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For a seventh year in a row we were all invited to the Minford family farm to share a weekend full of music and camaraderie in the heart of the Fermanagh countryside. Within the first few minutes of arrival you can tell there is a something different about Forfey. As you pitch your tent and look around it feels much more intimate and cosier than your average local music fest. There is the infamous family dog “Rex” dandering round your feet and the smell of home cooking filling your nostrils.
The weather is not too kind on those who have made the trip to the Erne County as some of the heaviest rain an Ulster summer can produce batters down on those still trying to put together their weekend homes. Most of the campsite eventually find shelter in The Pit as Before Machines get us off to a blistering start on the Friday evening. Katharine Philippa is next up and begins to mellow the mood in the Hayshed (a stage which literally has a selection of hay bails to chill out on). The Portadown native belts out her more recognisable tracks “Whiter Than I” and “Wake Up O Sleeper” to an audience stunned by the pure intensity of her performance. She eventually changes pace to end her set with a gentle joyous unnamed French song which garners the first sing-a-long of the weekend. A very nice festival treat.
Go Wolf christen the Lie-To Stage with an indie-pop infused performance which interestingly featured QR codes posted everywhere around the band, our local acts aren’t afraid to try out new technology it seems. Then came the mid-evening 1-2-3 punch of pop brilliance. The Wonder Villains are the first ones up to get our feet stamping with front-woman Eimear embracing the festival spirt with her custom made Wonder Villains rainbow wellies. Runaway Go packs out the Hayshed during a set where the crowd was loving every minute of it. Song after song, creating a greater sense of hysteria with a dedicated selection of infatuated fans at the front leading the audience choir. The band seem genuinely touched by the reaction and it is great to see that all the touring and promotion has paid off for the Belfast five-piece; bigger and better things surely await. Silhouette then rounds out the evening in what was the band’s best festival performance of the summer.
If you weren’t exhausted by all that singing and dancing by now, well the best was yet to come. More Than Conquerors have been stealing the show at almost every festival they’ve appeared at this summer and Forfey was no different. Any memories of them being an indie act have slowly faded away by now as the crowd gets straight up rowdy during a set full of their own brand of rock-pop tunes. Gareth Dunlop serves as an enjoyable rest bite before the true madness is unleashed. Not Squares simply create pandemonium. The Pit was the perfect venue as their funk driven groove developed into a pure dance inducing rave. Glow sticks, flashing lights and big sweaty mosh pits. What is there not to love?
Farriers have become old reliables on the festival circuit this year, always drawing in a crowd to have a good ole folk hoe-down under the star filled night sky. The packed first day then comes to a close with a stellar performance from Mike Mormecha’s Clown Parlour. Excitement for the band’s return could be felt throughout the day and their cult status was solidified during a set which mainly included tracks from their debut album. It was a “lock-in” type atmosphere in the Lie-To. There was group swaying, lighters in the air and even an odd couple who ballroom danced at one point. “Stanley Kubrick” garners one of the biggest reactions of the evening before, Fiona O’Kane from RunawayGo makes her way through the crowd to perform a rip-roaring cover of “Tusk” with the band. Campsite entertainment to finally exhaust us all was the aptly named the “Exhausted Farmers”, who brought an array of percussion instruments including a tractor which you could make a racket with by having a bongo on it yourself. A fun group jamming session which was one of many little details which made the weekend in Lisnaskea such a unique and memorable one.
The sun rises but once again grey clouds loom on the Saturday morning. A quick stop at the generously priced festival café and we are ready to go. The second day provides the most variety in entertainment for festival goers. There is a full program of art exhibits and workshops if you want a cultural breather. Table tennis for those with Olympics withdrawal symptoms, and a beautiful rustic coffee shop where many put their feet up and have a game of scrabble in front of the fire.
The dainty Jepettos are made for a festival like this, getting the Hayshed off to a gentle yet upbeat start. Fermanagh natives Window Seats are very impressive along with Morning Claws who play a somber second ever last show. Callum Cairns is the curly haired bassist from Colly Strings who put himself into Forfey folklore on Saturday afternoon by taking to the stage all by himself to fill in for the rest of the band who had travel issues. The crowd was behind Callum all the way as he tested out his solo project Little Rivers in front of a big audience in the Lie-To. It was a lovely moment which defined the how appreciative crowd was all weekend for our fantastic local musicians.
If we’d said it once we’ll say it again, Jamie Neish is a special talent. Doing double duty for the second festival this summer, the More Than Conquerors stick man captures something special during his stripped back acoustic performances. His jokey stage banter can slightly take us out of the performance after such brooding and touching songs, but we are willing to forgive him this time. Emerald Armada create a slight frenzy in the Pit during one of the stand out performances of the weekend, before Havana House Party surprise many with a quite simply flawless cover of “Crying Lighting” by Arctic Monkeys.
In Case of Fire impress after the whole campsite chow down on a mass of BBQ-ed burgers and hot dogs. Strait Laces then throw their hat into the ring for band of the weekend until Katie and The Carnival show us exactly why their stock has been rising in recent weeks. Axis Of bring on the riffs while relative unknown Bad Operator persuades organisers that perhaps a bit more electronic music next year wouldn’t be a bad thing. A surprisingly excellent drum and bass DJ set.
The Lowly Knights and David C. Clements were fantastic as always. Both stages where standing room only, packed to the brim. Even the ares outside of the barns are full of punters on their tip-toes to trying to get a glimpse of the action. Its merry, its jovial, its a fitting end to live music for a weekend which truly lived up to the high expectations many had for it.
The night finally comes to a close with the slightly surreal Crooks Guilty Pleasures. More of a disco rather than a musical performance, it’s amazing what a man with a mask and an i-Pod can do in an old converted farm. The tops are off for those at the front and seeing thirty half-naked lads mosh to “Call Me Maybe” is a sight I don’t think will ever leave me. It is something a bit different, but on behalf of all those in attendance we plead that it never goes away.
If I was to describe Forfey in a word, it would be “special”. Not to take anything away from our other brilliant local festivals, but the organisers of these two days in Fermanagh have been able to capture an atmosphere that could only be created in a place like Forfey Farm. Maybe its because the stages are on solid ground. Maybe its because the site is so secluded. Maybe its because there is no time-table clashes. We – like many – aren’t able to put on finger on what exactly made Forfey such a unique festival experience. All we know is that everybody who was there were first and foremost there for the music, and perhaps that is the most important element of all. It was safe, it was social, it was friendly. The bands seem to love playing it and we had a ball watching them. Congratulations to the Minford’s and all their team of volunteers on a fantastically run festival this year.
We highly recommend that if you are looking for a different festival experience next year then a trek to Forfey Farm will not disappoint. Tell your friends to come on down. Lets help make next year the biggest one yet!