Bluedot’s stars shine brightly

It’s fair to say that life really does get no better than the opening song at a Flaming Lips gig: music so happy it brings a lump to the throat, confetti cannons, giant balloons and lasers. France might think winning the World Cup was a top moment, but even they’d probably concede that hearing Race For The Prize — always the opening song — from the Lips on a good night is better (and more likely to be repeated).

Headlining at Jodrell Bank’s Bluedot Festival on Friday the Lips went one better than this, opening the show with Richard Strauss’s epic tune Also Sprach Zarathustra — best known for its use in 2001: A Space Odyssey. More than one person in the crowd must have savoured the anticipation, Lovell Telescope to the left, Wayne Coyne to right, Zarathustra blasting out and Race For The Prize about to explode. A moment to live in the moment.

Space Odyssey features a robot taking over, making it doubly appropriate as Lips soon wheeled out a giant inflatable pink robot for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, whose meaning Coyne — unusually — explained to the crowd.

Also on the main stage over the weekend were the likes of Gary Numan, The Chemical Brothers, Public Service Broadcasting, Little Dragon and Unkle — but you could attend the entire festival and not actively listen to a note, as Bluedot is as star-worthy for its speakers as its singers (though Coyne did sit down with Jodrell Bank’s associate director Dr Tim O’Brien in the Mission Control tent for a discussion on space).

Dr O’Brien featured more than once, talking as well as playing recordings of space; it was not only his playback of the Leonid meteor shower that fans of found sound could enjoy, as the noise of a glacier moving and other more terrestrial effects were available in the Star Field (the grassed area in front of the main telescope).

Other speakers ranged from Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling to Robin Ince, best-known for presenting The Infinite Monkey Cage with Prof Brian Cox, a member of the high energy physics group at the University of Manchester; the Chronicle saw Mr Ince signing copies of his book, too.

There were many activities for youngsters, from exploding film cannisters (small amount of water, one of those orange vitamin C tablets, stand well back) to assessing the strength of structures via spaghetti and marshmallows, to building a cap representing the brain.

Popular as ever was the Luminarium, a New Age maze of tunnels and light, built by Architects of Air, whose Alan Parkinson has been designing luminaria since 1985 and who has built more than 25 designs.

At night there is dance music until the early hours, and over in the arboretum, steam punks with games of fire appealing to young and old alike, the smell of paraffin mixing with the scent of the exotic; not least courtesy of the Roots stage, playing world music all weekend.

As much as the acts, the other star of Bluedot is the crowd, cosmopolitan, international and super-friendly; many are in fancy dress, from astronauts to an African prince and a gang of shrimps, out-weirding even Coyne at the Lips show.

The 2019 edition of the festival will celebrate a scientific landmark: 50 years since Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, on 20th July 1969. One small step for man, one giant groovy party for mankind, as the 2019 slogan might be.

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