It has been a busy festival season at Chordblossom as we have attended and covered practically all the local festivals and expanded on our coverage on last year. My main mission this time round was to improve on our coverage of Stendhal as last year we only managed photos. Ambitiously I set out to have an impressive video, in-depth live reviews and stunning photography. Due to a number of issues though my original team of 4 disintegrated; 1 pulled out the day before the festival, my camera man had to leave due to personal reasons on the Friday night and to top it all off our sterling reviewer Melanie’s car broke down on Friday which meant she had to be towed home. My plans had disintegrated and therefore what you see as our coverage is only a snapshot of what I managed to capture on my own and doesn’t entirely show how great the festival is.
Instead of our usual festival footage featuring interviews with bands and punters interspersed with live footage, I took the executive decision to just use live footage. All the big hitters are featured including Neil Hannon, Duke Special, Axis of, Trucker Diablo and a fair few of the smaller acts including Ria Maguire, The Steve Experiment and many more.
// Live Reviews
FRIDAY 16th AUGUST 2013
If you were looking to rock out on the Friday night, the Karma Valley Stage was the place to be. First up on the bill was the rousing folky rock of The Stumblebums. Featuring a plethora of folk instruments and the charming vocal talents of Ashleen Canning and Tommy McAleer, they kicked off proceedings in suitably cheerful and upbeat fashion.
Following them in, well, completely different fashion was all-female trio Vanilla Gloom. Describing themselves as ‘post punk’, they were loud enough to blow the cobwebs away but personable enough not to seem intimidating. Their music is a great combination of honey-smooth vocals, raucous guitars and clever, emphatic drumming. Their songs, with titles like ‘Spinster’ and crowd favourite ‘Lemon and Wine’ combine the chunky riffs and slinky basslines of bands such as The Runaways and The Distillers with the grunge melodies of the likes of Nirvana. The resulting sound is organic and strong, and shows enormous potential. Ones to watch, for sure!
On an altogether gentler note next was acoustic country singer Paul Casey, ably supported this evening by Marty Briar. Casey plays modern country music – no fake twang, just a clear, sweet voice, lovely harmonies and soppy lyrics that make you smile wistfully and think of your honey. Tonight he aired several songs from latest album ‘Big World’ (‘Something’s Gotta Give’, ‘Far’, and the amusing ‘Thanks For Letting Me Crash’), to a warmly enthusiastic crowd. Audience participation was encouraged, such as the handclaps and coached singalong during ‘I Do’. Casey is an accomplished singer/songwriter and musician (as his growing fame and relentless touring schedule can attest to), and tonight he undoubtedly gained many new fans.
Local lads Dyingbreed were up next, and even during soundcheck it was apparent to the small crowd hanging about that this set would be vastly different to the previous! And so it was…the band ambled onstage and simply erupted in an explosion of sound. Right from the opening bars of first song ‘Death In the Tides’ (from latest EP ‘Heads or Tales’) vocalist James Moore was all over the stage, leaping and flailing, crouched down like a coiled spring, giving it some serious welly. A delighted crowd quickly gathered to witness the band’s incendiary performance of tracks from ‘Heads or Tales’ and their first EP ‘Don’t Follow the Rabbit.’, Dyingbreed’s huge riffs, crushing basslines (particularly evident in ‘Majoris’) and quirky time signature changes were bang on tonight, the crowd duly went mental, almost breaking the stage barrier and drowning the band out, such was their fervour. Explosive, astonishing, enthralling; it is surely only a matter of time before Dyingbreed are headlining bigger gigs of their own, as well as festivals such as this one.
Last, and by no means least! It was time for Karma Valley Stage headliners Triggerman. Anyone who has seen them before knew what to expect, and for those who hadn’t, it could be summed up in one word: RIFFS. Triggerman are masters of the riff, protectors of the riff, rulers of the riff! This is a band who have written a songs about the almighty riff (‘The Riff Holds Sway’, which, as their signature tune, naturally got an airing tonight). The ‘chug chug, gallop gallop’ groove of their songs is both headbanging and hip-swaying material (try doing THAT when you’re drunk), before closing a storming set with ‘Son of Solomon’, with its ‘Cowboys From Hell’-esque riff and sarcastic lyrics. It’s a fitting end to a groove-laden, glorious gig that went down a treat with the ecstatic crowd. Horns up to the Karma Valley Stage!
The Bonnevilles are electric this evening. For only being a duo, Andy and Chris can fairly create a racket; definitely not an unpleasant one either. From the outset of ‘C’mon’ and ‘Army of One’ the tent begins to swell as a wave of garage blues fills the air. Current single ’10000’ is a corker and really goes to show why critics have ranted and raved about them for so long.
Duke Special captures the attention of the main stage tonight with a hit packed set that features plenty of sing-a-longs and a fair bit of swaying and dancing. From the foot tapping intro of ‘Last Night I Nearly Died’ to the plodding yet enthralling ‘I Let You Down (Like a Tonne Weight)’ Peter Wilson simply has the audience in the palm of his hand. ‘Digging An Early Grave’ is the first major high in the set though with its urgency rippling through the tent. Chip Bailey’s drumming and haunting/evil cackling voice adds substance to ‘Our Love Goes Deeper than This’ but Duke also has another string to his bow. The encore features a cover of Ivor Cutler’s ‘I Worn My Elbows’ that is beautifully fragile and inspires some true silence and adoration. A successful trip to Stendhal is masterfully completed with the evergreen ‘Freewheel’ and the jaunty ‘Portrait’.
SATURDAY 17th AUGUST 2013
As highlighted above Day 2 begins with the disastrous revelations that Melanie has suffered car trouble and my camera man has family commitments. Oh well at least there is plenty to see and do.
Wyldling in particular front woman Jilly St John are in no mood to help nurse any hangovers. Their set is unsurprisingly a tour-de-force with relatively new song ‘Demons’ sounding impressive. On the opposite end of the scale Ruairí and the Owls give today’s early risers some acoustic tinged rock to ease them back into proceedings. The Plantin Band draw the biggest crowd early on with an intriguing set featuring a delightful cover of Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’. But performance wise Our Krypton Son are something else. ‘Catalonian Love Song’ and ‘Sunlight in the Ashes’ clearly set Chris McConaghy out as the creator of spellbinding pop songs. It’s just a shame there are so few to witness it. Edwin Brooks amuses people in the sun with his quirky ukulele songs about bees and messy rooms – definitely a Flight of the Conchords vibe from him.
Susie Blue provides my first experience of the quaint Garden Shed Stage and her acoustic folk sensibilities are the perfect fit for it. I have to rush back to the Main Stage to catch The Clameens who are beginning to make waves in the local scene. It’s easy to see why with plenty of big indie anthems like ‘She’s Got My Heart.’ Paddy Nash & the Happy Enchiladas are their usual cheery selves and have everyone joyously boogying to ‘Rubber Bullets’ and ‘Works of Art.’ Meanwhile singer songwriter Ria Maguire captivates her audience at the Garden Shed with a charming cover of Tracey Chapman’s ‘Revolution.’
Alternative rockers Furlo are in fine form having just released their debut album with new song ‘Drink With Your Friends’ being a slow burning belter although ‘Lo Hi’ is still the killer tune from their repertoire. Conor Mason’s solo career may have taken a slight back seat due to the success of Little Bear but his set today is carefully crafted even features a young girl in the audience playing harmonica which gives Conor a laugh and doesn’t sound half bad. The buzz around Alana Henderson means her set is keenly attended and she doesn’t disappoint. The bow for her cello breaks on several occasions but her honest descriptions behind each song and her exquisite cover of Arthur Russell’s ‘A Little Lost’ make it a set to remember. You’ve got to feel sorry for Amidships, a fairly large crowd had gathered for their early evening set but their set is hit by torrential rain and a broken guitar. They manage to convince 10 or so people to come out and dance around to ‘Sine Waves’ but it could have gone so much better.
For those of who prefer music of a heavier disposition, Droids prove the perfect remedy with plenty of tasty riffs and growly vocals on offer. For some though Little Bear are the band to see and it’s no surprise to see the main tent packed. I’m quickly running out of superlatives to describe them but it is another phenomenal set. The song that set them off on this journey ‘I’d Let You Win’ is brooding and majestic and the set is filled with similarly well written songs that only suggest stardom isn’t far off.
Chris Keys continues with the acoustic delights in the Garden Stage with his charming repertoire. Intermission take to the Garden Stage next albeit in stripped down form and they are sensational. Despite taking a completely different tone the songs retain their purpose and ‘Closer’ definitely sounds emphatic.
Back on the main stage though are party animals Pocket Billiards and much like their previous shows this summer, manage to knock it out of the park once again. There is barely a moment in the set where the whole tent is bouncing up and down. It’s memorable for so many reasons from ‘So Many People, So Little Time,’ giving Spides abuse for putting NI in the news for the wrong reasons to a very chuffed BeeMickSee adding to the effects and ensuring that the stage is even more packed that usual. The local scene will be much poorer whenever this fantastic group decide to call it a day.
Axis Of are late on stage, it’s unclear whether it’s technical problems or what but as a result their set seems very short. The stage presence of Niall and Ewen continues to grow as they spent most of the evening prowling & stalking round the stage, meanwhile goading the very willing audience to get involved. ‘Life Hammer’ & ‘Stan Winston’s Rough Seas’ nearly blow the roof off the wooden stage; my ears were ringing for days.
Trucker Diablo have the unenviable job of following them but they take it in their stride. As usual whenever this band plays they seem to bring truck loads (sorry…) or fans with them. Having two albums under their belts means they navigate shorter sets like this with ease. ‘When’s It Gonna Rain,’ ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Drive’ stacked up and it’s just hit after hit. Trucker have been invited to every Stendhal so far and it’s plain to see why.
The Dead Presidents complete the impressive bill on the Air Stage and for those not interested in Hannon there is plenty of boogying to be had. Matthew Wilson struts about the stage and has the perfect soulful voice that is so rare on our shores. Their live show is tight and is the perfect celebration to end the evening for many.
Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy, playing a solo show in a tent in Limavady, who would have thought… Well it seems that everyone has been looking forward to this special occasion. Despite Neil’s best attempts charming and humouring us his set is beset by technical difficulties and a rather talkative crowd. Still I can overlook these slights whenever ‘Something For the Weekend’ and ‘National Express’ have everyone singing to their hearts content.
In between reviewing the bands and trying to get some respectable video footage I managed to grab some photos of the sights of the festival. Check out my Chordblossom @ Stendhal Festival 2013 Photo Gallery
I can’t say adequately how much of a great time I had at Stendhal. The musical line-up was extremely varied and featured choirs, strings, opera and many more that I simply didn’t have time to review. There was an impressive range of food, the staff were extremely pleasant and went out of their way to help out any one with a query or issue. I want to thank the organisers and in particular John Cartwright for sorting our access and only hope that my coverage has given you all an idea of how special Stendhal is. With no Glasgowbury next year I would seriously recommend paying a visit to Ballymully Cottage Farm and seeing what Stendhal has to offer, you won’t be disappointed.