Review of Body & Soul Festival 2018 (22-24 June)

As the days for Body & Soul began to trickle down to the final few, you would be forgiven as a regular B&S attendee if this year seemed like a bit of a dampened proposition.

Over the last few years, Body & Soul has seen its most significant changes in terms of size (increase from 10k to 15k), movement of main stage (previously considered to be the best main stage in the country), slight deviation on musical output, additions of new stages and the expansion of the Us&You campsite, among other things. Some of these updates were well received from the off, while others took some time to get right.

Couple that with the changeable weather over the last few years; a spot of rain here, a patch of sun there, and you get a less than fervent furore over an impending weekend in Westmeath.

In the lead up, it was with much trepidation and caution we approached the ‘Ireland set to be hotter than Mexico City this weekend’ headlines littering our newsfeeds. How many countless times have those pesky Met Éireann scamps ruined a weekend; you sat there on Bray promenade, a Teddy’s icer in hand, €3 Penneys sunglasses on, and you’ve even broken out the shorts from hibernation! Only to be left sapping wet and depressed as the inevitable storm and lashings of rain descend on our shores.

But as Friday beckoned, the clouds disappeared and pure unadulterated sunshine belted it down across the land. A glorious weekend of blue skies awaited us all while little red-faced punters scampered about all weekend.

Friday

Dublin band Fontaines D.C., who recently signed to Partisan Records (John Grant, Cigarettes After Sex, IDLES), gave us their much-buzzed-about bravado on the Woodlands Stage early in the evening. Liberty Belle, a clear standout track from the set.

Lyra, another Irish act booked to the 2FM Rising Stage, soared through the forest with a decadent, almost operatic voice. Obvious comparisons to Florence can be made but Lyra sets herself apart in terms of production and style. If a stage show and presence could be developed to match the incredible voice, then Lyra stands out as a serious up-and-comer to watch.

Unlike many other headline acts across festival bills and bookings in Ireland, it’s been some time since Fever Ray has graced the top of an Irish billing. Kudos go to the stellar booking team from Body & Soul on this one. Karin Dreijer (previously The Knife) was flanked by two backing singers in full apocalyptic body-suits – one brilliantly donning a bizarre body-builder suit. Wanna Sip and the simply incredible To The Moon And Back perfectly highlight the brilliance of new album ‘Plunge’. You won’t see anything else like Fever Ray in a live-setting. Special mention must go to the Mam & Dad couple who brought their three eight-year olds to the front row – I’m sure they’ll be fielding confused questions from the kids for months to come.

An Irish triplet of acts brought us late in to the night in the form of Le Boom, Laoise and Ships. Le Boom enjoyed bringing their hyper-dance set to a packed Absolut stage crowd, showing that high energy and an ‘all-in’ stage presence can really amp up even the most tired of festival bones. Laoise further impressed as one of Ireland’s leading and criminally under-appreciated pop acts. Bother, Rich and You show that this young act has songs aplenty, with only more to come! Ships, playing the first of their two sets across the weekend brought a close to the Woodlands stage, deep in to the night at 3am. The recent Choice Prize winners sampled many tracks from their award-winning album ‘Precision’. A high quality, and Irish, end to day one.

Saturday

Saturday brought equally glorious weather as people flocked from the campsite to escape their sauna-like tents, in search of some shady solace in the forest. The same could be said of the main stage which saw large, unprecedented crowds for so early in the day. Great news for Pillow Queens, BARQ and Saint Sister – all of whom enjoyed great crowds, when traditionally, these early slots can see poor attendance. Hooray for sun all round. One of the standout moments during these sets would come when Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty of Saint Sister would pay tribute to Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘Dreams’. Cue stunned silence throughout and a rapturous applause at the songs finish across the large expanse at the main stage.

A huge exodus from the main stage occurred halfway through Shamir‘s main stage set, the shrill delivery proving too much for many as the live performance offers up an altogether different product than the polished and perfected recordings most people had come accustomed to online.

Bad news for Shamir, but great news for Gus Dapperton who saw the overspill land at the Midnight Circus. Tracks like I‘m Just Snacking and Prune, You Talk Funny showcase the light and breezy delivery of the New York act. Simple, direct, catchy and effective – the perfect toe-tapper for the evening stretch.

Kelly-Anne Byrne, the Today FM DJ, took to the Reckless in Love stage, taking us in to Sunday morning. This stage must be widely considered home to KA Byrne and a important ‘must-see’ slot every year at Body & Soul. Her delivery of disco is masterful and creates one of the standout sets of the festival – sheer, unbridled fun!

Tank & the Bangas offered up the set of the festival, despite being cruelly placed against festival headline act Jon Hopkins in their time slot. An act that would have shone on the main stage, nonetheless delivered a blistering, musically tight and electric performance in the Midnight Circus. The band that shot to fame as the winners of a NPR Tiny Desk Concert competition have gone around the world, flooring audiences wherever they go (not least us at Trans Musicales 2017). Tarriona “Tank” Ball is a powerhouse of a front-woman, a presence you simply can’t bare to take your eyes off and a voice that soars in to your heart. This is only the very beginning of their story, they return to play Vicar Street before the year is out – don’t miss it!

Super Extra Bonus Party, in what is a very welcome return to live performance, made one of their first festival appearances back on the scene after a long hiatus. New tracks like Switzerland prove that their decision to return was the right one. Technical builds with impressively powerful highs as well as tense lows – these guys know how to put on a live show. The packed Woodlands Stage gratifyingly made their presence felt as the set ended – hopefully this send-off will make the decision to return justified for the 6-piece Newbridge/Tallaght band.

Who would have thought that a bilingual hip-hop outfit from Belfast would provide one of the absolute highlights of Body & Soul? Kneecap built the crowd from the first focal and from there escalated things to the point that a half-filled tent became a full tent, and a full-throated crowd sang back the words in Irish and English, or whichever of those two languages they could muster. The jibes came thick and fast: fuck RTÉ, fuck the bouncers, fuck the queen, but yea, most of all…fuck RTÉ. Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Provaí saw an opportunity, grabbed it, and made a tent full of instant fans in the bargain.

Sunday

Again, the Irish contingent on the main stage in the form of Roe and SOULÉ enjoyed sun-drenched crowds of hazy campers. Both young Irish acts offering impressive sets. Performances that no doubt will stand them in good stead to return next year, higher and later on the bill.

Back in the forrest, the My House DJs took to the Woodlands stage at a time that is far earlier than their usual B&S sets. A welcome boost of energy for what is a yearly ‘must-see’ act at the festival. No set can better get you in the mood quite like the My House DJ’s – that’s why it’s such a pity that their My House stage, that graced the festival over the last few years has yet to return in the previous two years. Here’s hoping for a return in 2019!

Such was the heat hitting the festival parklands on the Sunday afternoon, the majority of fans at the Lankum gig were huddled tightly together in the shade of the main stage and under the cover of the splattering of trees to the left of the area – desperately trying to find shelter from the now low-hanging and unforgiving sun. The Granite Gaze and What Will We Do When We Have No Money? prove to be standouts in the set. Throughout, each of their distinctive voices combined to make a powerful blend and patchwork quilt of folk, gypsy and Irish-trad ballads.

South-London quintet Shame seemed to relish the chance to make an impression in the cavernous big top that is Midnight Circus. Frontman Charlie Steen beckoned the crowd forward every so often with a gentle, smiled instruction to “enjoy yourselves”, usually followed by a guttural chuckle. This was a band enjoying the moment, and none more so than ringmaster Steen and bassist Josh Finerty, who threw himself around with little regard for injury. Meanwhile guitarist Sean Coyle Smith cut a figure somewhere between Angus Young and Chaz Jankel, tossing out post-punk licks while prowling in front of his amp. It was still light outside, but in the early-evening sun Shame managed to shrink the tent into a club setting with a high-energy rout.

Dundalk’s singular punk poet Jinx Lennon (brought to you be Septic Tiger Records!) delivered a masterclass in wit and provocation in the Bulmers Stage, a venue that housed some of the more left-field acts of the weekend. Xanax was a cautionary tale to all in attendance, while Grow A Pair, a track from Lennon’s latest record of the same name, must rank as the call-to-arms of the festival. Lennon’s trauma themes for idiot times were just what the crowd in this tent ordered – caustic, inventive, insightful, and funny as fuck.

Simply put – the most perfect of festival weekends imaginable.

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