A day of rest for some, but not so in Tullamore for the third and final day and night of Castlepalooza. As with this point in time at any festival, this is just what we do now. This is all we know. Tents, tins, inclement weather, a big haunted castle, and a wealth of music…this is living. Goldenplec wandered the grounds, one last time, to see and hear some sights and delights…
Video Blue knows the score at early doors on a Sunday afternoon, playing a tune “for anyone who’s just out of a tent…there’s a few dirty heads about, is there?” It’s the moniker of Jim O’Donoghue Martin, who creates sounds around electric guitar and backing tracks on a laptop, a bedroom project brought to life. As he plays, he dances around, filling the stage as best as one man can.
It’s low key stuff, by and large, interspersed with the odd dancier number. While his guitar gets a good lashing, things do seem a bit lost on the main stage expanse, lacking the power and volume his performance suggests it should be delivering. Again, it’s not a great time slot, nor is it the ideal setting for his style of music, but nonetheless he gets to play a longer set than most to an appreciative, if meagre, crowd.
Oh Boland don’t muck about. As they launch into Waiting For You in the Big Top tent, vocalist and guitarist Niall Murphy solos like a man simultaneously trying to hug his guitar tightly while attempting to tear it from his body. The Tuam trio are well-warmed up from a set at Arcadian Field festival the previous night, and they rattle through a nine-strong selection that seems to end all too quickly.
Murphy dances the solos through the less frenetic numbers – less possessed by some demonic muse – and he and bassist Eanna MacDonnchadha frequently move toward one other with a smile from their respective sides of the stage, seeming to play more for each other than the crowd. “Let’s hear it for the bachelors!” Murphy shouts, dedicating Living Off The Land to Jim Corr after coming hot on the heels of a snappy and trashy Take Me Back To Mutton Island.
“Anyone here like guitar solos?” Murphy enquires. Given what we’ve seen of Murphy’s chops thus far, this statement should have prepared us for what was coming, and if just nine songs seems like a short set then this rights the balance. Once the soloing starts, it barely stops, even if it seems that it’s going that way – the lengthy instrumental rout seems to hesitate and stutter, only to kick back into life for another go-round. Murphy plays doubled over practically throughout, hunched over his Fender, scraping out the notes. On and on it goes, scratching and howling, until a race for the finish coda that erupts one final time from drummer Simon McDonagh’s vocal chant. Oh, Oh Boland, you spoil us with your noise.
In the gloom of the Big Top tent, Peter Fleming aka Cinema plies his trade with guitar, synth and MacBook, like many before him. Fleming, though, is just in another class. From the first couple of tracks, he deals in pulsing ambient soundscapes where each layer is gradually revealed, and Fleming often loosens himself from the constraints of the hardware table to dance out the guitar lines.
From one segment that calls to mind Talking Heads, he then takes a more full-on approach. There’s intent in the ensuing track, a game-changer to get bodies moving. New song Seventeen mellows things out once more, and all of a sudden flashing LED balloons start to populate the crowd – people bat them around the tent, and they become a constant presence through Fleming’s set; colouring the air between heads and canvas. Inexplicably, two dancing bananas then slip through the crowd to dance at the barrier.
He informs us he is going to go deeper, if we want to join, adding subtle guitar embellishments to the looping snyth track of Find Me. By this point, everyone is along for wherever Cinema decides to take this opaque, involving set. Fleming is one of the finer exponents of this type of thing, and someone we’ll be seeking out again.
“There’s dancing numbers and there’s bopping numbers galore,” Robocobra Quartet’s drummer tells us as the four-piece take their place in the castle’s upstairs room, made up of a rhythm section and a horn section. The dancing and bopping will depend on your sense of rhythm – your physical interpretation of skewed time signatures and discordant flights of sax wailing.
Beginning jazzy and loose, the drummer kicks his snare drum aside midway through the song, leans against the curtain behind him and kicks his feet up on the bass drum. Rested, he resumes form, and the song takes various swerves before returning to its anchoring bass riff. Knotweed behaves similarly, with its off-kilter percussive meandering and squall of horns that suggests mayhem, yet adheres to that typical, anchoring low-end motif. Throughout, the drummer assumes vocal duties; channelling Albini, MacKaye, Slint’s Brian McMahon even.
We’re forewarned about You’ll Shrug (“it’s got a big build”), seemingly improvisational but yet wholly deliberate. Everything cuts bar the horns, who play counter melodies off one another, dropping to silence before erupting once more. The drummer comes out to sit on monitors as the rest play on, singing unamplified then jumping back up to the kit to loop back into the root riff.
What follows is more straightforward considering what has gone before (well, it’s in 4/4 time anyway), then Correct is grinding post-rock that leads into the lumpen, driving finale. “It’s awfully metal” we’re warned. And it is, for the most part, save for the gentler horn and spattering snare interludes. There’s opportunity for one last collective cacophony until the vocal breaks free into a quieter reprieve, and the drummer descends into crowd to lead everyone in a time-keeping handclap as the sax blows on, snaking around that constant rhythm as he ushers this fascinating set to a close.
It’s good to see David Kitt back on such good form after a lengthy sabbatical. The Ballinteer native released his eighth album ‘Yous’ on New Years Day of this year, his first solo record in seven years (he’s been otherwise engaged with his New Jackson project), and it’s a buzzing crowd that has assembled at the late-night main stage for his set.
It’s just Kitt alone as the reverbed chords of Say No More float under the leaves, but he’s soon joined by a couple of friends. The Redneck Manifesto’s Richie Egan (you might know him as Jape) and Margie Lewis (a classically-trained violinist and jazz vocalist) join on bass and violin respectively for Song Of Two Birds, “a Sunday evening country song.” Largely instrumental, and with Lewis’ violin easing over the crowd, it all falls into place – Sunday evening, coming down.
“I haven’t played this loud in a while” he informs us, following a trip-hop indebted Taste Of Without with a new album track, Like Lightning. Me & My Love is warmly received, with the three-way harmonies of Kitt, Lewis, and Egan augmented by the soft murmur of those of the crowd. You Know What I Want To Know is equally embraced, before the grimier electro of Learning How To Say Goodbye slides seamlessly into a verse of Bowie’s Let’s Dance.
Dancing In The Moonlight builds up, and gets that bit more banging as it progresses, dancing Kitt’s set to the endpoint of Into The Breeze. Admittedly, we underestimated how good this would turn out to be – a lovely atmosphere in the crowd and an easy camaraderie onstage ensure that Kitt’s Sunday night set is a low-key triumph.
It’s from one extreme to the next, walking from the cool ambience of David Kitt’s main stage performance into the increasingly populated Big Top stage where Shit Robot is about to take up residence for the rest of the night. At a certain point, a barrier goes up just outside the main entrance and a security guy stands guard stopping people from entering. The crowd filtering over from Le Galaxie weren’t so lucky. Unfortunately, this also means that if you go out for a piss or a pint, you aren’t getting back in.
When you are in, though, and Marcus Lambkin is doing his thing – minus that trademark glowing shit robot mask – it makes complete sense to stay put. It’s the last blast of the festival, techno and house to top everything off until the final beat drops and marks a full stop to Castlepalooza 2017.
And that was it – a year where the music, thankfully, managed to counterbalance the somewhat shambolic organisation of the festival. There are so many small details and irritations that Castlepalooza should surely have ironed out over – what is it, eight years – of experience. The feeling of being corralled in to spend money, secondary to the music and festival experience, can’t be shaken off.
With Beatyard, Arcadian Field, and Indiependence all competing for this weekend, Castlepalooza needs to come up with a consistent, punter-friendly plan, and stick to it. The goodwill is there, just about – it’s a beautiful setting, and a friendly crowd, but above all, it’s a showcase of some stellar music; predominantly Irish this time around, and none the worse for it. It’s just frustrating more than anything – Castlepalooza could be one of the very best. Everything is in place. It just needs to prioritise some things.