The best way, we always find, to ease a delicate head into day two of the Picnic is a trip down to the rear of the Main stage to the spoken word area, dubbed the Mindfield. We’re just in time to hear the godlike timbre of John Snow (himself off Channel 4 News) MCing his way into the hearts of the wedged Leviathan Tent. On the couch are jetsetting glamourpuss Kathryn Thomas, rugger-bugger Gordon D’Arcy, Kila all-rounder Rossa O’Snodaigh and journalism mentor Harry Browne. Questions are fielded from an informed, at times know-it-all, audience, much to the delight of our guest John Snow. EP’s Gandalf the Grey has a nice little sideline on the festival circuit awaiting him if he gets used to the bloodshot-eyes and hangover-breath love of the many well wishers mugging him after the debate wraps up.
Ryan Tubridy isn’t taking over for another half hour, and it’s a blessing because Brian Keenan is giving a reading next door in the Literary Tent. Forget Florence and the Machine, forget Madness and Brian Wilson. The most prolonged applause State hears all weekend comes at the end of this extraordinary man’s reading from his book An Evil Cradling. In sombre yet enriched tones, Keenan read an extract detailing his relationship with one of his captors in a warm Ulster purr that belied the horror he had endured in Beirut. This does not happen at Oxegen.
Mr Tubridy has to work hard to win over a crowd oblivious to his Late Late cherry poppage the night before, but it would take a stony hearted begrudger to not credit that man today. Tubridy is a tonic for the capacity Leviathan herd, animated and witty as fuck. He poked fun here, got serious there, and herded panellists John Snow, Mark Little and Lorraine Keane around like Babe the pig.
Now that State had got the regulation quota of brain usage for the day, it was time to strut our way down to Electric Arena for Roots Manuva. Flanked by two DJs, our hero slowly summoned the ghosts of festival madness. Once the many new songs were taken care of and -Witness The Fitness’ was thumping forth, nary a still arse could be seen.
Richie Egan’s Jape came on next, and again, it seemed like he had to work to get the large mob involved. This may be down to the slightly re-jigged versions of favourites (-Floating”s guitar riff was absent, as was that nasty bass in -Strike Me Down’) and a buzz-stunting, mid-set acoustic interlude. But next thing you know, he’s pulled a punter out of the scrum to sing and has everyone’s full attention for the rest of the show. Strange, but ultimately satisfying.
We’re worried for Lisa Hannigan. Someone has her playing the expansive Main Stage in the late afternoon, and we’re afraid she’ll be blown away by a stiff breeze. Our fears are dispelled when we arrive to find her and band in full swing, charming the very birds down out of the trees. And we dare say not a single boyfriend complained of being dragged their by their girlfriends. One lovesick reveller blurted out a marriage proposal, of which more followed. Wowzzers. Kila, meanwhile, are having a not-so-private jam over at the Village Hall with Senegalese maestro Baaba Maal and his band. You’d think they’d all been playing together since they were in machine-washable nappies. Why the fuck did no one think of this sooner?
It’s six songs into Madness’ set back at the Main Stage and State still isn’t feeling it, so we sprint carefully across the slowly dissolving earth to the Crawdaddy tent to catch the rousing last tune by a gang called Explosions In The Sky. This is another good idea. The instrumental postrock fourpiece elicit a roar at the end of the set, and although informed they have time for another number, they slink away into the night, ignoring a deafening and extended -one-more tune’ chant.
Not that Four Tet minds. Now it’s his turn to dish out the goods to a shuffling, visibly tiring crowd, a nice challenge I suppose if you’re a DJ. A friendly looking character hunched behind a laptop and some gadgetry doesn’t sound like an event, but bars have closed and so, thankfully, have Madness and punters want to see what this guy’s made of. A layered, hypnotic orchestra builds and builds, smoke floods the stage, and the temperature seems to rise without much movement from the crowd. And then: Boom. Away we go. See you for breakfast.
Photos by Fionn Kidney – Click to see full-size.