Hidden amongst the evergreen fields of the Fermanagh countryside is a petite family farm just outside Lisnaskea. Here plays host to one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets, Forfey Festival. A project of former SixStarHotel bassist Matt Minford, the festival is now in its eighth year and has continued to build on its success without sacrificing its spirt.
Rustic surroundings, barns for stages, home cooking and no port-a-loos!? What is this place masquerading as a festival? Forfey’s strong DIY ethic has developed a passionate collective to which the festival has become a yearly pilgrimage.
◀ FRIDAY ⁞ 9th August ▶
Curtain raisers The 1930’s are the happiest people on the farm as they look out at the Hayshed. They see rows of expectant faces filling the barn overspilling into the courtyard. A tremendous turnout for an opening act. They a touch upon ‘Sisters and Brothers’ before ‘To The Backs Of My Sleeves’ – an ethereal number glistening in Munford shine. They announce that this is the final performance of The 1930s, however do not worry as they’re re-naming themselves New Ancestors. Fresh track ‘If You Let Me’ is a further step in the right direction for a band with a renewed sense of purpose.
Amidships have an increased number of prying eyes after taking the crown in an extensive three gig battle of the bands in the Belfast recently. It seems all that live practise has added an extra polish to their collection of atmospheric folk-rock. Suave front man JP McCorley shifts between delicate harmonies to intense shrieks, it’s an enchanting watch. Touches from Fiona McAuley on violin ads extra depth to the Antrim based quartet. This is music with genuine spirt and soul which is well worth your attention.
As you walk through the site’s central courtyard you hear the odd bleed from a soundcheck or two, but nobody drew more attention from their fuzzy noises than Sons of Burlap. When they eventually make their way onto stage it’s a combination of members of And So I Watch You From Afar and Axis Of with their dads! It’s a fun festival moment as they blast out high energy folk to get the crowd jiving.
Meanwhile in the Lie-To Seven Summits gives us reasons for optimism. This could be the start of a re-focusing for the Belfast four. Their 2012 LP ‘Fossils’ was a fine collection of perky alternative pop tracks, tinged with melancholy (if you haven’t given that record a spin yet it’s definitely worth your time). However since then those tracks haven’t been given too many run arounds on the festival circuit. Which is a shame. ‘Sooner Or Later’ shimmers with a searing chorus, keys adding conflicting brightness to proceedings. They’re rough round the edges at times though with ‘Burning Heart‘ skewing out of sync before recovering for the final third. They debut a new song which continues the themes and sounds of ‘Fossils’ but has have an injection of more rockier flavours. Rory Nellis jokes about missing a festival last year due to a broken leg. The perils of Saturday morning football, eh?
Very few trios can make the kind of unrelenting punk rock racket Axis Of do on a consistent basis. It’s an admiral trait which continues to increase their ever fledgling following. As darkness falls their set divulges into complete chaos in front of them. Mosh pit after circle pit after mosh pit. It’s exhausting stuff. So much that we yearn for a slower number to give us a break. ‘Lifehammer’ is a fruitful attempt but results in a similar helpings of communal ruckus. Maybe we’re missing the point on this occasion. They are a firecracker on stage and the roisterers are left yearning for more.
To close out Friday evening Daithi stands at the top of the Lie-to, with only ice blue light illuminating him in the pitch black music cave. He is armed with a table of DJ gear and a fiddle. Dance beats begin to play, a mix of electro and deep house. Then comes the twist. He grabs his fiddle and lofts it in the air before nestling it under his chin, he vigorously slides the bow up and down creating a dramatic screeching noise. It flows perfectly into the rhythm of the song, as he starts looping and swirling the sounds emanating from his strings. He grooves to his mix, bopping back and forward as he twists nobs and shifts faders. This clash of club beats and trad elements works seamlessly, with his fiddle playing adding a touch of alluring spectacle. The Galway native might just be the most unique Dj experience you’ll see locally and we hope he’ll be strutting stuff this side of the border again very soon.
◀ SATURDAY ⁞ 10th August ▶
The sun rises from its slumber and those who wake up before 9am (or are yet to go to bed) can get involved with some group exercises and activities managed by gym specializing in pilates in Atlanta. This is a great chance to limber up and prepare themselves for another day of festival goodness.
Returning to the scene of the crime is Little Rivers aka. ex-Colly String Callum Carins. Music festivals aren’t the most romanic of places to have anniversaries but for Callum, Forfey will always hold dear. It was only a year ago that his former bandmates were unable to make it for their mid-afternoon slot, prompting the Bangor native to go it alone – delivering an emotional display of pastel folk. The rest, they say, is history. Twelve months on we have a more refined performance, still stripped back to a man and his guitar. A well needed chill out set.
A man who doesn’t understand the word ‘chill’ is Bee Mick See. The emerging Belfast MC bounces around the Lie-To as if he’s had three boxes of Golden Nuggets for breakfast. With hype man Paul Denver in tow they immediately create a corridor between punters through middle of the barn. They run up and down this space, whipping out exercise mats to do sit ups and getting in fans faces at every opportunity. It’s more of an entertainment spectacle rather than a traditional music set but it compliments Bee Mick See’s stage persona perfectly. There isn’t a gig in the country like this and those in attendance lap up the comedic elements. New track ‘Hey Girl’ and the bizarre ‘Who Likes Laughing’ are the crowd’s favourite, with the later being sang in the campsite until Sunday morning. You just can’t predict these things.
Late replacements always have a nack for coming from left field to wow and surprise us. Well, this time we were ready. Hologram have showed numerous times this summer exactly why everybody should stand up and take notice. Filling in for Fair Fellow, the Belfast four bring dramatic alt-pop to shake up the mid-afternoon Hayshed dwellers. Their opening cover from a movie soundtrack is an adventurous choice, which they nail with elegance and grace. We don’t want ruin it for you, but you need to hear this live. They continue in the same vein, pumping out bounding piano struts such as ‘Fight Or Flight’. Paul Shelvin is the centrepiece of the operation and has an impressive vocal range filling out their swooning melodies. Only at the start of their musical journey, there could be big things to come from this group.
The art of the pop up band is not lost in Fermanagh as Skeletons merit many a head scratching. “Who on earth are Skeletons?” you might ask. Well, they’re more familiar than you think. Skeletons are the second side project of More Than Conquerors (the other being stripped back folk incarnation John Antler and The Great Deceivers). This time they’re joined by Alan Duddy on Vocals for some rip roaring Hardcore-Punk. It’s a brave move to say the least.
The members of MTC lack their usual insouciance, the pressure’s on as they openly admit these tracks are only in their fifth run out. Kris Platt starts in centre of the barn with guitar and mic stand, his crowd invading antics coming early. What unfolds is the most manic, pulsating diverge into all things heavy we’ve seen all summer. Duddy excels with a vein popping delivery of wretched growls, backed up by Danny Ball’s sludgy riffs. It’s a rampaging showcase, the band darting around the stage and into the moshers. The entire thing clocks in at just over 15 mins with the crowd left stunned in amazement. Many bands attempt this type of noise. Few can deliver it with the style and precision Skeletons did. Will we see them again anytime soon? We’ll have to wait to find out.
It comes to that time on the Saturday where our minds turn to food with a mass BBQ fulfilling the needs of the entire campsite. Ironically the band delivering the soundtrack to pork consumption is recent upstarts PigsAsPeople. New single ‘The Art of Leaving Your House’ is a cagey affair, blending choppy riffs with a cluster of symbols. Lyrically their raw frustration and crude angst are laid bare for all to see. Chris Lecky is left screaming the song’s final word to those in The Pit, “I’ll sing this song until I bleed. I sing ‘till my friends are freed / I hate this country, I hate this land / I think we need sometime to mend”. It’s one powerful knock-out blow to finish a loaded set.
Jamie Neish might be better known for bashing out beats behind the kit, but his solo acoustic material should not be sniffed at. In fact, Jamie leaves the Minford farm as one of the stand out performers of the weekend. Juxtaposed to his More Than Conquerors efforts, Jamie is much more tender proposition on his lonesome. ‘Belly Of The Beast’ is gripping and dark, while ‘Sickness In The Sunshine’ features genuinely touching lyrics covering themes of family and spirituality. A pair of birds fly into the barn during a song and nestle above Jamie’s head. Just when we thought Jamie might be the Dr. Doolittle of the music world, the birds ceremoniously poo on his jacket. At least Jamie saw the funny side. Oh, nature.
The darkly clad Mojo Fury are as sharp as ever during the penultimate bash in The Pit. They open with the atmospheric ‘Safe In The Arms’ before moving onto the brittle choruses of ‘Origami Bird’. Both new, both impressing. Both more layered than most tracks on their previous album. However one song which is packed to the gills with noise is old favourite ‘We Should Just Run Away’, a carrousel of incessant synths and guitar.
They have a trick of their sleeve yet. Returning to the kit Thomas Camblin drums up a roiling rhythm, thumping over and over until the opening riff of Marylyn Manson’s ‘Beautiful People’ stirs the crowd into action. ‘The Different Between’ ups the ante even further. It’s brash, it loud and has a rattling finish. Mojo Fury are a quality rock outfit who could grace any stage around the world. These new tracks might be the catapult to get them there.
Before the campsite frolics begin Guilty Pleasures takes it’s annual slot at the end of the night to appease the closet Taylor Swift fan in us all. It’s a massive disco featuring crowd surfing to One Direction, moshing to Beiber and of course, the taps’ are ‘aff! Forfey just would’t be same without it.
If you’ve got to this point in the review and you haven’t been to Forfey yet then I demand you to buy your tickets for next year as soon as it’s possible. It is a paradise for anybody who loves local music. It’s the most laid back and friendly festival of the whole lot. It’s not about flash, it’s about soul and Forfey has it in bucket loads.
Find our photo gallery from the festival [HERE]