Now in its 5th year, OnBlackheath has become a pilgrimage for music loving locals. Despite the host of activities, food options and even a funfair, the main draw comes from the eclectic mix of music the festival attracts. This year’s Saturday is topped by Squeeze, with the talents of Billy Bragg, Huey Morgan, The Divine Comedy and The James Taylor Quartet dotted around the heath.
After opening sets from the likes of Mancie Baker and Marine, with interjections from radio host/I’m A Celeb contestant Danny Baker, the day gets into full swing with an atmospheric set from Acrylic on the main stage. The NHS Choir, who topped the Christmas charts with their mash-up of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Fix You’, deliver a mostly (maybe too) slow set of well-arranged classics, with an uplifting version of Toto’s ‘Africa’ emerging as the centrepiece. Having said that, they aren’t a particularly stunning choir and it’s hard to see them being in this position without the NHS tag. Dirty Vegas then fill the second stage with their unique mix of electronic and guitar based tunes.
One of the day’s most prominent performers is Billy Bragg, who is welcomed with tremendous applause. His uber-political singalongs match his hyper-cockney accent, with the closing ‘A New England’ allowing the audience to inflate their own accents to match the man on stage. However, despite ironically being dressed like an ivory dealer, it’s the political rants that break up each song that begin to grind. Everyone, of course, agrees with everything he says, but eventually even the most committed of fans just want to shout along in the sun. It reaches its peak when he very self-importantly delivers the title, ‘All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose’, like a Ricky Gervais character. You half expect a sideways glance to camera and some raised eyebrows.
Over on Stage 2, The James Taylor Quartet provide one of the performances of the weekend, as their bouncy funk fills every inch of the tent. Full of virtuosic solos from each member of his excellent band, as well as their arrangements of ‘Green Onions’ and the Starsky And Hutch theme, Taylor himself, sat behind his huge Hammond Organ is clearly overwhelmed by the audience’s powerful response.
A huge audience looking to relive the nostalgia of The Divine Comedy’s 90’s glory days flood the main stage, as their exclusive set touches on their most successful singalongs, like ‘National Express’ and ‘Something For The Weekend’, as well as some interesting deeper cuts. Their folk influenced sound is the perfect backdrop as the sun begins to go down on the first day of On Blackheath. Hidden from the sunset, is Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ frontman Huey Morgan, who delivers a vintage DJ set that keeps his small crowd tided over until the legendary Norman Jay emerges a couple of hours later.
For the second time, On Blackheath is headlined by locals Squeeze. Having delivered their signature poor man’s Madness sound for over 40 years (once upon a time with Jools Holland on keyboards) their live sound has been pruned and perfected. Despite recently releasing 2 albums of new material, Squeeze keep the audience on their side with a hit-filled set that includes ‘Pulling Mussels From A Shell’, ‘Cool For Cats’ and ‘Up The Junction’, which seemingly everyone in the area knows every single word just as well as Glenn Tilbrook. They even bring the NHS choir out to goosebump-inducingly fill out the backing vocals for a few tracks. Ultimately, it’s their impressive back catalogue of family-friendly hits and surprisingly brilliant musicianship that prove why Squeeze have returned (and I’m sure will again) to Blackheath.