While the major festival scene in Ireland seems in danger of heading into a bottle neck, around the country the smaller events look to be flourishing. In only its second year, the Westport Festival certainly feels as if its getting a lot of things right. At one end of the site you have a dedicated camp site, at the other an entry point straight into the town. In between sits a bill that may drift a little towards the mainstream (there is certainly an air of a local festival for local people) but still offers enough international names to offer a sense of occasion. Westport House also has plenty for the younger festival goers to do, along with a few of the bands – every time we visit the water splash, pedalos or miniature train ride there appears to be a Hot Sprocket in attendance. Best of all for State is the Roisin Dubh stage, programmed by the Galway venue, tucked away in a courtyard and featuring a number of the most vital Irish bands around these days. Here’s what caught our eye…
ABC – Main Stage
No doubt kept going by the nostalgia circuit, the presence of Martin Fry and some other people is still an absolute treat on a warm Saturday afternoon. If we’d forgotten just what a big noise they were both commercially and critically in the ’80s, this soon reminds us. The likes of ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘When Smokey Sings’ and a magnificent ‘Look Of Love’ go down a storm with the camping chair brigade here but it’s not a huge stretch to see them pulling off the same trick at somewhere like the Electric Picnic.
Daithi – Roisin Dubh Stage
State has already seen our fair share of young men with laptops this summer and, to be honest, most have left us pretty cold. Daithi, however, actually seems to be getting better and better. Where once he was caught in the trap of how to present his one man electronic act live, this evening slot proves that he’s starting to nail it. It helps that he has the fiddle in his armory, allowing the odd flash of musicianship to pepper his time spent hunched over his table of effects. With a good few months of the festival run to go, we can’t wait to see where he ends up.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Main Stage
Arriving direct from a slot at Glastonbury, Elvis Costello is the closest we get to rock royalty over the weekend. Unlike some doing the rounds, he seems to enjoy a healthy relationship with his back catalogue and his happy to trot out the hits. Not all of them emerge in entirely recognisable form however (‘Good Year For The Roses’ gets a strange arrangement) and he’s hardly in the most chatty of moods. ‘Tramp The Dirt Down’ does get an involved and enlightening introduction though, especially in light of the hysteria surrounding certain reactions to the death of Margaret Thatcher. The songs from his post-punk early years are magnificent, performed with a vigour that bellies his advancing years. Not a bad way to round things off at all.
Hayseed Dixie – Marquee Stage
Keeping a one trick pony running for over ten years is no mean feat, yet here come Hayseed Dixie to ply their novelty blue grass / hard rock crossover. The song remains the same as it ever was, quite amusing when they tackle the likes of ‘Highway To Hell’, ‘Ace Of Spades’ and the rest; less engaging when they visit their own material.
Kid Karate – Roisin Dubh Stage
On a dank, grey Sunday afternoon a strange noise is drifting across the festival site. It’s almost primeval, a raging howl. It turns out to be Kid Karate, who themselves have turned out to be a far different proposition than we expected. Bolstered by Ian McFarlane on bass for his third gig of the weekend, their combination of electronics of bombastic rock stops you in your tracks. If there was a back wall, we’d be pinned to it. The most pleasant surprise of the two days.
Le Galaxie – Roisin Dubh Stage
Given their recent history, the thought of Le Galaxie falling flat at an Irish festival is pretty much inconceivable. Even so, it’s interesting to watch them tackle a task perhaps not quite so straightforward as closing Forbidden Fruit. They arrive in the evening light to be faced with a crowd mixed between the converted and the curious. They leave an hour later with everyone firmly in the former camp. You’ll know the score by now but this is still proof that they can only go from strength to strength and, in Mick Pope, have perhaps the campest live performer around.
Mojo Gogo – Roisin Dubh Stage
While the dusty surroundings of the courtyard bring us a lot of familiar names, State is always on the look out for new experiences and thus make a beeline for the previously unheard Mojo Gogo. It proves a wise move, offering a different take on guitar alternative music from most of their contemporaries. The slicked back hair and low slung guitars will give you a clue which direction they take it and, while it’s nothing new, their brand of chest beating rock has us hooked.
The Waterboys – Main Stage
While there is a strong showing from the new crop of Irish bands over the weekend, much of the Westport crowd is just as happy to look to the past. The Waterboys, however, manage to straddle the two with ease and while their set is as much a run through past glories as Costello’s Michael Scott is as fiery as those attacking their guitars across the site. There are nods to the more traditionally Irish end of things but it’s the ‘big music’ era material that really sets the pulses racing, particularly a raging ‘Don’t Bang The Drum’.