It was particularly cruel to run Body & Soul and Sea Sessions on the same weekend. I managed to get to both, but in the process, may have dislocated something of vital importance in my cerebral cortex. I’ve been having difficulty with pin numbers and passwords for the past couple of days, but thankfully my propensity for dismissing matters that would usually be considered as being important with a heartfelt “ah-fuckit!” has increased somewhat. It’s what would have happened had Hunter S Thompson tried to write The DaVinci Code. There were no mysteries solved, but it was a savage weekend.
If you go into the woods at Ballinlough, you’re in for a big surprise… or two!
Friday night at Body & Soul is always enjoyable. The main-stage doesn’t open and the place doesn’t pack out, but this manages to lend it a more mellow atmosphere than the rest of the weekend. Wondrous wanderings in the woods is what makes this session swing and on the first night there’s room to enjoy them in all their glory. Just like the punters, the installations can take a bit of a hammering over the weekend, so it’s nice to catch them when they’re fresh. There were silhouettes of pirate ships sailing through the tree tops, giant wind chimes providing a sonorous sylvanian soundtrack, luminous ribbons creating trails amidst the trunks, full sitting rooms set-ups in the glades and fancy knicker laden lines strung through the trees.
It’s should come as no surprise that you’d meet some chemically enhanced pioneers of consciousness in an environment like this, it’s a trippers delight. Some people birdwatch, other folk collect stamps, some people can even speak Klingon, but the young lads who I met in the woods of Ballinlough were drug nerds. Their conversations were littered with acronyms and exotic names that would have baffled Pete Doherty, which probably isn’t that difficult now that I think about it. There was a particular type of acid that the lad in the Silent Bob coat was peddling to fund his weekend and for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it, it was too close to CSI for me to remember it as anything else. The lads were hanging on to oranges quite intently, maybe they needed a parachute in case they tripped or possibly it was to keep the irregular rogues regular.
The place doesn’t get packed on Friday, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the full-on atmosphere that you’d expect from a festival in a field. The crowd who run Mother had the most intense in tents atmosphere; the crowd were baying for beats. Gypsy Rebel Rabble had a great vibe going in Natasha’s Living Food Tent, Donal Dineen displayed why he’s a stalwart of this session, deftly dealing out grooves, but it was LCD Sound System’s James Murphy who ignited the party when he threw You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) into the mix. A young fella with a smile wider than his head offered me an orange.
It was a tough call, pulling myself away from the vibes of Ballinlough, a festival that really does offer as much for your feet as it does for your head. I passed the Wonderlust stage as The Angelus started to ring out, I took it as a signal to set sail for Sea Sessions. It was the day after the summer solstice, a full moon was particularly close to the earth and as much as I wanted to stay at Body and Soul, the pull of the tide was strong.
The drawback of having a festival by a beach in Donegal is that the weather coming in from the Atlantic can be more fickle than a chimpanzee on a Red Bull and blue Smartie binge. The hawthorn trees grow pointing 45 degree away from the coastline in this neck of the woods for feck sake! To say they were having a drop of rain when Wanderly Wagon pulled in to Bundoran on Saturday is an understatement akin to saying that top ranking, conference calling, bank officials are a little unpopular at the moment. It was lashin’! Some lashing mightn’t go astray on those pinstriped pricks either. There’d been rain in Westmeath too, but not the power-hose pounding that was pummeling the side of the van as I crawled down the prom in Bundoran, in no hurry to get stuck in to the festivaling.
It eventually abated, but the weather had taken it’s toll on some carelessly pitched tents at the campsite. Poor bastards! But there’s a camaraderie in adversity and I’ve no doubt some new friendships were formed as people offered spaces to the homeless. I know of one lad who purposely trashed his tent so he could appeal to the good natured, good looking girls who had pitched up beside him. It worked!
Earned their Strypes
The Strypes have had an amazing year since the played on one of the smaller stages at this festival 12 months ago. A turn on Later with Jools, Cat Power nodding approvingly as they lashed it out, they’ve recorded with Paul Weller in Abbey Road and they received a well deserved upgrade to the mainstage at Sea Sessions. It was early enough in the evening, but the crowds arrived and the Cavan lads didn’t disappoint them, strutting, pouting and rocking their way through a set of choons that have a vintage tinge that belies the lad’s tender years. It’s a good show, but I can’t help but feel there’s room for the wunderkind to find their own voice a little bit more, rather than being a really good pastiche of a sixties rock ‘n’ roll super group.
The sun gets a warn welcome when it eventually makes an appearance in Bundoran
Fat Freddy’s Drop later that night have definitely found their voice. The soulful, reaggae fueled grooves weren’t to everybody’s taste; what they lacked in speed and intensity, they made up for in depth and richness. I’m biased though, I like this set of pulsing pirates from New Zeland. DJ Yoda definitely provided the pent up crowd the opportunity to let themselves go; some of the drunker and younger punters hopping around the tent like kid goats on a bouncy castle. Yoda is a Heston Blumenthal of big beats and popular culture, seamlessly mixing tunes that seemingly shouldn’t sit together, and stitching them to images and videos that were as entertaining as the choons were thumping. It was a masterclass in crowd manipulation.
The wreckless and feckless abandon that can be felt in the air by the seaside in Bundoran is hard not to get caught up in and as a result I was seven shades of shook when Sunday morning rolled around. When I eventually managed to drag myself up to the festival site on Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel the atmosphere was a bit flat. I could’ve been me, but it was more likely the fact that two of the stages had been shut down the night before, they were in danger of blowing away in the high winds coming in from the sea; those hawthorn trees have deep roots. The programme was running on half-steam and it started to feel like it, I began wondering if I’d made a mistake leaving Body & Soul. But as evening rolled in, the wind dropped, the stages reopened, Renegade Brass Band brought the funk and normal service resumed. Phew!
Rockin’ out with Hot Sprockets
Le Galaxie were headlining the Vodafone stage and it was my must-see gig, but The Hot Sprockets who played before them were a surprise highlight. It was pure, unadulterated rockin’ out and the energy the lads and lasses were pumping out could be felt the second you walked into the tent. The wind might have dropped outside, but this shower were putting in a stormer! Le Galaxie finished off the night nicely, providing the bangin’ beats and choonful bleeps that the dancers in the crowd needed to use up whatever energy reserves might have been left.
Le Galaxie – shining stars
It’s almost impossible to hit two festivals on the same weekend and not compare them in some way. I’ve been asked a few times which was better and I can honestly answer that neither was. They both offer something different to the festival freaks who populate them. Body and Soul is hipper, more image conscious, well balanced and prettier, but Sea Sessions is unapologetic in it’s approach to having a good time, providing the environment and acts for a serious session.
Spot the difference – a visual tale of two festivals
Sea Sessions suffered more from the elements, but Body & Soul had a couple of unexpected scumbags knocking around it this year and I was told stories about tents and contents being robbed. Which would I recommend? Both! Just don’t plan on operating heavy machinery for a couple of days afterwards ;-)
Safe Travels, Don’t Die.
More pics from both festivals posted over on the Facepukery – A Year of Festivals in Ireland Page