Tuesday, 27 August 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: Stendhal 2013

While Derry-Londonderry was getting Fleadh-d out, a little festival was taking place on the outskirts of Limavady. Si's Sights And Sounds went to check it out

If Glasgowbury established itself as a lower key Oxegen during its thirteen-year-tenure – that is to say, mainly about, if not all about, the bands – Limavady's Stendhal Festival, situated on Ballymully Cottage Farm, is like a lower key Electric Picnic. The wide open fields, the larger tents, the mazy surroundings, the flashing lights, the arty sculptures, and, above all, the sense that you really could be in a mud bath in the middle of nowhere, were there to be a serious downpour. It’s like being in another world. But then again, isn't that what all great festivals should be like?

Fresh from thrilling the Legenderry crowd with Bronagh Gallagher at the Fleadh, Paul Casey, Derry's Mr. Consistency, joins Marty Barr to raise spirits at the Karma Valley Stage on Friday evening with his affable rock. Tunes like "I Do", "Something's Gotta Give" and "The Last Goodbye" fill the tent with applause and atmosphere, even if sing alongs are muted and dancing feet are hard to spot.

Back at the Main Stage, Matt Backer (above) and Mick Wilson (of 10CC) come across as a less cheesy take on Jon Bon Jovi with echoes of Steely Dan; not entirely my cup of tea, but the Main Stage audience are clearly impressed. The duo are a prelude to a troubadour most notable for his outlandish dreadlocks and vaudevillian stage presence, a guy who guarantees you a good time no matter who he's accompanied by - Duke Special, aka Peter Wilson. Along with regular "partners in crime" Ben Castle and Temperance Society "Chip" Bailey, he offers a neat reminder of how and why his fan base grew to love his music to begin with. Highlights of this set include a particularly melancholy "No Cover Up", the inappropriately upbeat "Diggin' An Early Grave", the show-stopping, Neil Hannon-penned "Wanda, Darling Of The Jockey Club" and the popular "Portrait". Even a hoarse rendition of "Freewheel" and an unfortunate power cut mid set can’t hold his energy back.

Fans of "The Duke" will also be aware that he's taken to performing a rather moving piano cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" at just about every gig he plays. It is unfortunate that no one told Stevie Martin, aka Rainy Boy Sleep (below), that Americana and the Joy Division classic don't quite go together. It's not that Martin's cover is bad; it just pales in comparison to Duke's. But his is an entirely different kind of voice. Channelling the mellowness of Stuart Murdoch and the projection of Elbow's Guy Garvey, with a nasal twinge, Martin and his acoustic guitar create a series of innovative, on-the-spot and self-recorded backing beats which mix smoothly with chorally strong ballads in a hugely likable performance.

Little Bear have no problem in the likability stakes – the only way has been up for Steven McCool and his band since Other Voices Derry, and their solid performance here consolidates their status as one of the top new musical arrivals of 2013. If a middling crowd diminishes their impact somewhat – to these eyes, Little Bear thrive on atmosphere - the likes of "Night Dries Like Ink", "Second In Line", "I'd Let You Win" and "Take Me Back Together" are still warmly received, boding well for their forthcoming Electric Picnic show. One hopes they can avoid the kind of stagnancy that subsumed Franz Ferdinand and The Killers and really push on from here.

A most interesting little journey to the Air Stage is greeted by the sight of, if you believe Steve Huey of allmusic.com, "one of Britain's most influential dancehall toasters". And we are definitely warmed up by the high tempo educational humour of Wolverhampton-born reggae artist Macka B. Yes, I said "educational humour" - in an hour, he references the music of James Bond and the legend of Bob Marley, in addition to telling us a thing or two about the wonders of women, the dangers of fast food and the benefits of a vegan diet. Given more time, you sense he'd re-iterate his own History Of The World to us in dancehall, dub step fashion; and we would happily hear it.

The rather delayed arrival of Dubliner Paddy Casey and his slick accompanist Fiona Melady leads to squeals of excitement at the Main Stage, and he responds with a series of enrapturing riffs and relatable rock tunes that help to establish a real party atmosphere. As good as Casey’s original material is, however, his covers of Nina Simone’s "Sinnerman" and "I Wanna Be Like You" get the best reception. I guess most North Westerners love being reminded of the Jazz Festival – and you can’t really blame them, can you?

Jazz, rock and just about any other genre you could think of then get the avant-garde treatment as one of Derry-Londonderry's favourite sons, Neil Hannon, brings down the curtain on Stendhal 2013 in typically eclectic fashion. Even if the sound is not the kindest to him and he can't always remember the words to his songs, the all round good spirit present in the punters, his fan base and Hannon himself carries things through to the finish. As the triumphant final chords of "A Drinking Song" die out, everybody knows they've had a good time... all the more reason to return here for more in 2014.