James Morrison @ Groove Festival by Sean Smyth (6-7-13)-3

Groove Festival at Killruddery Estate, Wicklow on 6th & 7th July 2013

Over two glorious days on the landscaped grounds of Killruddery Estate in County Wicklow, Groove Festival celebrated its inaugural outing in sun-drenched style. The festival site lies ensconced in a tree-lined haven with a wealth of places to chill out – the many grassy hills, knolls, inclines and descents that typify the layout; the hidden pond; the tea rooms; the hedge-enclosed silent disco. The main stage offers the most spacious opportunity for folk to stretch out and relax, standing in front of Killruddery House itself, while a short walk brings people down beneath the CD-decorated trees to the Whelan’s tent. Festival-goers of a more tender age are also catered for, with the kids’ zone laying on music and fun for these fledgling revellers as the resident chickens go about their business alongside them. Goldenplec spent a leisurely weekend wandering around this picturesque addition to Ireland’s festival season, soaking up the sun between the musical interludes…

Cry Monster Cry

Dublin four-piece Cry Monster Cry are one of the early acts on Saturday afternoon on the Whelan’s stage, with some laid-back folk from the brothers Martin. The distinctive vocal harmonies elevate these numbers from the early stages, before things get slightly more enlivened by the folk stomp of The Distance from their album-in-progress. They attempt some crowd involvement for the handclaps of Atlas, a song that gets more subtly rowdy as it progresses with each added percussive element. Things slow back once more for On Tangled Shores, the harmonies coming to the fore once again, before This New Country makes for an upbeat finale. If the crowd is sparse for the set, it’s only because most enjoy it from the grass immediately outside, and it’s an enjoyable ease-in to the weekend.

Little Bear

Northern Ireland quartet Little Bear are next to build some atmosphere in the Whelan’s tent –at least, as much atmosphere as a sun-drenched day will allow – with their harmony-heavy, post rock inflected songs. The keys add droplets of colour as they open, with a mid-tempo Dissonance then flitting from vocal-led sections into pounding tom flourishes before its acapella coda. A mobile phone is requested from one of their compadres in the crowd for The Devil Is A Songbird. The singer then emulates an ambient pitch of birdsong by holding two phones opposite one another and whistling, a novel approach to an effective sonic texture on this downbeat number. Letters takes their set toward more animated conclusion, with the band rolling it home from its chiming riff foundation.

Soul II Soul Sound System

A respectable crowd of dancers has assembled stagefront as we head towards the main arena for Soul II Soul Sound System. Jazzie B mans the decks while the bundle of energy that is MC Chickaboo moves, grooves and bounces all over the stage. Once Jazzie B drops Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime, though, she’s happy to step aside from toasting duties and let it play out, chipping in every now and then on the chorus. Seven Nation Army merges with Public Enemy, with MC Chickaboo inciting the crowd to jump in unison as Dizzee Rascal blasts from the speakers. “We got any Guinness? I’m a Caffrey’s man myself” Jazzie B announces to good-natured boos, before dedicating the closer to all those with sunstroke. Original vocalist Caron Wheeler comes out, the deep bass rumbles ribcages, and everyone knows this one – everyone of a certain vintage that is – as Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) delights nostalgic groovers and bemused children alike.

Ali Campbell’s UB40

It’s UB40, but not as we know them. Actually, it probably is, as frontman Ali Campbell’s vocal was always the distinctive element of the Birmingham reggae merchants. Campbell is a vision in blue, joined by a co-vocalist who doesn’t seem to do a lot, and an extended band that get things going with a ska-leaning Here I Am Baby. From here on in it’s a highly enjoyable ride, with Campbell bopping around and the crowd singing back the words as the sun beats down. “You’re a fuckin’ ride, Ali!” shouts one spirited fan as he straps on a Fender and emits some dub echo effects, leading into Groovin’. A dubbed-up Paint It, Black follows with an extended instrumental workout by the band, after which Campbell doles out some lovers rock for the ladies. Arms of all ages wave around the venue for (I Can’t Help) Falling In love With You, and during Purple Rain a bra is flung that unfortunately falls short of the stage – still got it, Ali. They end with the inevitable Red Red Wine, minus the mid-section Astro rap, and Campbell exits leaving his band to bring it home – great fun.

Hudson Taylor

A Creedence-sounding Drop In The Ocean kicks off the final gig in the Whelan’s tent. It’s an empty space that soon fills as Hudson Taylor play their acoustic-led numbers and thank us for watching them instead of James Morrison over on the main stage. They get the crowd singing a verse of the gentle country/folk of Pray For The Day, gradually livening it up. At this point a Silent Disco interlude is called for, judging by the faint cheers from the nearby headphone-wearing dancers, and when we return once more to the tent things are as we left them. The band’s song are undeniably catchy in the main, with a touch of Beechwood Sparks in the execution, but the feeling remains that the biggest Whelan’s stage crowd of the day has turned out for its least interesting act. Mrs Robinson pulls a few more bodies in, and the generic country folk stomps continue, until they finish up with an Eminem cover. Despite our misgivings on all of this, the pockets of people near the front are loving it and the band clearly have a devoted following. We’re outnumbered on this one.


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