It’s been more than 30 years since the first Trip to Tipp but with a line-up that is packed with some of the best Irish bands of the early nineties Féile Classical had all the ingredients in place for the ultimate nostalgia buzz.
On arriving in Thurles a quick trip down the town for the First Music Contact Music Trail reveals a far more sedate scene in Liberty Square than would have been witnessed back in the early nineties with not a sign of anyone sleeping in a bin or on top of a telephone box.
The music trail is a nice touch and Eoin Dolan in particular catches the ear, seamlessly translating his electronic tunes to acoustic renditions in Boyle’s Gift Shop where his set is well received by those who cram into this very narrow store.
Up at Semple Stadium things are starting to hum nicely with Johnny Fean and his band of troubadours belting out some Horslips faves to an appreciative Big Top crowd. In The Dome it’s Jiggy’s turn to get the early revealers going with their exhilarating blend of trad, afro vibes and Asian beats – they put on an electric performance with Taraka & Dying of the Light particular highlights.
But all this is just the precursor to the main event which kicks off inside the stadium. Now there is no doubt that the idea of bringing some of Ireland’s favourite bands from the early nineties to this venue and pairing them with the Irish Chamber Orchestra is an inspired one however, the initial set-up is hugely problematic.
The stage sits in the middle of the pitch facing the main stand however, the crowd are restricted to the stands which leaves a massive, gaping hole between the performance area and the adoring fans. Add in a sizeable stone-faced, high-viz bedecked security team scouring the crowd and you have a real disconnect. Thankfully this issue is rectified later in the night due to the heroic intervention of the ultimate showman Jerry Fish who refers to this bizarre setting as “like playing a gig surrounded by a Subbuteo game.”
That’s after both The Frank & Walters and The 4 of Us have valiantly battled the strange situation, the former kick off the celebrations with the classic feel good tune After All however apart from that gem they seem a little restricted by the ICO arrangements and lack the energy which those who saw them recently at Electric Picnic would have enjoyed, closing with a slightly strained This is Not a Song.
The award for playing to the crowd definitely goes to Brendan Murphy of The 4 of Us who has everyone in the palm of his hand and their set perfectly utilises the ICO to augment fan favourites She Hits Me, Washington Down and the ultimate sing-along tune Mary which is the first song of the night to really lift the roof off the Ard O Riain Stand.
Unlike the former two bands An Emotional Fish haven’t played together in a long time and of course are sadly missing Martin Murphy who passed away last year. It’s a beautifully balanced set with the delicate opening trio of Aeroplanes, Time is on the Wall and Julian (the latter dedicated to their departed drummer) bedecked with the luxurious strings of the ICO and backing vocals of Ciara Meade before they unleash the perfect howling storm of Lace Virginia. Of course there was only one song they were going to finish on and Celebrate is the wild revelation that one would only expect with Fish in majestic ringmaster mode, leaping from the stage, dodging security and going into the crowd. This sparks a full-on, but very mannerly pitch invasion and Féile Classical finally feels like a proper concert.
After asking for everyone to take care of each other for the rest of the night he introduces a special guest, Damien Dempsy who’s brief but powerful performance keeps things ticking along nicely.
Then it’s time for Something Happens and the man responsible for dreaming up this idea Tom Dunne. Blasting out Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello to start with has the now full pitch area in raptures, Beach is as haunting as ever, again benefiting greatly from the added sheen the orchestra provides. Keeping the tradition of the night going they close with their guaranteed crowd pleaser Parachute which gets the ecstatic response you would expect.
Reports from the previous night suggest that Hothouse Flowers were perhaps not the best closing act so having them up next seems to be the right call. Their calypso infused rendition of Don’t Go is inspired and a whole pile of fun, whilst their closing number Hallelujah Jordan is a classy emotional affair, superbly arranged.
It is then left to The Stunning to bring the night to a triumphant close and they certainly deliver as they rip into hit after hit. Romeo’s on Fire, Heads are Gonna Roll and Everything That Rises has the audience fully pumped while Half Past Two is sing-song heaven for all. That sets the scene for the onslaught of Brewing Up a Storm with the ICO unleashing some ferocious strings and percussion accompanying Steve Wall and the gang to deliver an overpowering set finale.
To finish the night there is an all-star rendition of The Cranberries’ Linger led by Ciara Meade which is competently delivered, but feels slightly unnecessary.
All in all Féile Classical delivered what it promised, a nostalgia laden night of fantastic music, if it returns let’s just hope they allow the audience stage-side from the start next time!