Body & Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath on 20-22th June 2014
Sunshine and Irish festivals may seem like strange bedfellows, but the 5th annual Body & Soul proved that they can cohabit with the Ballinlough weekender taking place over the course of three days of idyllic sunshine. And the weather wasn’t the only thing to appreciate; food and coffee of high quality at reasonable prices, alcohol allowed inside the arena and an abundance of non-music activities are just a few of the things that made this such a special weekend. Most importantly the festival retained its intimate feel in spite of a 30% increase in attendance. In addition to all that, there was of course the music. With factor 50 sun-cream in hand we sent Ros and Cian down to check it out.
Taking the prize for the weekend’s most enigmatic act (no mean feat) was Slow Magic who delivered his set wearing a mask last seen modelled by Crash Bandicoot. In no way a novelty act, the incredibly accomplished DJ lit up the Midnight Circus Tent with a set of dreamy, chilled out vibes. Expect to hear more from this man in the future, his dreamy blissful beats should make him a mainstay of the festival scene for the next few years.
With festival-goers arriving late into the night, escaping the clutches of the 9-5 slog, a mass departure from the campsite was seen just before the first and last act to perform on the main stage on Friday night – Darkside. Having recently stunned a Dublin audience in the Button Factory just over a month ago, Nicolas Jarr and Dave Harrington took their much anticipated show to Body & Soul to headline the first night. What was seen was a master-class in restraint. Most main acts will build, build and then go for the jugular, Darkside instead choose to tease the crowd with slow builds and delicate arrangements. These patient builds make the eventual drops all the more impressive with Golden Arrow being a standout. The perfect start to a sun-drenched Body & Soul weekend.
The Irish music scene was well represented at this year’s festival with Young Wonder amongst the highlights. The Cork-based electro two-piece took to the main stage early on Saturday under glorious sunshine. Both the weather and music complimented each other with the band’s chilled out beats feeling even lusher under the hazy sun. Songs such as Orange were just made to be played in this kind of weather while a well-timed cover of Pure Shores only added to the feel good vibes. A more prominent slot at next year’s festival beckons.
Booka Brass Band
Having won several plaudits for their performances at Life Festival and Vantastival, Booka Brass Band made it a hat-trick of brilliant festival performances with another rousing display at Body & Soul. Opening to a practically empty field, with much of the crowd having dispersed after Young Wonder, a delightful cover of Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love brought the masses back to the main stage. It was a full-on party from here with the band mixing in original works with covers. Of their original stuff, the Jerry Fish-assisted number particularly stood out. It was the final song of the evening that got the best reaction; a medley of covers including The Bad Touch, Rapper’s Delight and Sweet Dreams. The band play Glastonbury this weekend, for anyone lucky enough to be attending they’re well worth checking out.
Simon Cullen was tasked with a difficult set-time and job to fill the huge Midnight Circus tent. But any fears of Lastertom being engulfed by the huge stage were soon put to rest as he delivered one of his most polished sets to date. Clearly a man for the big occasion it seems. Mixing guitar, vocals, synths and rhythms in an effortless performance saw the small crowd develop into a sizeable audience throughout the set. With Simon Cullen performing and thrilling with his band Ships on the same weekend at B&S, he must be a happy chappy with his weekend’s work. Easily one of the finest acts on the Midnight Circus tent all weekend.
Stevie G presents the Deep South Soul Sound System
Given the sunshine and the daytime slot it’s not surprising that numbers in attendance at Stevie G were low. Undeterred, the former Red FM DJ didn’t let it slip (unlike his more famous namesake), treating the Midnight Circus Tent to a cool set of soul, R&B and hip-hop classics ranging from the likes of Lucy Pearl to Drake to Stevie Wonder. Adding to the allure were his three backing singers who bought an extra degree of swagger and soul to the set.
Having wowed the Olympia in March with a contender for gig of the year, it came as little surprise that John Grant drew a massive crowd to the Main Stage on Saturday afternoon. Jumping between slower sombre numbers and upbeat stompers, the troubadour demonstrated his versatility sounding at ease playing either style. Unsurprisingly it’s the high tempo numbers like Pale Green Ghost and Black Belt that receive the best reaction with the bass sounding massive on both. Glacier, with Conor O’Brien of Villagers lending a hand on vocals, goes down well too. But it’s the brilliant, GMF that represents the high point of the set, its refrain of ‘I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet’ sung back with gusto by the crowd.
Come On Live Long
After a recent (and successful) trip to Canada, COLL return to the Irish festival circuit with a performance on the picturesque Wanderlust stage. Playing a familiar and welcome set of tracks from their usual set, the crowd were also treated to some new sounds and tunes from the band. In the past, COLL have fallen victim to the poor translation of their superb recorded collection to the live setting. This was not the case during their set as the band performed an engaging and special show. The clever addition of drummer Míchael (him of Meltybrains? oddness) to the set up tightened the rhythm section up notably. Even the band members seemed impressed with his stick-work throughout. We’re not sure if it’s a permanent addition to the band but it certainly worked for this tight and driven performance. Once again, COLL have proven that they are one of the most impressive Irish acts around. Let’s hope their live setup continues to improve and that we’re treated to some new releases soon.
Goldfrapp had the honour of headlining the Main Stage on Saturday Night. Probably the ‘biggest’ band on the bill, the electronic duo have a reputation as a great live act. Unfortunately expectations did not weigh up with the band delivering an uninspiring performance. Its was not helped by the choice of set-list with the duo drawing largely from their latest album for the early part of the set. The newer numbers were received with a degree of apathy by the crowd expecting a greatest hits set. Things do improve towards the end as the hits begin to flow but this was still a tepid affair with the duo a victim of expectation and the aura of being headliners.
Having delivered a show stealing performance at Body and Soul last year, it comes as little surprise that the Midnight Circus Tent is packed to absolute capacity to catch a glimpse of Jon Hopkins. For the second year running Hopkins delivered, entrancing the crowd with a blistering set of bass heavy techno. Absorbing from start to finish, it demonstrated why he is one of the most revered DJs in the world.
The cosy setting of the Good Time Stage offered the perfect location to ease into Sunday with The Inisowen Choir livening spirits with an energetic set of Motown Classics. Even the slight delay to their performance caused by a combination of sound problems and the logistical nightmare of fitting the almost thirty-strong collective onto a tiny stage don’t take away from this spirited performance. Highlights included rousing covers of Dancing in the Streets by Martha and the Vandella’s and Try A Little Tenderness by Otis Redding.
Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble
What is usually the nightmare slot for any band at a festival (the first slot on the last day of the festival) saw Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble take to the main stage early on Sunday afternoon. Early afternoon slots are usually greeted with enthusiastic one-day revellers and 24-hour party zombies. Instead what greeted D.A.E was a sun-drenched main stage field with throngs of red faces, sitting and waiting in the scorching heat. The early risers will be glad they braved the morning light as D.A.E oozed through an exceptionally laid-back and tight performance. With sixteen-odd members onstage, it was a visual treat to the crowd as the front wall of singers/rappers danced and vibed their way through this effortless Afrobeat set. Unfortunately the dancing in the crowd wasn’t as good as that of the stage performers but smirking faces and tired limbs did their best. A perfect start to the last day of Body & Soul.
King King Company
Not only did King King Company have to come on after such a chilled, joy-infused performance from the Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble, we were also worrying if their unique brand of dance music would suit such an early slot. Having seen KKC perform so late on the GoldenPlec Vanhalla stage at Vantastival, we thought a late slot would be the ideal timing for such a band. Well, to cut it short, we were far off the mark. Not only are KKC well versed at providing raucous late-night performances, they can also deliver stand-out early afternoon sets. We’re not sure if we can ever recall such an audience so early on at the main stage for Body & Soul. The perfect hangover cure from one of Ireland’s finest partying bands.
If the good weather benefited the likes of Young Wonder and Booka Brass Band, the opposite could be said about September Girls with their brand of gloomy post-punk feeling somewhat out of place in the sunshine. The Sunday lunch time slot didn’t help with the effects of sunburn and hangover really beginning to set in for a good few revellers. In spite of the elements working against them, there was still plenty to appreciate about the all-female five-piece who gave a good account of themselves. However, this was certainly a case of wrong stage, wrong time.
Shabazz Palaces occupied the Sunday evening slot on the Main Stage. The first ever hip-hop group to be signed to Seattle’s legendary Sub Pop record label, the duo come with a reputation for being one of the most innovative acts in their genre. They didn’t disappoint either, delivering a set of songs as far adrift from mainstream hip-hop as you can imagine. The beats supplied by Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire were fractured, blunted and off-kilter while Ismael Butler’s free-flowing verses were fabulously eccentric. Jay Z it was not but the unconventional nature of the collective was completely in keeping with the spirit of the festival and the duo was well received by a sizeable crowd.
A luggage emergency meant that Caribou almost didn’t get a chance to close the festival with their trusted Korg Mirco Kontrol (it’s a synth) going AWOL early on Sunday. Thankfully some kind soul was on hand to lend the missing piece of equipment. It’s a good job they did too as Daniel Snaith and co gave this year’s Body & Soul the send-off it deserved, banging out classics (Odessa and Sun) alongside newer cuts (Can’t Do Without). A triumphant set to close out what is fast becoming Ireland’s best festival.