Body & Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath on June 17th – 19th 2016
A lot of other publications might begin a review of Sunday at this year’s Body & Soul by claiming that the “revellers” on site didn’t have their “spirits dampened” by the rain which came down in sheets for most of the day. This would be dishonest. Rain is nasty, trudging for twenty minutes through more mud than you’ve ever seen just to get your breakfast burger is very little craic, and when all your cigarette skins have become stuck together in a single, scauldy accordion, you can really begin to question your life choices. All that being said, there was plenty of excellent music on show as the festival closed itself out, even as there was a mid-morning exodus of people who’d had enough of the rain. Overall, there was plenty good music to go round all the same.
Bleeding Heart Pigeons
“Adjust your expectations, kid, and you’ll be fine”, sings Micheál Keating on set-opener Frozen. That could be a relevant statement, considering the extent to which the rain and the ever-growing muck could put an upper limit on the day’s enjoyment. No need to worry about BHP, however, who manage to show with considerable aplomb why they’re rightly being touted as one of the finest young bands in Ireland. What shines through on ‘Is’, but equally so in a live context, is the near-virtuoso songwriting capacity of the trio. Coupled with Keating’s strong voice and a mighty, well-drilled instrumental section, it all translates splendidly into a live setting, no matter how damp. Songs like A Hallucination have the power to amaze. Believe any hype you hear.
Also from Limerick and its environs, also vying for the title of Most Exciting Young Act in Ireland, Rusangano Family know what gigging is all about. The flow, delivery and overall stage presence of MCs God Knows and MuRli are almost without parallel. Delivering banger after banger from Let the Dead Bury the Dead, already nearly certainly the best Irish hip-hop album ever, the pair and DJ mynameisjOhn could almost stop the rain on their own. Political, an ‘issues’ band without seeming too overbearing, their meditations on race, family, and mental health seem carefully considered even amidst their manic energy. Heathrow is a little bit messy, some of the non-musical performing can seem sort of silly, and the two MCs almost seem to tire themselves out before the end (believe us, you would too). No matter, at their peak they seem like world beaters. They deserve crowds of thousands.
The ‘Guest Appearance’ on the Sunday of this year’s festival is Angolan act Batida, who not many would have heard of but most will hopefully remember. Pedro Coquenao and his band of musicians and dancers mix all manner of elements together – electronic loops, traditional motifs, and most interestingly, samples from Angolan culture and society from the last 50 years. The crowd leave knowing much more about Angolan politics than they thought they needed to. Songs criticise dictator José Eduardo dos Santos and political repression. Another features a sample of “an Angolan poet talking about leaving the city and moving to the jungle, leaving this logical thinking behind”. Bazuka is great fun. It’s all great fun. To top it off, the closing tracks see the band throw dozens of free whistles into the crowd. Fair play to them.
Canadian foursome Wolf Parade are back from hiatus as of earlier this year. Undoubtedly influential owing to 2005’s ‘Apologies to Queen Mary’ album, they have some high-quality tunes that they know what to do with. I’ll Believe in Anything and Shine a Light are standouts, as they ought to be, but overall it doesn’t ignite. They make the old mistake of saying ‘Thank you, Dublin’ at the end of some song or other (80km from the airport lads), but that’s what whistle-stop touring will do to you. The thoroughly rained-upon crowd are only sporadically enthused. If you didn’t know who they were, they would seem relatively derivative, too close to any other Bruce knock-off for their own good. Nothing wrong, but very, very meh.
Here we are so, the big finale, the culmination of everything, Santigold on the main stage to bring the curtain down on this year’s festival. Eventually. According to the woman herself, airport trouble meant that the stage crew were setting up without much of the band’s props and material for about half an hour, before Santigold arrives to begin. Nobody seems to mind, and when she descends to the barrier to talk to the crowd at the onset, it’s clear the affection that people hold her in. Bedecked in a yellow sweatshirt saying ‘We Buy Gold’, the stripped down version of her ‘99 Cents’ tour includes two backing singers who start the gig sitting on stage munching Tesco cheese puffs. The set itself is constrained by curfews, but the music is deliriously infectious. There’s as much dancing at the main stage than there has been for days.