Thursday 19th July

Here I am at Blue Dot Festival at Jodrell Bank. For anyone who doesn't know this festival, it's an eclectic mix of music, science, talks and experiences. There is a bit of politics, lots of debates, in fact something for everyone.

Their programme states:

“Blue Dot is a place where creativity and curiosity collide, a space where thoughtful minds can be inspired and where it doesn't matter if you are a neuroscientist, a music producer or a kid with a bottle rocket. A place where we are all observing the universe and the joy of exploring and experimenting in it together as one, beneath the stars.”

Right now, I am at the Main Stage, listening to a talk about the creation of the ‘Blue Planet II’ TV series, which was four years in the making and involved over 1,000 people. The slide show on stage shows images from the production of the series, while three scientists explain what we are looking at - currently how rebreathing diving tanks work, and how sea creatures respond to the lack of bubbles that normal scuba tanks cope with.

I am now watching a video in which a fish uses coral as a tool to break open clams to eat, while Sir David Attenborough narrates it.

Next up Laura Misch plays the saxophone, amongst other instruments. It's a beautiful, laidback sound. There's a stunning backdrop of swirling planets and galaxies on the screen behind her. She plays a piece called ‘Childhood’, featuring her haunting voice, with a backing of glockenspiel, keyboards and recorder.

Her next song is ‘Lagoon’, about taking care of our environment. This is another slow song. Her voice is soulful, a little like Sadé’s and full of rich tone.

Then she plays ‘Harness’ featuring her beautiful saxophone playing, with an electronic drum in the background. I am not sure if she's looping or playing over another sax, but as there's only Laura on stage it is hard to tell. The sax harmonies are absolutely beautiful. Part way through, she starts to sing - she has such a rich voice with a wide range. I am loving listening to her.

The next song is ‘Alchemy’, another haunting tune. In this one, she is singing and playing the keyboards. The backdrop is the same, a swirling turquoise mass of galaxies against a black background which is absolutely mesmerising.

She tells us that we're the biggest audience she's played to so far, and you can tell she's absolutely loving being on stage!

Her final song is called ‘Life’, a more uptempo song than the ones before. This starts with the drum machine, which is quickly joined by her playing the sax; she is definitely looping now, layering the saxophone repeatedly and creating an amazing wall of sound!

You can hear more of Laura's music here: https://lauramisch.bandcamp.com

Then, it is turn of the Hallé Orchestra, playing the music from 'THe Blue Planet’ TV series.

Blue Dot say:

“Kicking of a brand new four-day format, we’ll be opening our doors on the Thursday with the phenomenal ‘The Blue Planet in Concert’ performed by The Hallé Orchestra. The show combines live music against a backdrop of remarkable footage from the original ‘The Blue Planet‘ 2001 television series produced by the acclaimed BBC Natural History Unit.”

The conductor is Ben Foster, and the orchestra is playing the music written by George Fenton for the series. It starts off with ‘Blue Whale’, whilst clips from the series are playing on the screen behind it. There is a blue whale, then sea birds, a swordfish, cormorants and shoals of fish flying underwater just like a flock of birds. Then we see a dolphin, seals and a host of other creatures. The music rises and falls matching the images incredibly.

The next piece is ‘The Spinning Dolphins’, written for two flutes, a guitar and the orchestra. The dolphins really do spin when they leap out of the water!

The piece of music after this follows a killer whale pod attacking a grey whale calf and its mother as they travel across the Barents Sea. The killer whales leap out of the water and land on the calf, trying to drown it. The mother tries to support the calf, but, after a six hour battle, is unable to any longer, and the killer whales drown and eat it. The mother grey whale travels on alone. The music powerfully echoes and dramatises the on-screen action as music did in silent movies. It is so sad.

‘The Strange World of the Deep’ reveals that more people have explored space than have explored the deep oceans, which are teeming with bioluminescence. The screen shows amazing sea creatures that light up in myriad colours. The music involves violins predominantly at first, and is then joined by brass, tuba and piccolos. The screen images change to mountainous ranges and chimneys pouring out thick black clouds of water; the music is at times threatening, and at others peaceful with occasional discordant notes.

Then we are rushed into shallow waters as a dolphin attacks a massive shoal of sardines. The music features staccato violins, swirling flutes and brass as the dolphin charge the shoal again and again. Sea birds appear, and the music peaks to a crescendo as they dive into the sea.

The next sequence is a montage of life from the Poles - places that are dominated by the effects of the sun, and by Man's effect on our world. This piece features the brass section strongly, backed up by violins, then a harp. There are images of narwhal, icebergs and polar bears swimming. The music changes, still featuring the brass section, whilst polar foxes play in the snow. They are now playing 'THe Twelve Days of Christmas' as polar bear cubs frolic in the snow. We then see penguins playing, sliding and walking in the snow. The music becomes joyful as we watch images of baby king penguins.

‘The March of the Elephant Seals’ is next. They emerge from the sea, huge leviathans, and attack the penguins. The music is dark and sombre as the penguins try to escape into the sea. The elephant seals chase and chase the penguins and sadly catch some. Two male elephant seals face off, the music becoming more strident as they fight.

The following sequence explores the shallow seas - temperate, teeming with life - the blue planet at its most glorious. The screen shows kelp forests, coral reefs and many, many fish. The music starts with flute, supported by violin. There are squids, leafy sea horses, large rays, as the bassoons pick up from the flutes, with a solo violin. On screen, a pink sea horse that looks like coral appears, followed by a host of weird and wonderful creatures. The music is light-hearted, with pizzicato violin, glockenspiel and brass. The mood changes and the violins take back over, whilst scores of jellyfish float across the screen, trailing their tentacles. The glockenspiel picks up the melody, echoed by the violin. The music swells as shoals of fish dart across. They are at first small, but then we see larger and larger fish. The camera pans out of the ocean, across the seas and ending in space, as the music peaks.

Next violins play and combine with a threatening sounding brass section as on screen a shoal of fish are attacked by a swordfish. It flies in and out of the shoal, and the music matches its movements perfectly. The shoal of fish swirl round and round trying to escape, but the swordfish charges through them, as the music gets louder, faster and echoes the panicked movements of the fish as they attempt to flee. Then along comes a much larger fish, which opens its mouth and scoops up many smaller fish in one go. The music becomes melancholic as the fish are eaten, and it returns to the opening theme of violin with brass.

‘Life in the Flow’ begins in the warm Caribbean Sea, before heading to Australia and Christmas Island. Mark Harrison plays solo on the trumpet and flugelhorn. The music starts slowly, with a pulsating beat and glockenspiel mimicking the movement of tiny jellyfish. Mark plays a solo as the camera pans across to Australia, where we see some very strange crabs. The music has an oriental quality. Mark continues on muted trumpet as the camera continues its journey, and the music develops a Mexican sound as we see crabs collecting balls of sand. There are now thousands of red crabs scuttling across the screen being washed into the sea, as Mark carries on his solo piece.

We are told on ‘The Emperor Penguins’ that penguins are the toughest birds on the planet. The male takes the egg so that the female can go to the sea to feed. The music is a swirling mix of violin and double bass carrying the tune as we see male penguins rushing out of the water to travel across icebergs, to take over from their mates, hatching their eggs. It is a very dramatic piece of music.

The next sequence is filmed in Patagonia, and features killer whale parents teaching their young how to hunt for killer whales. The orchestra starts with the cor anglais playing over the full orchestra as we see seals on the shore and in the shallows. Suddenly killer whales appear - brass and kettle drums combining as they grab the seals. They are in very shallow waters but still able to attack, sweeping up onto the shore, taking the seals. The music is at once mournful and violent, with the violins grieving the loss of the seals and the kettle drums representing the killer whale attacks. The seals try again and again to escape, but the killer whales are so much faster.

The final piece has been put together by George Fenton specifically for tonight, and is an arrangement of ‘Beyond the Sea’ by Charles Trennet. The ultimate aim of ‘The Blue Planet’ series was to show the incredible biodiversity of the sea, and our responsibly to do a better job of caring for it. This last piece is George Fenton’s theme from ‘The Blue Planet’. It's a very powerful piece of music, at one moment calm and peaceful, the next loud and forceful .

It has been an incredible concert - the mixture of orchestral sound and images from ‘The Blue Planet ‘series has been wonderful to see and hear.


Friday 20th July

It's the second day at Bluedot, and what have I been up to so far?

This morning I learnt to make a bee hotel for my garden, using old bamboo poles and some string - tie a random selection of foot long bamboo sticks together, wrap them tightly with string, add a hanging line, and you hace an instant bee hotel. The instructions were to put it somewhere shady, near some bee-loving plants.

Then I went to a mandala making workshop - that was very relaxing and creative.

Later, I went to a discussion about the Cold War, and the role that Jodrell Bank played in it - scientists from both USSR and USA came here to learn about tracking satellites. Apparently, the Russians couldn't track their Sputnik satellite; they could only launch it! It was a fascinating talk.

It's now 9:15 p.m. and I'm waiting for the Flaming Lips to appear on the Lovell Stage.

The Flaming Lips are a psychedelic rock band from Oklahoma City, who formed in 1983. They have seen several line-up changes over the years, and its current members are:

Wayne Coyne – lead vocals (1985–present), guitars, keyboards, theremin (1983–present), backing vocals (1983–1985, 1991-present)
Michael Ivins – bass, keyboards, backing vocals (1983–present)
Steven Drozd – guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, backing and lead vocals (1991–present)
Derek Brown – guitars, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals (2009–present)
Jake Ingalls – keyboards, guitars (2013–present)
Matt Duckworth – drums, percussion, keyboards, backing vocals (2014–present)
Nick Ley – percussion, drums, samples (2014–present)

They start with the opening bars from Strauss' 'Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op 30', which was the soundtrack to '2001: A Space Odyssey'. The stage lights, which are purple and white lights, come on and the audience roars. There's a large inflatable pair of lips roaming round the crowd, and huge toadstools either side of the stage! The screens show explosions of light behind the band.

There's an explosion of confetti that even reaches the accessible platform and massive balloons floating everywhere, as they start to play 'Race for the Prize'.

The crowd roar their approval. Suddenly, on stage, there's a large silver inflatable sign that says “Fuck Yeah, Bluedot!. Now, on stage, there's another inflatable, this time it's a giant pink robot. I know what's coming next. They start playing 'Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1' but stop, and Wayne says, “Normally, this would be a great sing-a-long, but you need to do better at the karate chop, because it sets the tone as to how insane everyone is going to get.”

He starts again, and he's much happier with the result. I love this song - it's also one of my son's favourites.

He starts to explain the song, part-way through:

“This song is about one of your dear friends trying to do something that you know is impossible, but they don't know that. You don't know if they're going to make it when your dear friend tries to do it. You don't tell your friend they should give up.”

They start singing the chorus again, and we join in with the “hai, hai” karate chop sounds.

Oh, wow, the lighting flows from the screens up to the top of the stage. It's beautiful, as they start 'Fight Test'. The screens are showing radiating explosions of light, that are mirrored through the on stage lighting. It looks spectacular. They turn off, and there's now swirling clouds of smoke, lit up red, blue, green, purple in turn. This song’s lyrics are close to Yusuf Islam’s 'Father and Son'. I've never noticed that before. Both are wonderful songs.

“How's everyone doing? This next song is made a lot more meaningful and is funnier if everyone does their best to sing along. This song is easy to sing along to. You just sing 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' but in the middle there's a little but that goes 'No, no, no', but don't worry about that.”

We all start singing “Yeah, yeah, yeah” along to 'The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)' while the words 'Yeah Yeah Yeah' flash on the screen in case we're in any doubt about them. Wayne has what looks like a silver survival blanket wrapped round him, and looks like he's wearing a bikini top on top of his suit!

“Thank you”, he says, as the opening bars of 'There Should Be Unicorns' start. The stage is lit in blue, with a white pulsating light keeping time with the beat. The screen swirls with a rainbow pattern, with the white light still keeping time. The stage rotates somehow, and a white unicorn appears, with Wayne on its back, wearing rainbow wings. The unicorn is wearing a light-up suit that flashes in rainbow colours! The lighting is superb. The song ends, and the audience erupts!

Pixilated images of naked women appear on the screen, as they start playing 'She Don't Use Jelly'.

To the side of the stage, the Lovell Telescope is covered in psychedelic rainbow patterns of light.

“The screaming is just a way to know that you are getting excited and being enthusiastic, it's not about the music. It's about your night together. It's going to make you want to scream about everything!” says Wayne, encouraging everyone to scream.

Next up, the beautiful guitar riffs of 'The Castle', as the screens show scribbled fantasy castles.

Part way through the song, Wayne reflects, “This is a sad song for us to play, and it takes a little bit of concentration to do it and express it the way we want to. But even though we're doing a sad song, we do not want you to be sad or diminish the joy that you've created tonight. The greatest compliment you can give the Flaming Lips is to scream and laugh louder than you have. Come on, you've got to help us out!”

He continues to sing, and adapts the lyrics to “Castles taller than the Jodrell Bank satellite.” The song crescendos, and then there is silence. There's a millisecond pause before the crowd cheers and yells!

Next up they play David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' which finds Wayne in a Zorb ball, fully inflated now, as he prepares to bounce across the crowd. He travels almost to the viewing platform, singing all the while! Wow! Awesome! They follow this with a couple of lines from 'Starman'.

He says: “I'm sad that David Bowie is dead, but we'll survive it. Thank you for singing along and helping us.”

Wayne is now wearing a giant silver cross made up of rows of circular silver balloons! The sides are attached to his arms, like giant wings, and move with him. The lighting is a rainbow of psychedelic shapes, as he rolls around the stage, still singing. The cross breaks up, and the balloons travel over and onto the crowd, as they play 'How?'.

The mirror ball drops down to head height on stage, as spotlights hit it from all sides; it looks amazing.

There's now a pair of massive inflated eyeballs and lips on stage! And the opening bars of 'Are You a Hypnotist?' start. Love this one! Light flashes all over the stage into the crowd, and there is a wall of incredible sound! And the crowd go wild at the end! This is quickly followed by 'The W.A.N.D', another brilliant song.

There is a beautiful piano sound from the keyboard, and then the rest of the band join in. 'A Spoonful Weighs a Ton' plays, and ends with "Love, Love, Love, Love" looping whilst the screen repeats 'Love, Love' as technicians raise an inflatable rainbow.

“Thank you, we've had a wonderful day today. Thank you for playing along, for screaming and being so enthusiastic!" Wayne says. "Never hold back! It's such a healing sort of thing, and makes us feel so great. Thank you for giving us your energy and love.”

They play their last song, 'Do You Realise?'. It's wonderful!

The lighting effects on this set have been incredible, and the Flaming Lips are as good live as they are on their recorded music. They are so exuberant live, interact well with their audience and have some fabulous special effects!

Definitely my high point of Blue Dot so far!


Photos by Andrew Twambley
www.twambley.com















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