Ah, Cheshire… On a sunny Saturday afternoon, beer gardens are all abloom with champagne-quaffing locals; the smoky scent of BBQs swirls through the streets; and kids whizz around parks and playgrounds.
But in a corner of the county, in the shadow of the Lovell Telescope, my two-year-old son, Max, was trotting through thick mud, staring wide-eyed at a man dressed as a whimsical space rabbit with floppy ears, layers of eyeliner and red goggles in front of a banging sound system.
This, my friends, was my first festival with the kids. And they loved it.
For one, they couldn’t get enough of the people-watching, darting around with new-found mini pals, or staring doe-eyed at a large luminous moon, suspended amongst the trees.
Both my boys jumped out of my arms to peg it into a crowd of revellers, dancing bemused to some pretty hardcore beats, all overseen by a DJ dressed in a silver suit. He was joined by a green-haired dancer, whose all-in-one lycra suit left nothing to the imagination.
There were also ‘family raves’ with bubbles and giant balloons, clay-making with the creators behind Wallace and Gromit, and interactive science shows designed for little ones. So far, so Bluedot.
Whilst life strums along to a very civilised beat in our beloved county, the antics at Jodrell Bank’s Bluedot festival are the antithesis of Cheshire life. Kook really is given free reign. Peek inside and you’ll discover pink-haired revellers dancing in their own world; leftfield alien characters slurping cans; and starry-eyed space fans flaunting all their geekery.
All this plus the hippie-types walking shoeless in the mud and kids cosied up in wagons, wrapped in twinkly lights. To think that all these shenanigans are played out with fervour in our green and serene county is as bizarre as the rotating cast of characters you’ll meet while padding about here.
Ticket holders are drawn here from far and wide – to suck up the sciencey workshops (Helen Sharman gave a riveting talk on being the first British astronaut), to drink too much booze, to cake themselves in glitter, and to pad on over to the main stage: to watch the stars beneath the stars.
The music line-up – Hot Chip, Jarvis Cocker, Kraftwerk, New Order – gives an indication of how much this avant-garde festival has grown since its inception four years ago.
Kraftwerk’s headline performance on the Saturday drew a huge crowd, with captivating visuals and a perfectly-tuned set. The beats were heavy, the atmosphere, electric: it was as though the band – formed just five years after the legendary lunar landings – was always destined to play beneath the hulking dome of the Lovell Telescope.
But it was on Sunday evening the crowds really swelled at the main stage for the closing set: New Order.
Clouds had gathered, the rain fell for the first time that day, and an audience spanning half a century in age turned out. Superfans mouthed every word, some of whom wept to the setlist that was very much a tribute to Joy Division frontman, Ian Curtis, who was born and is now buried down the road.
Following his untimely death, Joy Division disbanded, later reforming as New Order, and the performance included hits from both bands – Temptation, Your Silent Face, Tutti Frutti and a rip-roaring Blue Monday.
Closing the set and the festival, Love Will Tear Us Apart made its mark as one of the festival’s top moments.
As I trundled out of the site, covered in mud, slightly dishevelled, with a bank balance that was definitely lighter, I cast a final glance at the mayhem in the shadow of the iconic telescope.
The crew behind Bluedot have come up with a cracker of a festival – it strikes the balance of top music acts with a compelling scientific dialogue; it attracts the mad-fer-it revellers, the festival aficionados, the kids and the science fiends.
It’s different, it’s leftfield and thanks to its smallish size, it’s totally easy to mooch around from tent to stage to yoga plot to lunar workshop. Get this one in your diary for 2020. And prepare for lift off.
Bluedot is just one of the many exciting highlights of Cheshire’s Where Science meets Nature campaign – a county-wide initiative championing Cheshire’s role in two landmark moments: the 100th birthday of the Forestry Commission and the 50th anniversary year of the Lunar Landings.