plan­ets and deep space. Our con­duit to the stars and beyond. No won­der that Blue­dot, the fes­ti­val that has grown up around this beau­ti­ful struc­ture has such a ded­i­cat­ed fan base with its blend of music, sci­ence and space.

On arrival it was inter­est­ing to see what the adver­tised changes to the site looked like. The site has been made more com­pact and a new area called Future Field, close to the are­na, has become home to the sci­ence exhibitors, who last year were based in small huts in a qui­et cor­ner of the site. Future Field also con­tains Mis­sion Con­trol – the big tent for sci­ence talks – with Luke Jer­ram’s pow­er­ful Gaia art­work, a repli­ca of the Earth, hang­ing from the mid­dle like the sci­ence world’s answer to a giant dis­co ball. 

Over­all, most of the site changes seemed to get the thumbs up from those I spoke to. And the changes were most­ly pos­i­tive although I pre­ferred the yoga tent, tea room and ther­a­pies in their pre­vi­ous area, a space to dis­cov­er, nes­tled in the gardens. 


In keep­ing with Blue­dot tra­di­tion, the fes­ti­val kicked off with a clas­si­cal con­cert: Max Richter per­form­ing Recom­posed and VOICES, with Til­da Swin­ton. It went down bril­liant­ly with the Thurs­day evening crowd, relax­ing in their chairs, bask­ing in the evening sun. And Til­da Swin­ton remained at Blue­dot for the week­end, wear­ing a blue dot on her forehead.


An asso­ciate direc­tor of Jodrell Bank and a co-founder of Blue­dot, Pro­fes­sor Tim O’Brien gave his tra­di­tion­al wel­come talk on Fri­day after­noon. He rec­om­mend­ed a web­site (Stel­lar­i­um) and revealed some facts about the Lovell tele­scope, as well as drop­ping mind-blow­ing facts about the uni­verse, such as our galaxy con­tains a super mas­sive black hole weigh­ing 4 mil­lion times as much as our sun. Let me get my head around that. The talk fin­ished with some­thing Tim had been want­i­ng to do for many years – get a ‘Mex­i­can wave’ going, only this was called a Stretch and Squash (to Grav­i­ta­tion­al Waves) – and the crowd duly obliged. 

First band on the Orbit tent was Pic­ture Par­lour who I was inter­est­ed to see but… no, dis­ap­point­ing­ly the Lon­don-based band weren’t able to play as the tent floor had to be ‘wood­chipped’ – we’d already had a burst of rain and more was fore­cast. Next up, Antony Szmierek was an ener­getic pres­ence on the sog­gy Orbit tent stage. He intro­duced a trum­pet play­er onto the stage – the band had ‘dis­cov­ered’ him in the crowd at their Glas­ton­bury per­for­mance, play­ing along with their songs. 

The rest of the day saw a host of female artists: full marks to the bonkers and bril­liant Cia­ra Mary-Alice Thomp­son aka CMAT. She appeared to have a fair few fans in the crowd too, singing along on the front row with her par­tic­u­lar brand of feisty pop. CMAT were a def­i­nite high­light of the day. And lat­er was the turn of the mys­ti­cal and enig­mat­ic Gwen­no who played an ethe­re­al set, inten­si­fied by the enclosed and dark space of the Orbit tent. Nubya Gar­cia played a suit­ably chilled set as the after­noon moved into evening with her cool sax numbers.

Djan­go Djan­go’s lat­est sprawl­ing and ambi­tious album called, suit­ably for Blue­dot, Off Plan­et, got an air­ing dur­ing their set along with some of their old­er mate­r­i­al such as Default and WOR.

And lat­er, Roisin Mur­phy stepped up to her head­line sta­tus in per­fect style – she changed out­fits for almost every song and was a huge­ly ener­getic pres­ence, whip­ping through num­bers from her Moloko days to her more recent work. 


Dr Mag­gie Aderin-Pocock was a big draw last year, man­ag­ing to fill the Mis­sion Con­trol tent to the rafters, and it was no dif­fer­ent this time round. She’s an engag­ing speak­er and very inspir­ing, with a pas­sion to see young peo­ple, and espe­cial­ly girls, enter the world of sci­ence. And in one of her humor­ous moments, she showed us the Bar­bie doll cre­at­ed in her image (yes, it looked like her). 

At Future Field, Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents were unfail­ing­ly patient, explain­ing their lat­est devel­op­ments – often repeat­ed­ly, when deal­ing with those of us with des­per­ate­ly unsci­en­tif­ic minds. At the Graphene stand, a lit­tle mod­el of a truck leav­ing the Carls­berg fac­to­ry demon­strat­ed an envi­ron­men­tal­ly bet­ter way of trans­port­ing beer, by con­dens­ing it and adding water at its des­ti­na­tion. An elec­tro­sta­t­ic con­trap­tion called the Van Der Graaf Gen­er­a­tor was demon­strat­ed by anoth­er stu­dent; he was, unsur­pris­ing­ly, not famil­iar with the prog band going by the same name. 

Over on the Notes stage, Miki Berenyi, Lush ex vocal­ist, and writer of Fin­gers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Suc­cess was enter­tain­ing and dis­arm­ing­ly open about those heady days of Brit­pop, sex­ism and lad mags. 

The next “In Con­ver­sa­tion” ses­sion fea­tured Radio 6 music DJ Chris Hawkins and his wife, mete­o­rol­o­gist Clare Nasir, inter­view­ing pho­tog­ra­ph­er Max Ander­son. The main focus of the talk was near-space sus­tain­abil­i­ty. With rock­ets launch­ing into space every two days and huge amounts of space debris accu­mu­lat­ing (33,650 tracked objects actu­al­ly func­tion­ing), we are now pol­lut­ing yet anoth­er place (haven’t we done enough of this on Earth?) and reg­u­la­tion is need­ed. In the same way we brought in world­wide rules for car trav­el and then planes, we need to do the same for space. And active debris removal, says Max Ander­son, is sore­ly needed. 

We’ve got to the point where it’s almost not a fes­ti­val unless HENGE show up: the four inter­galac­tic beings (actu­al­ly from Man­ches­ter) played an ear­ly set of favourite space-pop greats before step­ping off the stage and lead­ing the Space Parade around the are­na. The fes­ti­val crowd came togeth­er to enjoy the spec­ta­cle. John­ny Lynch, AKA Pic­tish Trail, took over the main stage after­wards with a rous­ing set of his mys­ti­cal, synth pop-folk. 

A much antic­i­pat­ed set was TVAM’s thick, jud­der­ing fuzz of synths, gui­tars and muf­fled vocals. It’s a heady, all-encom­pass­ing assault on the sens­es, akin to a Scalp­ing gig. And it’s a chance to hear their lat­est album High Art Lite live.  

Lat­er, Dry Clean­ing took to the main stage. Flo­rence Shaw’s still pres­ence and dead­pan deliv­ery is still in evi­dence how­ev­er her stage per­sona has blos­somed. She used to look as if she’d had to be pushed out on stage where­as now she seems at ease, using her idio­syn­crat­ic expres­sions to com­mu­ni­cate with the crowd. In con­trast, the oth­er three mem­bers and par­tic­u­lar­ly their storm­ing bass play­er Lewis May­nard, are a whirl­wind of ener­gy around her. They opened with the dra­mat­ic Unsmart Lady and it was a shame when the rain came back in full force half-way through their set.


By Sun­day morn­ing there was no escap­ing the effects of the bad weath­er and the fes­ti­val organ­is­ers made the dif­fi­cult deci­sion to can­cel day tick­ets. Refunds were offered for those with day tick­ets, a bit­ter pill to swal­low for the fes­ti­val as that final day had sold out, most lured by the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see head­lin­er Grace Jones. 

In spite of the con­di­tions, every­one on site appeared to be in great spir­its and enjoy­ing them­selves. OK there was rain and mud but the atti­tude was – let’s just get on and enjoy it.

Tele­man have shift­ed their sound from the whim­si­cal indie they tend­ed towards to a more mus­cu­lar and syn­thy sound. Num­bers from their lat­est album Good Time/Hard Time, name­ly Short Life and Trees Go High got a great recep­tion from the crowd. And to cap it all there was even a moment or two of sun. 

A new dis­cov­ery was Lava La Rue. Her music is a blend of main­ly hiphop and spo­ken word – she’s also a cap­ti­vat­ing and expres­sive per­former. Lat­er, in the lead up to Grace Jones, Young Fathers and their female guest vocal­ists uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly sham­bled their way onto the stage. Grad­u­al­ly the pace gath­ers until the stage is a ball of fizzing ener­gy as the band weave in and out of each oth­er, their trib­al, pow­er­ful songs pro­ject­ing out into the far reach­es of the crowd. It’s dif­fi­cult to pin­point the moment it hap­pens, but you sud­den­ly realise you are watch­ing some­thing utter­ly mag­i­cal and you can see mem­bers of the crowd look­ing at each oth­er with a ‘what am I just wit­ness­ing?” look. Young Fathers are thor­ough­ly deserv­ing of the acco­lades com­ing their way. They are the most orig­i­nal, exu­ber­ant and breath­tak­ing band work­ing right now. 

I’m not sure what it is about Blue­dot but those 9pm Sun­day head­lin­ers seem to attract the rain (remem­ber New Order?). While wait­ing for Grace Jones to make her cus­tom­ary late appear­ance, the heav­ens opened. When the hasti­ly-assem­bled main stage cur­tain rolled back and she final­ly appeared, she did put on an incred­i­ble per­for­mance. She prowled, snarled and hula-hooped her way through the set, offer­ing up one hit after anoth­er (Night­club­bing to open – and William’s Blood sound­ed amazing). 

It’s always good if you can end a fes­ti­val on a high note and Max Coop­er’s inven­tive spacey, dreamy set at the Orbit tent was a per­fect Blue­dot fit, and was the per­fect way to fin­ish the festival. 

Over­all, Blue­dot con­front­ed a per­fect storm this year: there had been some changes with­in the fes­ti­val’s own­er­ship, plus the cost of liv­ing cri­sis, the ongo­ing affects of the pan­dem­ic – and some rub­bish weath­er just to top it all off. How­ev­er the essence of the fes­ti­val still remains, and the many appre­cia­tive and faith­ful Blue­dot attendees. 

So it was time to say good­bye to the Lovell tele­scope but, like all the peo­ple I spoke to over the week­end, I’ll def­i­nite­ly be at Blue­dot next year for anoth­er stel­lar blast of sci­ence, space and music. 

Blue­dot fes­ti­val. 20 – 23 July 2023. At Jodrell Bank, Cheshire.

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