If the sci­en­tists at Jodrell Bank could put their col­lec­tive heads togeth­er, it would be per­fect if they could find a way of tele­port­ing us back to the fields of Blue­dot in order to do the fes­ti­val all over again. That way it might be pos­si­ble to expe­ri­ence the stuff you’d missed first time round. Blue­dot is a clashfind­er nightmare.

First impres­sions are that there have been some pos­i­tive improve­ments to the Blue­dot fes­ti­val fields. You can now walk in a com­plete cir­cle round the site with the tele­scope in the cen­tre. Most of the sci­ence activ­i­ties have decamped to a sep­a­rate area away from the music, while the main are­na has become a ded­i­cat­ed music zone. There is also a new dance tent: Deep Space Dis­co which had opti­misti­cal­ly pro­grammed DJs from 12 noon. For­tu­nate­ly, on the first morn­ing there was a ready sup­ply of enthu­si­as­tic souls ready for a post-break­fast dance to DJ Nicholas Mai’s upbeat set (he also played two oth­er stages over the fes­ti­val) – and the Big Fish Lit­tle Fish fam­i­ly rave. The food stalls were bet­ter organ­ised and grouped into areas too.

Enjoy­ing the main are­na at the real ale bar – before the rain

Only last week, the Lovell Tele­scope got its UNESCO her­itage sta­tus so Jodrell Bank Pro­fes­sors Tim O’Brien and Tere­sa Ander­son con­veyed their pride in the acco­lade at their open­ing talk on Thurs­day. The fes­ti­val also coin­cid­ed with the anniver­sary of 50 years since the Moon landing.

A mini debate fol­lowed their talk: Sci­ence fic­tion, Sci­ence fact. Pro­fes­sor Mon­i­ca Grady made a case for Asi­mov and Ter­ry Pratch­ett. But Lib­by Jack­son and the ‘fact’ side won me over. Her most fas­ci­nat­ing moment? Hear­ing about the mini-sized 3D print­er that will be going up to the moon. Using a shov­el attach­ment it will gath­er moon dust to build pan­els for build­ings… and any­thing else we need. Mak­ing things on site is the way to go.

Manchester’s Hal­lé Orches­tra blast­ed off the main stage action with a col­lab­o­ra­tive piece called Lift Off. The work is a col­lec­tion of sci-fi-relat­ed music such as Star Wars, Dr Who, ET and Back to the Future. The beau­ti­ful back­drops looked even more dra­mat­ic as dusk fell over the Blue­dot site. Open­ing the fes­ti­val with the Hal­lé adds a sense of grandeur and it all felt as if we were there for a very spe­cial moment.


No pranc­ing about bare­foot on springy green grass as the rain belt­ed down. The Neb­u­la stage host­ed a BBC Music Intro­duc­ing series with first artist Re:tract, a project by pro­duc­tion artist Matt Gill. It was a beau­ti­ful set with deep, lush sound­scapes, moody and languid. 

One of the most eager­ly await­ed events lead to a packed-out tent for a talk by Helen Shar­man, the first British astro­naut. Helen described how it all start­ed: dri­ving to work at the Mars choco­late fac­to­ry she heard a radio advert ask­ing: “would you like to apply to be an astro­naut?” She wavered, then applied – and got the job! Helen was an enter­tain­ing and com­pelling speak­er, offer­ing snip­pets of info about life spent float­ing in a tiny space cap­sule. The best thing? Weight­less­ness, of course! Not so much fun? Learn­ing how to sur­vive in water for three days in case they made an emer­gency land­ing some­where obscure. This she had to do by actu­al­ly spend­ing three days in water.

Les Ama­zones D’Afrique put in an ener­getic mid-after­noon per­for­mance – the female west African col­lec­tive are ded­i­cat­ed gen­der equal­i­ty cam­paign­ers and played a pow­er­ful set with all four mem­bers alter­nate­ly tak­ing the prime vocal spot – and send­ing out a strong female-pos­i­tive message.

Hot Chip were peer­less Fri­day night head­lin­ers, with a stun­ning laser show (see main pic­ture). They opened with Huarache Lights and cov­ered old nineties dance clas­sics plus a hand­ful from their superb new album A Bath­ful of Ecstasy.


Atten­tion Earth! This is Henge. We come in the name of rave.” Henge, fes­ti­val ven­er­ans, put in one of the most enter­tain­ing and amus­ing sets for adults and chil­dren, and got the main stage action going.


Has Blue­dot’s music line­up fea­tured a theremin before? With its sci-fi elec­tron­ic retro cre­den­tials, this instru­ment from the 1920s is a nat­ur­al for Blue­dot. The Radio Sci­ence Orches­tra pre­sent­ed their com­po­si­tion Man out of the Moon; prob­a­bly one of the most quirky events and one of the most lyri­cal and love­ly. With the sooth­ing sound and retro visu­als of 50s Amer­i­can sub­ur­bia, I felt trans­port­ed to a glam­orous hotel lounge, ele­gant­ly sip­ping a Martini. 


The are­na was packed for Jarvis Cock­er with new project JarvIS. Every­thing on stage was in place: the musi­cians, a smoke machine on over­drive. But where was the man him­self? We wait­ed. One very tall press pho­tog­ra­ph­er turned and faced the audi­ence, cam­era click­ing away. Did he know some­thing we didn’t? Some­thing was caus­ing a stir in the packed crowd…  sud­den­ly we spot­ted Jarvis, mak­ing his way through slow­ly, micro­phone in hand. Next minute he had bound­ed on the stage. Jarvis’s mag­ic star qual­i­ty remains undimmed. Prowl­ing the stage, pos­ing, lan­guid­ly stop­ping for a bit of ban­ter, he took us through some of the new mate­r­i­al he’s been con­coct­ing includ­ing the new sin­gle, des­tined to be a clas­sic, Must I Evolve? 

Under the shad­ow of Kraftwerk’s impend­ing appear­ance, young West York­shire band Work­ing Men’s Club attract­ed a sub­stan­tial crowd. They played a full-on noisy set of jagged post punk, includ­ing catchy first sin­gle Bad Blood – but just as things were going so well, it was sud­den­ly cur­tailed to make way for the head­lin­ers. You can find my speedy post-fes­ti­val inter­view with WMC here.

Seeing Kraftwerk live was a life­time ambi­tion for many peo­ple I spoke to and the are­na was buzzing. The Ger­man god­fa­thers of elec­tron­i­ca hit the stage with visu­al­ly excit­ing back­drops through­out the set, which were enhanced with spe­cial­ly pro­duced 3D glass­es. Man Machine was the high­light. Kraftwerk were a per­fect fit for Blue­dot and it will be inter­est­ing to see who else the fes­ti­val team can drum up from elec­tron­i­ca’s his­to­ry in the future.


Blue­dot’s music cura­tors made sure there was a daz­zling array of gen­res over the dura­tion. For Sun­day, there was the inten­si­ty of The Lucid Dream’s churn­ing, mes­meris­ing gui­tar-heavy psy­che­delia. Then we moved to hip hop with just in from New York sassy female duo Oshun. Their set was a joy – slinky hip hop sub­tly woven with soul and jazz.

The Orielles brought their per­fect, jan­g­ly, sun­ny vibes to the main stage. Where­as one time it was cool sis­ters Sidonie and Esme who stole the lime­light, now Hen­ry is look­ing equal­ly con­fi­dent on stage. I Only Bought it for the Bot­tle and Sug­ar Tastes like Salt sound­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly lush. We were also treat­ed to a first hear­ing of a new song from their upcom­ing sec­ond album which is due for release on Valentine’s Day 2020.

The super-tal­ent­ed and dra­mat­ic Anna Calvi played an intense set with her rich, oper­at­ic vocals soar­ing over the are­na, Don’t Beat the Girl out of my Boy was a pow­er­ful set closer.

And final­ly, New Order pitched their clos­ing fes­ti­val set just right – even though the rain did return on cue as the four walked on stage. Bernard Sum­n­er was delight­ed to be play­ing near home and com­ment­ed on how he’s wait­ing for a Sal­ford fes­ti­val (Blue­dot, could you oblige?). Returnees to Blue­dot, they includ­ed two Joy Divi­sion songs, fol­low­ing for the encore Atmos­phere and Love with Tear us Apart in hon­our of Ian Cur­tis. My par­tic­u­lar high­light was a blis­ter­ing ren­di­tion of Plas­tic. It was a beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced set with a majesty from the start. This clos­ing set was it should be, an emo­tion­al and uplift­ing experience.

Science and Space

The sci­ence and space side of Blue­dot had just as much going on as the music. There is always plen­ty for fam­i­lies and the fes­ti­val makes sci­ence as appeal­ing and as much fun as pos­si­ble with work­shops, demos, free­bies, the­atre and all man­ner of information. 

Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty brought mete­orites. Chil­dren could take part in a ‘mete­orite hunt’ where, armed with a mag­net, you have to work out which are the mete­orites and which are just plain old rocks.

Anoth­er fun exper­i­ment was mak­ing a strand of DNA with beads at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Liv­er­pool’s stall, in order to under­stand how genet­ic code is created.

Also pop­u­lar was Man­ches­ter Girl Geeks, a not-for-prof­it organ­i­sa­tion, pro­vid­ing work­shops in cod­ing and oth­er tech for women. At their Stomp Rock­ets stand you could make a rock­et and fire it. Except that ours land­ed on the tent roof, nev­er to be seen again.

And the Women of Sci­ence stall offered lots of info, plus stick­ers and the chance to get a tat­too of your favourite female astro­naut. Days after the fes­ti­val’s end, I’m still proud­ly wear­ing Helen Shar­man on my arm!

Other goings on:

The Roots stage host­ed a good vari­ety of music but was per­haps a lit­tle under-used this year. It would be good to see this area giv­en a lit­tle more love, per­haps with a cafe to add to the chilled and ver­dant atmos­phere of this cor­ner of the fes­ti­val ground.

The cash-free wrist­bands were tri­alled this year and every­one seemed to have strong opin­ions about them. While undoubt­ed­ly a good idea – and they did cut down queues quite dra­mat­i­cal­ly – there were some teething problems.

The Notes stage was a pop­u­lar spot where a series of poets, writ­ers and debaters held court in a com­fort­able tent with a cafe. A Man­ches­ter poet col­lec­tive pro­vid­ed much humour and enjoy­ment on the after­noon I spent in there.

Leav­ing Blue­dot, my head was buzzing with all the infor­ma­tion I had learned about space and sci­ence. And the music pro­gramme was designed to offer not just the famil­iar, but new and excit­ing acts too. Our blue dot has much to offer and this fes­ti­val embraces it all.

Blue­dot fes­ti­val, Jodrell Bank, Cheshire

Main image: Scott Salt.
Lens hire: Lenslab

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