OnBlackheath

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I can’t believe 4 months passed so quickly… In May it seemed like an age to wait (especially as this was set to be my very first festival), but it really snuck up on us. Doing #SunnyChallenge again in the build-up was both a silly & a brilliant idea! It knackered me out, but really got me excited about seeing the cast in a different setting – Saturday was a brilliant one to go onto the festival from; what an atmosphere.

When little coincidences start, it gives you a feeling that you’re in for something special. So when Ksenia somehow happened to get on the exact carriage of the exact train at Cannon Street on Sunday morning, I was already on high alert! Once we’d all assembled outside Lewisham station, we headed over to the site (thankfully it was signposted, as none of us had really put the effort into working out where we were going!). We arrived slightly before the gates were open, which gave Helen & Ksenia time to head over to the box office, whilst Jess & I geeked out for a bit.

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Then came the next happy accident of the day. We had no idea what we wanted to do first, so wandered aimlessly across the site – ending up heading in the direction of the main stage. Suddenly we could hear familiar strains of guitar music… The cast were doing their soundcheck, of course! Immediately we picked up our pace (we had a purpose, after all!) – then a flat-capped figure onstage started waving at us before we’d even got halfway across the field. Only John Dagleish. Olivier Award winner and star of the show. Waving at we silly people! Admittedly, two of our party do have very distinctive hair that must be visible from a distance, but all the same. Pretty cool, eh?

So that was us settled for a while! As we had no idea what the weather was going to be like or where we’d end up managing to stand for their set, we took full advantage of being able to wander round taking photos. I actually took a couple of my favourites during the soundcheck, these two of Adam & George:

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I also managed to take a couple of short videos of Adam drumming (when my camera played ball!); I will miss that very much when he leaves the show, so any extra clips that I can get will keep me happy.

With the soundcheck over, we had a couple of hours to explore. The very first thing I had spied when Jess & I were waiting outside the entrance was a gin & tonic bar (naturally), so we headed over there to investigate… It was still a little too early for me at that point though! Instead I did the responsible thing and got some food – you can never go wrong with a bit of macaroni cheese! It was particularly good, and a sensible choice to keep me going through a long day.

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As we wanted to be at the front, we headed over to the main stage just as the first band (Chainska Brassika) was finishing up, prior to a Jerry Dammers DJ set. We ended up bumping into another Sunny Afternoon fan, Rose, on the way over, adding to our numbers! It was really difficult to judge where to position myself… I knew that if I wanted to get photos I’d need to be at an angle, but what angle? I settled myself over to the left of the field (very near a set of speakers!) and waited.

I definitely chose the right spot!

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A pretty much unimpeded view, no over-aggressive pushing & shoving, and the rhythm section going right through me! Sunny’s very own Lucy Baker-Swinburn was looking after the sound for the gang, so we have her & the team to thank for it all sounding marvellous.

Somehow they managed to get through 14 songs… It really didn’t seem like that many at the time! I think I’ve managed to piece together the set list thanks to the ridiculous amount of photos I took, plus some vague memories (a member of cast or crew can correct me if this is wrong!): You Really Got Me, I Gotta Move, Set Me Free, I’m Not Like Everybody Else, Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, Dead End Street, This Time Tomorrow, All Day And All Of The Night, Where Have All The Good Times Gone, A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy, Till The End Of The Day, Sunny Afternoon, Waterloo Sunset, Lola. Phew.

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Almost out of habit I didn’t end up singing along much – as I’ve been so used to hearing these songs in the theatre, where people singing over the professionals is my pet hate, it felt odd being almost expected to! If I’m honest, I was smiling so much my mouth wouldn’t move in the right way to get the words out anyway… I did join in with a few bursts of “oh yes he is!” and “dead end!” (that was fun), and sung along to the last three songs. Typically, one of my rare singing along moments was caught by Sunny Afternoon’s own Vicki Manser, who was roaming the site on official Instagram duty! Thankfully it was only a photo though; a video clip would’ve been horrendous.

Photo credit: Vicki Manser/Sunny Afternoon official Instagram
Photo credit: Vicki Manser/Sunny Afternoon official Instagram

As with going to see the show itself, it’s very difficult to pick out favourite moments. However…

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Favourite song? I Gotta Move & Where Have All The Good Times Gone. These are a couple of Adam’s favourites that he drums on; it was fantastic to see him having even more fun than usual (if that’s possible!), and the new endings sounded superb. I can see why he & Ned were raving about them following the Roundhouse gig! Also have to mention You Really Got Me – seeing Lillie with her tambourine on a festival stage was pretty special.

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Favourite moment? Again, I can’t choose one… Philip Bird coming on as Mr Davies to sing Dead End Street, and launching into a bit of Autumn Almanac while things were getting set up: “I go to Blackheath for my holidays!” Ned & Adam both getting little solo moments – the former singing his line at the end of A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy, the latter… A very plummy “well done, darling!” (or words to that effect) following “there’s one thing that he loves and that is flattery” in Dedicated Follower – a lot more audible than usual! And, um, Ray Davies appearing onstage to introduce Waterloo Sunset. No biggie. I hadn’t even considered that he might do that, so it was a lovely surprise.

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Special mention to Pete. It was brilliant that he got to have his moment, in particular during All Day And All Of The Night’s guitar solo! Also, seeing Fabio & Gary up there playing guitar in Till The End Of The Day was pretty special. A bit of a change to always pulling back wires, eh? Although they did have their fair share of running around; both Fabio & Adam were having to fix the drum kit early on, in the middle of songs – but, of course, didn’t miss a beat!

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And with that, they were done! It was a truly amazing 45 minutes, that seemed both longer & shorter at times… Even with my incessant photography I was still ‘in the moment’ and having such a good time. (Hey, I needed to be on my camera a lot – as far as I can see there are no official photos featuring drums, which is criminal!) I still think they should’ve thrown in a drum solo though, plenty of rock bands do that at gigs…

Over the past few days it’s been lovely seeing the cast again (apparently they were all knackered on Monday, but you wouldn’t have realised!). We were all so happy to be there to support them, and I’m really glad that seeing our smiling faces at the front made them feel a bit more at home – especially as the crowd grew to epic proportions rather quickly!

Photo credit: Helen Gardner/Ksenia Nemchinova
Photo credit: Helen Gardner/Ksenia Nemchinova

Once the set had finished we were lucky enough to meet Danny Horn, soon-to-be the new Ray Davies. It was quite brave of him to come & see the performance, but also quite a good idea I think – as he’s not going to see the show itself, seeing how the songs are performed is probably helpful, as that’s not going to change. He seems like a really nice guy (& also happens to be a friend of a friend!); we’re all excited to see how he does come October.

Photo credit: Greg Hardcastle/Vicki Manser/Sunny Afternoon official Instagram
Photo credit: Greg Hardcastle/Vicki Manser/Sunny Afternoon official Instagram

We then decided that, as we’d been in close proximity to speakers for a while, it was a good idea to retreat & actually be able to hear each other talk (& work out what to do next). Not long after that we had our first quite weird experience: we were certain we saw Ned walking past with a pink unicorn balloon… Then Ksenia’s radar kicked in and she noticed John – ignoring all sensible precautions of, y’know, making sure we knew where she was going (pointing “over there!” is no help in a massive field full of people, just FYI) she was off. We did eventually follow, but it took a while to first see where she was, then where she was headed… It was lovely to catch up with one of the boys straightaway & pass on how amazing the whole thing was for us. Vicki was also around, so we got a nice picture this time! Our next stop was the G&T bar, but we just happened to pass the Ned-shaped person again and, er…

Photo credit: OnBlackheath
Photo credit: OnBlackheath

Yeah, it was him. That genuinely topped off the Sunny part of the day quite nicely! If not very surreally.

No such thing as a simple G&T at OnBlackheath. There was a menu of both gins AND tonics to choose from… I’m very much a novice, so it was a bit of a blind pick for me. I ended up with Bombay Sapphire & lemon tonic. It was supposed to be a double, but definitely ended up at least a triple (I swear it was quadruple, the effect it had on me!) as Helen accidentally (on purpose?) managed to distract the girl serving us.

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Drinks in hand, we wandered for a bit – or, rather, got stalked by a seemingly never-ending procession of bizarre things. Men dressed up as grannies riding around on motorised trolleys, a giant Scottish man with someone dressed up as a dog… Oh, and a motorised giant flower pot also went whizzing past!

It was rather nice to have a sit down after hours on our feet – plus once the gin kicked in (this happened quite quickly) I took to heckling the chefs on the Chef’s Stage. And I kept remembering that earlier we’d heard one saying he liked to play with his meat… Lovely…

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Then all of a sudden it was getting dark & cold. It’s only the middle of September! So a portion of very hot chips was definitely in order.

Then it was finally time for Madness! I’d only ever seen them on stage at T4 On The Beach 10 years ago… So I was looking forward to seeing them playing properly live this time, not just a backing track! It really was cracking. Sadly Jess & I were just too knackered to stay until the end (knowing a few more of the songs in the middle of their set might’ve helped a tad; it seems they saved most of the really famous ones until last), but considering my week I think it was an achievement to have lasted that long! The fact that I’d paid 50 quid to be there certainly helped keep me motivated…

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It was great to have finally gone to a festival – it didn’t match up to my pre-conceived idea of a festival, but that’s not a bad thing! Yes, there were grotty portaloos (I was expecting fancy ones, given that it was sponsored by John Lewis), but the weather stayed nice and it had a friendly, if at times slightly weird, atmosphere. I love live music and this just served to remind me that I need to experience it more often; as broad a range as possible.

I remain hugely proud of the Sunnies; this was the best way to start the countdown into the final few weeks for the original cast. It was really celebratory and you could feel a proper community spirit spread across the whole common.

I leave you with our initial post-festival reactions…

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