by / August 6th, 2010 /

Castlepalooza – Tullamore, Co. Offaly

If we had to summarize Castlepalooza in a single word, it would be ‘petite’. Claiming to be able to hold 3000, the festival often feels like it’s home to no more than a few hundred people flitting past each other in a tiny enclosed space. The campsites – amusing labeled Eenie, Meanie, Mine-E and Mo – all sit in the shadow of the towering castle, and seem diminutive in amongst the rows of trees. The two stages take no more than 20 seconds to walk between, and the bands are drawn almost entirely from within our own shores. It’s not trying to be a big deal, but it is a festival that seems to care about its punters. Following complaints about the late start times over the last few years, they’ve brought the earlier acts forward to mid morning. Admittedly it’s some iffy-at-best DJs that fill the brunch-time hole, but it’s nice to know they’re listening. It’s something that shows again in the bathrooms, which are full on flush models and cleaned on a constant rotation. Food and drinks are pretty affordable for a festival, too: it’s clear that Castlepalooza have gone out of their way to do the simple things well.

Still, the true value of a festival is always going to be measured by a combination of two things: the music, and the atmosphere. On both counts, Castlepalooza splits States’s vote down the middle. When it comes to vibes, most of the attendees are here for nothing but fun, and there’s a close-knit, friendly feel to things. Having said that, one group of nearby campers, drunk out of their mind at 8am on a Sunday morning, spend hours shouting across the campsite about the festival being ‘shite’ as most of the other punters chose to sleep. The same group spends another part of the morning vocally trying to make their mind up whether a fish is in fact a type of animal, so we’ll take it with a pinch of salt.

Musically, we’re left with mixed feelings too. We can brush Sunday off in little more than few sentences musically: it’s just a touch dull. There’s perhaps a bit too much of a focus on the downbeat, with the likes of First Aid Kit (full of stunning harmonies but still a little samey), Alessi’s Ark (heart-wrenching and lo-fi to the point of tear-jerking, but also lacking range) and James Vincent McMorrow (clearly a strong songwriter, but far from an interesting performer). Aside from the lively stints put in by bouncing folk-rockers Band On An Island and the day’s most popular early highlight Heroes In Hiding, there’s nothing grabbing us at all before 8pm. Forced to head home early due to other commitments, State’s left distinctly underwhelmed overall.

Saturday, though, falls at the other extreme, ad reads like a who’s who of Dublin scene bands, topped off with the American stars as headliners. Folky rockers O Emperor are the first of the procession, and are in compelling form, with minor hits like Po drawing us into their charming melodies. Attention Bebe, who impressed us at Knockanstockan last week, are still better this time round. The Dubliners play nothing but cheesy 90s pop covers, but do so in the most endearing way imaginable, getting the tent rocking manically by early afternoon. A sixteen-piece band reproducing the likes of N-Trance and Scatman John sounds awful; it’s sublimely entertaining.

The edgier rock side of the line up is introduced by The Cast Of Cheers, a band who’ve won a deserved place in the hearts of many a music lover around the capital. Half the crowd seems to be singing along to the likes of ‘I Am Lion’ and ‘Auricom’ already; bring on the new album. Amazingly, Adebisi Shank seem to sit slightly in the shadow of the newcomers, despite an energetic performance. TCOC’s electro edge and Adebisi’s straight up instrumental rock stylings have plenty in common when it comes to pure, vicious on-stage energy.

CODES are another great live band, far more rustic as a live group than on record, producing an edgy modern rock performance that’s the match of any this weekend. Amongst all the energy, Sounds Of System Breakdown throw out a performance that seems tame next to their usual showings, but still lights up the tent, and Fionn Regan is left fighting a losing battle against the sheer energy of it all. Regan is a different kind of performer, one with his own kind of poetic and emotional tinge to his tunes, telling the stories of all kinds of oddly twisted and bordering on literary characters. His songwriting is exceptional, and despite some of his lyrics being lost in the mix, he’s the perfect come down.

A comedown is exactly what Mercury Rev need before their set, which is all about atmospherics. Tracks drawn from two decades worth of albums seem to build on one another, fittingly fronted by singer Jonathon Donahue, whose arm-waving, theatrical stage-front showing is outstandingly fitting. The big tracks – which include a sparkling rendition of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill alongside hits ‘The Dark Is Rising’ and the stunning ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ – polish the Saturday off perfectly.

Saturday and Sunday, in short, couldn’t be more different, but an assortment of free (non alcoholic) drinks and activities around the campsite do plenty to keep us entertained. For all its obvious effort to cater to punters, sometimes Castlepalooza is just a touch lacking in star quality. At other times, it truly blows us away, with circus shows, burlesque, and a single day line up that’s the stuff Dublin scenester’s wet dreams are made of. Given its low prices (tickets and on site, by festival standards), intimate atmosphere and original setting, there’s plenty here that’ll keep us – and plenty of others – coming back.

  • Stuart Irvine

    Unlucky you had to leave early on the Sunday as for me Yes Cadets, Le Galaxie, Noelle Scaggs and Norman Jay completely wrecked the place!! Bit harsh slating the Sunday side of things when you couldn’t make a full judgement! Let the reviewers who stayed for the whole event decide whether the Sunday was good or not!!

  • Fair enough, I did make it very clear I was only there until 8, though, so Im not pretending my review’s anything other than what it is. Ten hours worth of music on Sunday morning was very poor in my opinion, and ten hours worth is more than enough to comment on.

    Glad the rest was good, but aside from DJs in the dance tent, the day was well passed half way through when I headed home. Yes Cadets and Le Galaxie are both class bands and I don’t doubt they were good, but the Saturday had some quality stuff much, much earlier in the day.

  • Robert Kappa

    WHOOP WHOOP!!! 🙂

  • Richard Malone

    Id hold the same opinion of Hendicott with regard to Sunday though did like Wave Machines, Yes Cadets and an honourable mention to Daithi O Dronai purely for the bit of diversity!Didnt really get into the Ceili special….. some of the jokes were just bad! Bit disappointed that they didnt end the main stage with a band on Sunday as opposed to Norman Jay, talented as he is, bring him on an hour later. However, there were some little crackers about the festival such as the Irish Times tent with scrabble and the whiskey masterclass…gutted that I missed O Emperor for it!

    Hendicott, was the group that was roaring at 8am located near the row of trees closest to the boudoir stage? I think they were on a stag and just there to drink as much as they could though early evening on saturday showed their very questionable dance moves around the massive campus of Castlepalooza!

  • Hey Malone! 😛

    I know the group you mean (T shirts and all, right?), no, pretty sure this was a different one, they were more irritating than fun. They were a couple of campsites further along (‘Meanie’ rather than ‘Eenie’ I think). They argued between them for hours on the Sunday morning about stuff that anyone with half a brain cell would know (are animals and mammals the same thing was another one), and irritated the hell out of anyone within earshot. The lads I was with wanted to sleep after dancing half the night but ended up crashing in the Lucazade Bus as they found them so annoying, so they had to get a mention!

  • Dermot

    Hello James, you gave a pretty good review overall, you were spot on about Attention Bebe, they who were great fun/attitude and got the tent jumping’ at 6pm Saturday which is pretty good going. The Saturday headliners were brilliant, cruel to say to the other acts on the day but Mercury Rev really were in another league altogether. My friend also had to leave at 8pm Sunday and yes it was a bit dull up to that, but after 8pm Sunday some great performances: Yes Cadets, Cashier No. 9, Wave Machines (who even with the equipment breakdowns), were all great on Sunday evening, and the standout act in the Tent for Sunday was Lonelady (Manchester newcomer but very impressive). Also final actNoelle Skaggs had real stage presence for someone backed only/essentially by a DJ, and put in a great performance. I was staying with relations in town so the weekend only ticket only cost E79 it was good value, really nice crowd. All the best, Dermot