Sun, sand, surf and music.
The concept of a joint music and surfing festival fills us with dose of healthy skepticism. While not exactly a dichotomy, MCD and Sony Ericsson’s second annual joint festival venture to marry the two requires a lot of attention to detail to make room for itself in an already over-saturated market. Last year’s inaugural event was received well by locals (of Kilkee, Co.Clare) and attendees alike. This year, the headliners consisted of The Zutons, The Futureheads, Supergrass, Starsailor, Seasick Steve, Travis, The Coronas and Kila making up the bill. Hardly groundbreaking and all a little too ’90s Dadrock for our tastes but still room for a good time. According to one of the locals, last year’s success meant that a certain element of greed slightly overshadowed the runup ito the festival in Kilkee in the run-up to the fesitval with numerous local groups and businesses competing to run exclusive campsites. Cois Fharraige’s charm to punters however is that doesn’t pretend to compete with larger festivals like Oxegen and Electric Picnic. It does however benefit from being the most mainstream three-day summer festival taking place in the West of Ireland.
Having travelled for a good four hours from Dublin on the Friday night, we miss the main event including The Futureheads and The Zutons but we arrive in time to reap the benefits of the street party atmosphere spilling itself onto the streets of Kilkee. The pubs are overspilling in capacity and many have taken to the streets and Kilkee’s vast horse-shoe beach to drink. It all seems good-natured and harmless and the torrential rain which battered the town all day is largely forgotten.
The bad weather was quickly forgotten on Saturday as blue skies and a whole lotta sunshine came out to play. A walk around Kilkee was pretty much the same as the night before; lots of people drinking beer cans and bottles on the beach, the pubs heaving while a band played outside as entertainment. The genial atmosphere and general relaxed vibe almost makes us forget that there’s supposed to be some surfing happening somewhere, but there are no signs and people seem content to hang around instead. We later learn that the surfing took place in nearby Spanish Point with an event called Cold Water Clash (it’s on the festival main page if you scroll down. Alas, we didn’t). There was also bizarrely a search and rescue exercise which took place just off the beach which State confused with a real rescue for about 10 minutes. What was the point?
After some fish and chips in a nearby family-run pub, we make our way up to the large blue tent housing the music events for the festival. It’s 6pm and Liverpool band 28 Costumes have drawn the short straw and are playing first. Living up to their name, they play to about 28 people. We have a quick look around the grounds instead which is about the size of a GAA pitch with one bar, the obligatory inflatable DJ booth, toilets and a series of concession stalls. Nothing was happening and the surfers were obviously getting changed after a hard day, so we tottered off to watch Ireland vs Georgia. The less said about that the better.
When we returned nearly two hours later, Kila were doing a much better job of getting the now-gathering crowd going with their usual upbeat trad-fusion sound. They certainly put on a decent show and gave the assembled something to dance to.
Seasick Steve on the other hand was a little different. His brand of “doghouse blues” involves true tales of woe played on a series of banjaxed and broken guitars. Steve sips on a shoulder of Jack Daniels, tells us about his troublesome past, serenades a lovely lady up from the audience and generally plays the 8-bar blues for an hour and a half. The interest in his show should be waning after an hour but it doesn’t and State watches the front rows go bananas for blues for another half hour.
And so to the main event. Supergrass are due on and the rectangular tent is about 60% full. The next day a local man from Lahinch will tell me that 2007’s event had 50,000 people as so many people jumped the fence. State seriously doubts the field holds more than 20,000 at a stretch but that may explain the double-checking of wristbands on the way in.
Out from the side step our forgotten teenage heroes – brothers Gaz and Mick Coombes, Danny Goffey, Mick Quinn. It’s been so long since we cranked up the volume on I Should Coco and In It For the Money that we had forgotten how good this band were. 13 years on from their debut, drummer Danny still looks about 18 while Mick still plays the bass like he’s trying to keep from attacking his body. Only Gaz shows real signs of aging with a rocking tache and a hat which hides his bald spot. They are joined by new auxiliary guitarist Charly, who it turns out is the Coombes brothers’ youngest sibling.
They start with recent single, the ’70s stomp of ‘Bad Blood’ and a couple of unimpressive newer songs, prompting a few in the front to start an impromptu mosh circle which is hastily and heavy-handedly quashed by six frazzled security staff. Yes, six. The band play ‘Moving’ and one of the mosh culprits jumps in response, prompting the security guards to drag him off to the side for the petty crime of enjoying himself. From there on in, Supergrass are in nostalgia mode – ‘Richard III’, ‘Alright’, ‘Sun Hits the Sky’, ‘Caught by the Fuzz’, ‘Strange Ones’, and ‘Pumping on Your Stereo’ sound great and the crowd react ecstatically pogoing like it’s 1995. After that, the crowd spill out onto the streets and the pubs for more revelry late into the night.
So not a total disaster in terms of line-up and a good time was had but one can’t help but feel that the Cois Fharraige organisers could improve the general festival vibe by taking advantage of the seaside town of Kilkee a bit more. The festival grounds could be the whole town so why confine the festival to a GAA pitch and a couple of surfing events a few miles away? Why not utilise the wonderful beach during the day with some live music or general festival randomness which made Electric Picnic so popular? The setting is Cois Fharraige’s biggest draw and for a festival like this to be a continued success, it needs to include some familiy-led events and allow locals to get fully involved in the attractions of the weekend.