The picturesque environs of Ballinlough Castle welcomed those arriving to Body & Soul on the Friday a beautiful respite from reality. With its idyllic forest location decorated with all kinds of esoteric art works hanging from the trees, and a general aura of chill, the festival genuinely offers a space that seems to transport those attending away from their real lives, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. It may also have helped that the dark clouds hovering for a good part of the evening mostly held off from releasing that substance known for failing to dampen the spirits of revellers.
Emmet Kirwan’s Rhythm and Beats
The Library of Progress tent was a pretty good place to start off the weekend, with actor/writer Emmet Kirwan hosting the first of three day’s worth of spoken word events. We’re currently at “the centre of a storm of fearless writing” in Ireland explained Kirwan, and the lineup of fiercely honest young writers he’d chosen to fill his slot more than backed up this claim. Ailish Kerr, Hazel Hogan and Lewis Kenny all delivered powerful sets of wordspinning.
There were gracious cheers at the end of a good line – like Hogan weaving the lyrics of There is a Light That Never Goes Out into the story of connecting with somebody special over music, and a reflective hush when the poets hit a more powerfully honest note in their work – as when Kenny described himself seeking solace from his arguing parents in a biscuit tin, only to find a “knitting kit under the lid”.
Body & Soul stuffed both big stages and small with an absolute bundle of top Irish acts. In a few cases the inevitable clashes were offset by multiple sets across the weekend. Jafaris burst into the first of two gigs that night on the tree-covered Pagoda stage with a whirlwind of energy that suggested a man who could play non-stop for the next three days.
As his backing band grooved their way through the show with a jazz-fuelled party energy, Jafaris got the crowd moving with his irresistibly likable stage presence, segueing with ease from smooth choruses to relentlessly rapped verses.
If You Love Me and Like Drugs went down a treat, while Keep Your Head Held High pushed the show to an uproarious peak of good vibes. After he was done Jafaris took his bows and departed the stage as his band played him off the stage with big ass rock sound and piercing riffs that rang out through the woods. It’s probably safe to say he convinced more than a few people to hang around for his second set of the night.
The cosy surrounds of the Arbus Yarns Stage – a log cabin dressed up to resemble a rustic kitchen scene – offered one of the most intimate venues of the festival. This made it the prefect home for singer-songwriter David Keenan. With a huge lament of a voice that echoed out of the quaint little stage like a young Christy Moore, Keenan’s sound is at once powerfully large, while at the same time disarmingly minimal.
Knocking his way through a few soft chords, Keenan took the audience on a journey through stories of the little ordinary moments of life in song form. Love in a Snug presented a collection of images of late bars and early houses at the bad end of Dundalk town, while the mournful El Paso sung the praises of home in a way the celebrated the bad, the good and the dull in one neat ode.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, over on the main stage, orchestral/electronica experimenter Anna Meredith combined the sweeping scale of a symphonic recital with slick waves of electro noise. It was blistering performances, with the smooth pulse of the synths sliced apart by the shriek of a cello that sounded as if it was being violently struck. The Body & Soul lineup is nothing of not eclectic, and the British composer’s larger-than-life take on classical music was a vigorous addition to Friday’s musical proceedings.
Anyone only familiar with Metronomy’s uber radio-friendly singles might not have expected all that much from their headline slot. But, as their set proved, there’s a lot more to this band than their records. Channelling their inner LCD Soundsystem, Metronomy forced the bangers tucked away within their well-formed tunes right to the surface, delivering a blistering set through an admirable command of the stage. Frontman Joseph Mount led his band though a sweeping set of dizzying and pleasing electronic-pop numbers. His upbeat stage antics even saw him drop back behind the drum kit for the groovy yet mournful Everything Goes My Way, while drummer Anna Prior jumped up front to lead the way with silky smooth vocals.
There was an incredible cohesiveness to the whole thing – as if the band had fine-tuned the set to minute detail for maximum effect, both visually and sonically. Every track moved things forward in a slightly new direction. Love Letters and The Look took on whole new layers of vibrant life in their live setting, amped up as they were to the full extent of the band’s considerable ability. Like the dazzling light show that accompanied them, Metronomy lit up the Friday night of Body & Soul with their presence.