The Body and Soul Gathering is, as they put it themselves, the realisation of a dream and Ireland’s most amazing secret garden. Based on the evidence of this scorching celebration of the Summer solstice, they’ve hit the nail pretty much on the head. Situated in the hidden environs of Ballinlough Castle, the Body and Soul idea will be familiar to thousands of those who have attended Electric Picnic over the years. This gathering is all about celebrating and expanding the ideas that made Body and Soul a highlight of every Picnic, in a truly unique kind of environment. The atmosphere of relaxation, honesty and freedom may not suit some people but for the thousand-odd revellers that made the trip it seems to have gone down just perfect.
To begin in a typically Irish manner, it must be mentioned that the weather was outstanding from start to finish. The campsite opened at nine o’clock on Saturday morning and the early arrivers were treated to morning Yoga classes and the sweet sounds of Jennifer Evans. Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands were soon up, though the darker and more intense songs were often washed out by the sheer inescapable fact that it was 1pm in the afternoon and 25 degrees. Chequerboard however is perfect for the setting with his lush loops of expertly played guitar flowing out over the seated crowd.
As this is Body and Soul, there is a hell of a lot more going on other than the music and with a little lull in the late afternoon entertainment quickly approaching, it was the perfect time to sample some of the other attractions on site. The main congregational area is The Orchard, a small field dotted with benches, bars, trees, stalls and a fortune teller. There are very few food stalls on site, but what is there is consistently tasty and reasonably priced. A quick wander around and the delight that is the woodland area is ready to be explored. The little patch of woods is filled with lights and sounds; the lathe and sewing work of the Green Crafts area, the general chatter of the Friendship Nest and the laughter that constantly rolled from the ever-popular Boundless Bathing Hot Tubs. Natasha’s Chocolate and Tea Emporium stage played host to a number of acoustic acts and DJs with the exceedingly talented and diverse Bahh Band mixing bluegrass, folk and eastern sounds seamlessly.
Crystal Fighters kick off the evening’s musical entertainment. The trio play uptempo party music with lots of Balearic influence, the odd touch of Animal Collective group singing and tribal drums. Their energy is the perfect build up to home-grown hero Jape. Playing a mixture of new and old songs, the result is a promising one. While the set is itself messy at times, the quality of the songs is undeniable with the pop-sensibility of ‘Hands Of Fire’ a standout. Theres barely time to catch some of Hunter-Gatherer’s set over at the Merkebar stage before the weekend’s main musical attraction is due to take to the main stage.
Four Tet is a true legend of modern electronica and his presence here results in the biggest crowd of the weekend. While far from a showman, Hebden is in total control of his sound and the influence of his residency at London club Plastic People is clear. The set is expectedly heavy on material from his most recent album There Is Love In You, with the title track getting an especially brilliant rendition. Ocassionally, the sound could become too disjointed, undoubtedly workable on record or in a more suitable environment but not a mainstage headline slot on the first night of a festival. The complaint is minor though and the encore mash up of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ with his own ‘Smile Around The Face’ is outright genius.
Sunday was a much quieter affair for the most part with the day being pretty much dedicated to the non-musical attractions, with some notable exceptions. The haunting and beautiful Katie Kim kicked proceedings up a gear or two on the main stage, sounding like a female Nick Cave with a set full of shimmering guitars and note-perfect vocals. The afternoon presented a scarcity of pressing attractions though stumbling across the unannounced Intinn at the Merkebar Stage was a welcome surprise.
The gloriously oppressive heat forced the more fair-skinned to seek shelter and The Bog Cottage at the edge of the woods presented the perfect place to relax in the shade. The Bog Cottage itself was one of the most interesting, fun and friendly environments at the festival with its host of volunteer workers all kicking back for a few hours at a time. People of all ages gathered around the open fires to talk and make tea, with one six-year old boy cooking up some sausages as evening approached. Music played in the background as people took up guitars, fiddles, the piano in the corner, or just whatever came to hand. The children ran around, played on the swing and danced, giving a wonderfully innocent feeling to the day..
Night time entertainment truly began with the Phoenix Rising Fire. A giant ceremonial bird was lit on fire, backed by a group of fire-dancers and the Torann drummers, in a truly impressive spectacle and the fireworks that lit the sky as night fell felt celebratory. !!! (Chk chk chk) kept the music going on the main stage; though their brand of indie party music fell somewhat flat, sounding too much like a washy Stone Roses to make any real impact.
The best was saved for last on the main stage as Jeremy Hickey, aka R.S.A.G, treated the thinning crowd to a set that swerved from Joy Division style post-punk to old time rock ‘n’ roll to Talking Heads pop. Showing off his incredibly musical versatility, ability on the drums, and backed by his ever-present projected band members, his 80 minutes on stage draws noises of wonder from the crowd and gets them dancing in no time. Eventually drawn out for an encore, the Kilkenny man once again proves his unique status in Irish music and backs up the praise heaped on his recently released second album, Be It Right Or Wrong.
There is not much left to do once R.S.A.G. leaves the stage but enjoy the spectacle and huddle around a fire while the bitter cold descends. Monday morning wouldn’t be long coming but no one left wanted to think about leaving and the party continues long into the shortest night of the year. If the Body and Soul crew can build upon the successes of this year’s inaugural festival and work out it’s kinks then the future could be very bright for this little gathering of like-minded people. Should there be a few more acts on the bill and a few more toilets on the site next year to complement the immaculate campsite, the helpful security and staff, the quality of the food and the friendly, homely atmosphere then this gathering will only go from strength to strength.
Photos: Sara Devine