Body & Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath on June 17th – 19th 2016
This year’s edition of Body & Soul, taking place in the woods and fields around Westmeath’s Ballinlough Castle, is much expanded upon from previous years. 15,000 instead of 10,000 in attendance, some of the intimate atmosphere of previous years could be said to have been lost. For most of Friday, however, things were relatively quiet, as they often are. People trickled down from work and life commitments as the afternoon wore into evening, and there was a giddy atmosphere and a sense of anticipation about the place as the attendees started to explore the music, art and food on offer about the place. We set about catching some of the stand-outs from the Friday lineup and suffice to say we were often very impressed.
One of the early slots on the Midnight Circus second stage went to Dublin 3-piece Bitch Falcon who, of course, are on the up. Straight from the release of new single Clutch, the trio look assured in their own potency. At their best, they can seem a pure distillation of rock energy. At the outset at least, this set doesn’t live up to the potential. Bitch Falcon’s sound, so heavy and pulsating yet clearly made up of distinct elements, at times seems a bit of an amorphous mess. Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s vocals, and much of the group’s signature guitar/bass work, for example on TMJ, are in danger of being submerged in layers of cymbals and fuzz. To their credit, it’s obvious that there’s a great rock show going on behind the sound issues, and towards the end of the set in particular things take a turn for the better.
Áine Cahill, a singer from Cavan, puts in a good shift on the Pagoda stage as the evening slowly starts to shake itself into life. Charismatic and soulful with a tightly drilled band to back her up, vocal comparisons to the likes of Adele and Beyonce aren’t ridiculous, and to be fair are probably welcomed. Cahill’s repertoire doesn’t stray too far from the usual well-worn tracks, but she has the skills and the charisma to keep the crowd enthused. Black Dahlia hits all the right notes. Hollywood on the other hand, does not.
It’s unfortunate for Ho99o9 that the rapping-to-metal template has such a poor reputation in the wake of the crime against music that was nu-metal. On this evidence, it doesn’t deserve it, the New Jersey men giving it enough welly to convert many who’ve randomly stopped by Midnight Circus into fans. The gig, at such an early stage in the evening, is, to use the parlance of our times, lit. Raw punk exhilaration dealt up with lashings of horrorcore imagery, the place is hopping. An early contender for gig of the weekend, for sure.
The press have run straight out of superlatives to describe the Gloaming. Magisterial, sublime, transcendent, the supergroup sound like the breeze to your back at a wild Atlantic sunset, their music so appropriate for the 1916 commemorations purely by virtue of the fact they are the distilled essence of our national cultural spirit.
Ridiculous hyperbole aside, it’s actually hard to grasp the band’s undoubted excellence at this gig. The build-up to their Friday headline on the main stage here revolved around the fact they would be playing during the gloaming itself, the period of dusk-light between sunset and night which gives the group its name. The marketing ploy didn’t quite pay off. Coming to the stage and beginning into The Pilgrim Song to shushing from the expectant elements of the crowd, little beyond the stunning views of the set could be fully considered a success. Maybe they would have been better served in a tent, maybe a slot either earlier or on another evening would have suited them better, but for most of the gig, The Gloaming struggle to rise above the chatter of the crowd. Whether it’s any fault of the sound engineers or merely the proclivity of the crowd to talk incessantly, the music gets drowned out.
The band themselves seem somehow ill-suited to the demands of a festival performance, not adapting or moving in any different direction to how they would if this was the National Concert Hall. It all ends up seeming a lot blunter than it does on record, the intricate subtleties of Song 44 or Saoirse being trodden down to a fast-slow binary, the crowd deciding to dance to the former, chat to the latter. It was surely a brilliant performance, only a shame that the eager could not hear it.
Anarchic and abrasive, Girl Band have their fans and their detractors, but their capacity for live mayhem is nigh-unrivalled. Closing out the main stage tonight, Dara Kiely and his bandmates, are on fire. The performance is experienced as a maelstrom of legs and elbows, a cacophony of directed noise. ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’ is one of Ireland’s best records of the last couple years, and its potency is not yet diminished in the least. Just like their show at Vicar St. earlier in the year, the volcanic eruption of post-punkish mayhem defines it. Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage, Paul and any number others provide an unstoppable tide of guttural energy from start to finish. There’s not much like them, really.
Another one of our own Plec Picks from earlier this year, Talos provides a much-stripped down, chilled-out counterpoint to the raucous shenanigans of Girl Band. On what would prove to be the only dry night of the weekend, his set in the charming woodlands setting primes the crowd for the second half of the evening. Complimented totally by his surroundings, songs like In Time and Bloom show exactly why the Cork man is rising through the ranks at such pace. We hate to say we called it, but well here we are. Fabulous.