Review: Body & Soul 2012Tweet
Review: Body & Soul 2012 by Justin McDaid & Ros Madigan
Photography: Allen Kiely
At certain times, when the Irish weather decides to be kind, there is a palpable sense of joy in the air. Combine this with the beautiful wooded surroundings of Ballinlough Castle, the eclectic mix of entertainment on offer and the easy nature of all involved – punter and staff alike – and there is no better place to be than this year’s Body & Soul Festival in Westmeath. Granted we paid our dues with a wet Saturday, but most Irish festival hounds know to pack accordingly and so while the wellies and ponchos were in full effect on day one, it was suncream and shades for Sunday’s shenanigans. From baldy babies in harnesses to baldy old fellas in sandals this was a happy and harmonious mish-mash of age groups. A few of our four-legged friends are even seen to be enjoying the acts over the weekend, some apparently hardened festival attendees themselves. Impossible to enjoy everything but always with something to enjoy in the multitude of events dotted around the vicinity, Body & Soul is an intimate and cossetted experience, a far cry from the vast expanses of the larger festivals. We sent two reviewers down to soak up the rain and sun in equal measure as the weekend kicked off.
Shangaan Electro from South Africa are an immediately interesting prospect on the main stage on Saturday evening. It’s a high-octane and kinetic set from the two toasters in orange jumpsuits, two female singers in billowing skirts and their MC. This is frantic afro-beat with a BPM count higher than it’s healthy to dance to – not that that stopped the few people in attendance that raised the atmosphere levels with their enthusiasm. Every now and then the two jumpsuited singers engage in a sort of dance-off before the women takes centre stage, with colourful bodies bouncing all over the platform. It’s drizzling, but it’s fine; Shangaan Electro leaves the small front stage assembly in need of cooling down.
Django Django came riding into town with heavy bags of expectation after their sell out show in The Grand Social earlier in the year. With massive airplay with singles like Default and an impressive appearance on Later with Jools Holland, the crowd at the Body and Soul main stage was notably jammed for their arrival. Django Django are a exuberant live entity that floats high in a festival surrounding while all in attendance dance to their brand of art-indie-pop. Every summer, a joyous band crops up that becomes one of the must see bands of that summer. Django Django come from the same ilk as Franz Ferdinand, Passion Pit and Friendly Fires in terms of their on stage output. Kitted out in matching wine shirts, they power through Default as the Body and Soul stage ignites ino life. Skies Over Cairo proves the big hit of the set as the drum heavy Django Django set comes to a close.
Gold Panda offered a perfect wedge of electronic music in the tent named ‘Upstage’. Throughout the weekend, this stage would see many great DJ’s and acts of all different genres take posistion center stage. Gold Panda battled through the first part of his set leaving the second half for heavier beats as he toyed and played with the crowd. His control of tempo and instantaneous BPM change-ups leave the onlooking punters eyes glued to the front of the stage. A massive shoutout to LeTissier & Slipdraft of the Eleven Eleven Media Collective who provided the visual elements to Upstage for the whole weekend. The visual projection mapping was a definite highlight for acts across the weekend as the talented duo are certainly make giant leaps in becoming Irelands leading visual artists.
The appearance of the organic, skeletal timber main stage only adds to the cheerful ambience that greets Villagers as they start into a fine version of Home, and immediately the crowd is right there with them. The response is again good for the following numbers, and the band are fortunate to be playing at that magical time at any festival when the darkness starts to fall and bodies move closer together. The stage is bathed in purple light and red lanterns dot the surroundings as they play The Bell, with main man Conor O’Brien pounding on a floor tom. As it ends, a short-lived chant of Olé Ole springs up but thankfully no-one is bothered to keep it going. The Pact is delivered with punch, with this gig getting more enjoyable the darker the sky gets. The crowd alternate between attention and chatting amongst themselves during the quieter numbers, but a few new songs – a Pet Shop Boys-like Earthly Pleasure, and disco-inflected The Waves with O’Brien on maracas reels them back in. The hill in front of the stage has packed up nicely for the finale of Ship of Promises, with a few folk up on shoulders and a decent light show. The pulsing backing track allows the band to let loose during the latter stages of the song, and the singer tonight is more animated than previous shows have demonstrated. It’s an assured and pleasing set from Villagers, and a taster of what the forthcoming album has in store.
The Viking Project took to the diminutive Bog Cottage stage in the middle of the Body and Soul forest to an unexpectedly large crowd. The Viking Project on first glance appear to visually chart the five different stages of male beard growth. From the baby-faced harmonica player right on through to the fully fledged nordic drummer. All beard/viking references aside, this band hold a little something special. True-unbridled folk music that stays frighteningly close to folk from the past. The band blend harmonies and guitar licks effortlessly right before the harmonica runs come in and provide that final triple threat. A splattering of Creedance’esque tones come ringing through with a southern American country twist. A welcome addition, late in the night, to the weekend offerings.
Lee Fields & The Expressions have the honour of capping main stage activities on Saturday night, and for a man of such diminutive stature Fields has a stage presence most performers could only hope for as he belts out Ladies, and when Fields tells you to “put your hands in the air like this!” you damn well do it. I Still Got It follows, and we know as well as he does that it’s no idle boast. “It’s so good to be among so many happy people!” he shouts before Wish You were Here, a James Brown-style blues number with Fields emoting like Aretha at her best; it’s heartfelt stuff and an astonishing raw performance. During Money Is King a girl from the crowd hops onstage for a dance with the singer only to be promptly escorted off by a bouncer. Throughout You’re The Kind Of Girl we can only marvel at a pro at work, and it’s easy to see the bloodlines that flow from Lee into the likes of Spiritualized, who precede Fields on the same stage that very night. After a call-and-response double-time stomper he leaves the stage, while the band and horn section take us on a serious soul review, just excellent. Lee reappears for Sunny, starting off slowly before kicking into a fast Motown beat. This is a magnificent gig with Lee repeatedly telling the crowd he loves them…but what about the girl who just wanted to dance? Where’s the love Lee? He may have broken at least one heart tonight, but the rest are filled to bursting point.
While Lee Fields & The Expressions were breaking hearts on the main stage, Gaudi was breaking ear-drums on the Upstage. The iconic dub/reggae/experimental electronica producer brought his live show to Ballinlough Castle with the aid of the outstanding MC/vocalist talents of Danny Ladwa. A true live set from a master of the art of vocal looping and layering, assisted with a miraculously talented beatbox MC. At first glance, the 2 hour set outlined on the timetable looked to be a tad long but as soon as you came close to the action, all you could do was look on in awe as Gaudi brings you on a whirlwind live-set. Culminating in an unedited, straight play of ‘Jamming’ by Bob Marley as Gaudi and Danny Ladwa hold a Bob adorned flag aloft. A perfect end to the first day of Body and Soul.
The perfect start to sunny Sunday is provided by the West Cork Ukelele Orchestra, taking the main stage at 11am. Smiling faces are in evidence all around as the nine-piece band open proceedings with Dylan’s Wagon Wheel, a lovely take on The Beach Boys God Only Knows, and a bouncy Lovecats by The Cure. The crowd – an impressive one considering the early start time and late-night mischief many indulged in – are loving this. The sun ducks behind the clouds for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer but a kazoo has appeared onstage so it’s all okay. “This is our favourite song about supernatural monks” we are told before the gypsy folk of Boney M’s Rasputin – and now it’s mine. The rain starts as does a Jessie J cover, replete with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air opening rap in the middle, and you better believe the crowd knew every word. A-Ha’s Take On Me ends the set, and everyone gives a warm response to a fun and infectious gig, and one of those surprise weekend highlights.
A Popical Island double bill is kick-started under a dull sky by Dublin indie rockers Land Lovers at midday. It’s a sparsely populated main stage at this point, but a few people mill down as the band begin Romance, Romance. There aren’t a lot of folk here but the tunes are good, and the sun is peeking through again. Band Apart is just a great song, as are the vocal harmonies, and people are dancing – this is more like it. “This one’s for Roald Dahl fans” says singer Pádraig Cooney, and that pretty much sums up the demographic at this festival of nippers and somewhat older gig-goers, before Matilda. It’s hard to know at this point whether the sun is bringing out the best in Land Lovers or if land Lovers are bringing out the sun, but the set gets more enjoyable the more it progresses and if there aren’t many folk down front its only because they’re lounging back on the grassy hill. All too soon then, Gravedigger and The Cinema Bell round off a really nice, solid set from the band.
Next up from the Popical island stable is Tieranniesaur, and straight off the bat Sketch! brings the bodies down to the front. If ever there was music made for sunshine this is it, from the near-perfect pop of Pretty Girl String Quartet to the outright sparkling soul of DIY Disco. Donna Summers’ Bad Girl is dropped in, and throughout things flit from Talking Heads and B-52’s style work-outs to new tracks like The Changeling with its jerky new-wave feel. They’re a fun band to watch, clearly having fun themselves, and it’s something that spills off the stage and is picked up on by the crowd. A dancey and percussive set is rounded off with In The Sargasso, and a version of Heavy Monsters with a satisfyingly loose jam-band feel to it. Tieranniesaur leave everyone well-prepped and ready to dance, and while some head off to do just that, Martin Hayes takes the main stage alone with a violin and calms things down as the strains of his fiddle roll over the hill. It’s not an obvious choice of act but that’s a testament to the array on offer and the receptive crowd, and it goes down well.
The Upstage meanwhile is playing host to Trojan Sound System Decks N Fx, spinning dub and reggae to an empty tent. That doesn’t last though, as all it takes is a few dancers to encourage the rest to filter in and join. People are reluctant to step out of the sunshine and into the gloom of the tent, so sporadically different pockets of people head in for a dance, then retreat back to the sun…and so the process is repeated, ensuring a constant stream. One chap is even moved to climb over the barriers to give the dj’s a slice of cake. The skanking feet have soon churned up the floor of the tent so bales of hay are rolled in and scattered all over, and it’s not just the little kids in hi-viz jackets who are engaging in hay fights. The hay briefly distracts everyone as it’s played with and redistributed to make cushions outside the tent, as folk gather, dissipate and re-gather to relax into the sounds.
Hollie Cook is introduced on to the main stage to general mirth and shaking of heads as her drummer and all round life-and-soul Horseman shouts “I would like to introduce you Dublin…” It’s a mistake he will repeat before being good-humouredly chastised by the crowd – “We’re not in Dublin!” - after a cover of The Shangri-La’s Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand). Cook continues the trend of songs that lend themselves to sunshine that has characterised the Sunday line-up thus far, with renditions of Milk and Honey and Cry. An ex-member of the recent Slits line-up herself, Cook then not only dedicates New Town to The Slits’ Ari Up but seems to channel her also, yelping and squealing her way through the song. Sugar Water follows, and a tune from the new Prince Fatty album, in what has been a dub-heavy set so far. Things move up a gear with the ska of Shadow Kissing – a highlight – while on Baby she flirts with the entire crowd, charming everyone. The set ends with Body Beat, carrying the DNA of The Specials Man At C&A, a slow reggae groove to ease us out of the selection.
Kormac’s Big Band begin late afternoon and immediately people start massing on the hill; it’s a good funk sound melding hip-hop, ska, reggae and soul and although the band wants everyone on their feet there is no coaxing necessary – at this point everyone is ready to dance. This is the band’s only Irish festival appearance, and it’s a dancey, trancey set. It’s good and all, but at times the horns seem lost – almost an afterthought even – although this may be sound issues over anything else. The music is good, the tunes danceable, but really there’s nothing too exciting going on to hold the attention for long on a main stage.
Little Dragon brought their brand of effortless Sweedish electronic pop to the main stage just after 8 o’clock. Lead singer, Yukimi Nagano, certainly dressed to impress as always as she yelped and thumped out songs from their last 3 studio albums. Although, it was with songs from 2011′s Ritual Union that really had the crowd salivating all over the basin-shaped main stage. Ritual Union and Nightlight showed the Body and Soul crowd that Little Dragon are a live entity to be reckoned with. Their sheer energy exudes from the stage and sparks life in to the Westmeath crowd. However, it’s on Little Man that the band really shine. The electronic drum patterns on the track really showcase the quirky and unique elements of Little Dragons sound. Add in a blistering live performance with plenty of percussion and you’ve got a show begging to be seen in some intimidate surroundings next time Little Dragon frequent our shores.
M83 for many attending this weekend garnered the ‘must see’ bracket on the timetable. Following on from Little Dragon on the mainstage, M83 stormed into their set with the same energy left behind by predecessors. Major fussing throughout the weekend belonged to the sound quality on the main stage with many commenting on how poor it had been. On some occasion, the sound had been too quiet, on others it was near impossible to decipher between lyrics and harmonies. M83 proved that such sound inadequacies can be overcome with a blockbusting live set. Teen Angst, Skin Of The Night and We Own The Sky were just some of the songs that still resonate clearly but it’s with Midnight City that m83 really provide that quintessential moment of the day. Without doubt the: “where you at the main stage when M83 played Midnight City” moment, that for most will become the most memorable moment of the festival. M83 – making bad sound, sound good.
Body & Soul 2012, we salute you.
Body and Soul 2012 Photo Gallery
Photography kindly supplied by Allen Kiely.
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