The Arthur’s Day celebration sees the past and present of Irish life converge into an evening of electrifying music and nostalgic nods to our heritage. A crowd approaching 1500 descend upon Limerick city to sample a pint of the black stuff and listen to some of the finest artists this country has to offer. The newly-renovated Milk Market is the epicentre of activity tonight with a line-up diverse enough to cater for even the most discerning of revellers. A cultural monument in itself, the 150-year old market seems the perfect location for a party dedicated to one of the archetypal brands in Irish history.
The aptly-titled Big Top stage sets the tone for a party which has engulfed the surrounding streets. The city has been transformed into a carnival of musical wonders with big name artists and local talent alike joining forces to provide the soundtrack to the festivities. The various guerrilla gigs happening throughout the city add a sense of adventure to tonight’s proceedings, with regulars of local bars like Dolans and Nancy Blakes witnessing impromptu sets from stadium-selling artists. At 18:45, rumours begin to circulate that one of the headliners has landed in Micky Martins; a bohemian bar tucked away in a side alley off Thomas Street. 100+ people gather to behold the uncanny sight of Calvin Harris performing in the snug of this traditional pub.
The globetrotting DJ seems in his element in this intimate setting; performing the vocal tracks live rather than relying upon the usual loops that comprise his house set. The oak-wood floor vibrates with the bass emanating from the four-foot speakers as scores of fans and onlookers dance along to rave-inciting renditions of ‘Ready For The Weekend’ and “You Used To Hold Me’. Harris finishes his set with ‘I Feel So Close To You Right Now’ before torpedoing out the front entrance in a blaze.
Entering the Milk Market, one is first struck by the eloquence of the Big Top stage. Its beacon lights with their candle-shaped bulbs combine with the fog machines to give it the appearance of a lighthouse facing out into a sea of smiling faces. By 7:20, Sharon Shannon and her delightfully big band appear on stage to supply reel upon reel of rebel music to the half capacity crowd that have gathered under the canopy. They add a suitably Irish shade to tonight’s musical palette as the sole traditional band on the bill. The exceptional interplay between band members highlights their calibre as session musicians. Melodies flow from one instrument to another, evolving with each seamless transition. They finish with an extended version of ‘Galway Girl’ to the delight of the crowd, who cannot help but chant the verses back to the band with ever growing enthusiasm.
The festivities are in full swing by the time Royseven launch into their rapturous pop rock set. While radio hits like ‘We Should Be Lovers’ and ‘Dance’ get the best reaction from the audience, lesser known tracks reveal an alternative, punk rock aspect to their sound that usually goes unnoticed. A blistering rendition of the Billy Idol-esque ‘Killer’ brings their enthralling set to a conclusion. A deafening roar signals Calvin Harris’ arrival on the main stage for his second performance of the night. The distorted bass of ‘Vegas’ explodes from the wall of speakers, whipping the crowd into a veritable frenzy, which lasts for three glorious songs. A technical fault cuts the power to the decks and a tense silence sweeps over the entire venue. Five uneasy minutes trail by as the initially appreciative chants slowly begin to mutate into irritable boos. Harris’ delayed reappearance quells fears of an unceremonious finish but his triumphant return lasts only two songs. A mass exodus of the venue ensues as the final bars of ‘Who’s Gonna Save The World Tonight’ flow out into the night’s sky.
All of which has drastic consequences for the tonight’s final act Fight Like Apes, who are welcomed by a crowd barely approaching 100. Undeterred, the band launch into ‘Something Global’ with the same feverish energy that has taken them from the underground clubs of Ireland to the heights of international success. Their performance transforms the Big Top into a wonderland of electro-pop and mad-hatter stage antics. During ‘Tie Me Up With Jackets’, Jamie Fox hurtles into his keyboard screaming “chimps don’t like baths” with such candour and conviction that you’d be inclined to agree with him.
Photo by Claire Weir.
MayKay’s saintly vocals and siren-like persona captivate all who gaze upon her. During ‘Poached Eggs’, she drops to her knees at the edge of the stage and leans out as if to deliver a message in the strictest of confidence. For ‘Jenny Kelly’, she leaps over the barrier to sing the final verse/chorus encircled by a score of appreciative fans. They finish with the 8-second noise core of ‘Megameanie’, bringing an awe-inspiring set to a close. The last of the faithful emerge from the south-facing archway to spend the final hours of this cultural celebration in the neighbouring streets. Given the significant numbers who have come together this evening, it seems there is still enough optimism on our island to commemorate the life of one of our greatest entrepreneurs. Long may it last.