► Day one – Friday
What day one of Sunflower festival lacked in sun, it made up in flowers. Upon arriving the whole farm was decorated beautifully and swarming with floral crowns atop excited campers.
The christening band, Palm Tree Dynamite, opened the Barn Stage by playing off the energy of eager campers, expressing confidence that many young performers lack. Crowd engagement went as far as to use the audience as their personal choir for one song. The frontman produced a reggae and rich tone whilst rocking the barefoot trend. One particularly poignant moment from the performance was the off stage guitar solo in “Trouble”. The crowd danced along, lapping up every bit of energy and feeding it right back to the band creating a wonderful environment for creating music.
The Campfire Stage at Sunflower saw various acts such as Donna Dunne, an American rock singer, who stood out for her comfort in performing and the joy she transferred to her listeners. The stage also heard solo artists such as David Goodwin, someone who won his slot through the Banbridge Buskfest. Though a cover set is not expected at this venue, his velveteen voice captured the softness of songs such as Passenger’s “Let Her Go”.
Meanwhile, Storm Tree opened the main stage with their incredible combination of Irish trad and classic rock through their talents with banjo, flute, violin, guitar, bass and drums. A better band could not have been chosen to baptise the main stage.
The first band to receive (and also be denied) an encore of the festival were The Titanics. The punk rock band out screamed the excited teenagers in songs such as “Get Out” but unfortunately could not out mosh their fans.
A band I was particularly excited to hear were the Tempest Fugitives due to the hype surrounding their grand slam win at the Jaegermaester Battle of the Bands. The funky four piece played the main stage in the early afternoon in the downpour of the Northern Irish summer. Their most striking and impressive song was the slow dramatic rock song “Brother”. It complimented the growling ethereal voice of the front man as well as being musically flawless.
Fresh from the launch tour of his latest single “Saints”, His New Atlas played a set at the Campfire stage in the drizzle. Eoghan’s performances are equal parts heart wrenching and breathtaking as he is brimming with musical talent, ability and passion. As he played “Broken Mirrors” it was impossible not to become entranced by the story his voice tells, initially a breathy and intimate whisper transforming into a powerful and beautifully sad cry just as the torrential rain came down creating the perfect pathetic fallacy. The crowd was also treated to a new unnamed song before ending on his latest single “Saints”.
Hailing from the Antrim coast, the extremely talented Runabay adorned the main stage. The most impressive part of Runabay will always be the cello. Acting as a drone, a melodic centrepiece and a driving force while beautifully completing the texture and setting the band apart. Despite the weather, although the dancing children in rain suits certainly got it right, the band managed to shake the stage and screen with their energy in iconic songs such as “Moon Turns Blue” to an extremely responsive crowd.
Bringing the afternoon, briefly, out of the rain dancing was the reggae-funk band Bunoscionn with their banjo player in tow. The crowd favourite “Take Back the Power” featured funky bass riffs and an upbeat rhythm permitting all kinds of dance fun.
The Gilded Thieves, an impressive five piece from Newcastle Upon Tyne played the Moot Stage. Musically, they were incredibly accomplished, producing country folk with the violin, mandolin, bass and guitar. A personal favourite was their song “Sirens” due the alluring power of the front woman’s voice however they lacked the stage presence and energy necessary to animate the crowd despite their upbeat folk music.
King Kong Company returned to Sunflower once again determined to create the largest performance and certainly succeeded. The dance band attracted all types of people who danced along with the dancer on stage whose costume changes seemed to be never ending.
One of the most experimental bands heard at Sunflower was definitely Evil Presidentes. The punk rave band drew several people into the Barn Stage when they played their “Super Massive Blackhole” cover featuring bongos and tambourines. Despite having a scrambled eggs punk band feel at first, the band came into their own as they grew more comfortable and the crowd could not have been more engaging and supportive, which is exactly the kind of environment the music industry needs.
The only flaw in Coco & the Butterfields performance was that it was not on the main stage. The hip hop folk ensemble featured a double bass, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, and banjo as well as rappers, beat boxers and singers. The angelic voice of the violinist and lead singer was so perfect and pure that it was more enticing and luring than a siren call. The soundscape created attracted the largest audience at the Campfire Stage for the day. The crowd was particularly responsive to the folk hoedown described as a “Jack and Rose dancing on the Titanic moment”, “Walls”.
Headlining the night on the main stage was the fantastic reggae rap rave band Dreadzone. Their set was a strange and wonderful blend of powerful, engaging and empowering. The lyrics encouraged the crowd to just let go and enjoy the performance as the whole band danced and performed. To just watch them was incredible due to the pure joy and love of their music which was reflected in the performance. Their set was made up of some old songs as well as new material, forcing the craziness to slow down as people tried to absorb all the music surrounding them, a perfect way to end the first day of Sunflower Festival 2015.
► Day two – Saturday
The Leftbacks opened the Main Stage early on Saturday afternoon. Their set was a combination of covers and originals including “Pumped Up Kicks” and their hit single “Lucy”. However they lacked a polished sound which may be attributed to the early set.
Last year’s Scratch My Progress five-piece R51 exuded passion and talent creating a perfect ambience which proves the bands place on the main stage despite their young stature. Their exuberant set ended on a dramatic release of music, instrumental solos and drumsticks.
Yet another fantastic Scratch My Progress band, Hot Cops showcased incredible prowess and energy which translated into the movement of the audience. The deep baritone voices blend perfectly and create an incredible encompassing sound further proving the well deserved hype surrounding this band.
The incredibly talented Owen Denvir played on the Campfire Stage, treating the younger audience to his velveteen voice which perfectly matches the intimate nature of his set. Songs such as “Jackhammer” barely scratch the surface of his musical abilities, he is clearly only laying the foundations of what is to come.
The next band to hit the main stage was the Galway five piece, My Fellow Sponges. Their alternative style produced a wonderful combination of musical styles and songs including influences from Christy Moore and Pink Floyd with quirky themes and playful musicality and stage presence. The girls voices were incredibly captivating and created a unique blend which suited songs such as “Chill the Beans” and “Home”, both contrasting examples of the bands work. Most of all however the band was engaging and inspiring to watch due to their confidence and happiness in their music.
The drummer and frontman of Robocobra Quartet arrived at the Barn Stage minutes before he was due to perform straight from hospital in true rock n roll style and still managed to perfect the atmosphere of the set with sarcastic commentary in between songs. It is difficult not to be completely overwhelmed by this bands intelligence and passion for originality. The brass add a certain tension to the climax of songs such as “Wicker Bar” whilst creating a distorted cool jazz effect complimenting the powerful vocals. It is doubtful that anything else more fantastically unique will appear on the Belfast music scene for a while.
On a completely different note, emotive folk singer Native Oak played a gorgeous quiet set in the Moot. His soft demeanour created a hushed and intimate atmosphere, captivating even the youngest of Sunflowerfest attendees with songs such as “Mine hertz ist dine”. His rich and kind storytelling voice filled the small Moot stage and demanded respect. One of his most enchanting pieces was the instrumental song “The Rabbit” which created a complete sound on the solo guitar and perfectly captured the story through dissonance and recurring motifs, common of modern folk.
Gracing the Pond Stage in the early evening was the magnificent Susie Blue, a perfect artist for this unique stage. Her incredible voice perfectly reflects the heart wrenching lyrics of songs such as “Trust Me”, ranging from melodic and clear to a husky and broken belt at the height of the song. Towards the end of her set she invited Megan McClean to sing harmonies in some of her new songs “Doing My Head In” and “Guess the End”. The pairs voices made a wonderful blend, perfecting the environment of hearing new material from Susie Blue. Her humble stage presence does not prepare you for the power that her music has, immediately demanding the attention of nearby ears.
The Hardchargers played their first set at Sunflower on the Main Stage featuring songs such as “Suicide Blues”, a honky tonk throw down featuring the ukulele; clearly defining themselves as a country rock band. However, it was not the rock ukulele that truly set the band apart but the drummers use of a washboard and his hands instead of drumsticks which created an incredibly unique element to the driving force of their music.
Expectations of Henry Cluney, of Stiff Little Fingers, were high as adults, children and teenagers spewed out of the barn to see the band, who fortunately did not disappoint. The crowd danced and sang along to the pure classic rock produced in his set.
Deany Darko’s ever evolving style became alternative funk for the Sunflower Main Stage and featured a huge ensemble of brass and many stringed guitars and basses. The energy and element of cool in his music and performance attracted the festival goers from all locations to dance along to songs such as “Mustang Sally” which have been retweeted by Gwen Stefani, according to the frontman himself.
The Campfire Stage ended on Saturday night with two separately incredible sets by The Twisted Sisters, a satirical folk band, and Ursula Burns, the comedienne harpist. Both artists attracted flocks of people to dance, laugh and sing along to the women’s political commentary through song. Both sets were incredibly creative and brilliant to be involved with, including a whole audience stage invasion during the Twisted Sister’s song “I Don’t Want to Die in Big Knickers”.
Finally on Saturday was the incredible Screaming Eagles, a pure and incredible rock band, perfect for the Main Stage. All the elements of being a fantastic rock band were covered, including the cool ensemble and charismatic stage presence. The band collaborated throughout their set to create a powerful energy in songs such as “No More” which allowed for each musician to explore and showcase their abilities, especially the talent behind the lead singer whose technical abilities made it feel as if his voice was alive, giving the final breath to the songs.
► Day three – Sunday
The first band of the slightly brighter final day of Sunflower Fest was the firmly established young band, Treehome. The three piece’s funky blues rock sound has clear influences from some of the greats, especially Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Their set featured many songs from their up and coming E.P such as my personal favourite “Follow the Light” and attracted a rather large crowd to have their hangovers soothed away by this bands unique blend of punk soul.
Amanda St. John gave a moving performance which demonstrated her prowess as a singer songwriter and highlighted her rich vocals and energetic performance, especially her song “Reach” about wanting someone to reach out to you. These kinds of sets were seen throughout the day and also featured artists such as Dublin based Naoise Roo whose heavy rock paired with a strong voice and violin made clear the influence of Irish music in her personal writing.
The Acoustic Showcase in the Moot was another opportunity to see some of the rising talents that Northern Ireland has to offer. Sonja Sleator projected her straight toned, powerful and rich chest voice accompanied by her simple but beautiful guitar part of her original song “San Francisco” through the little Moot Stage. “Gravity”, the title track of Matthew Malon’s E.P released in March was wonderful to hear from his bright vocals however this was only a compliment to his incredible musicianship on the guitar.
The acoustic feeling continued throughout the day with artists such as Daniel Duke hitting the Main Stage, whose hit song “Borderline” which won first place in an international folk singer song writing competition as well as through the bright sound which comes from the Dandy Horses on the Campfire Stage as they played their most well known song “Dancing on My Own” featuring the violin, mandolin and bass. They also treated their audience to “Hardluck Town”, the title track of the latest album. Both bands are acoustic folk in their own right but show the variety and talent within the genre in Northern Ireland alone.
The Wood Burning Savages are straight up dance in a field rock and therefore perfect for the Main Stage at Sunflowerfest. They seem to emit energy while they are on stage, managing to wake up the tired campers who are suddenly eager to dance and be involved in the pure performances of hits like “America” or their latest single “Premier League”.
Mike Mormecha, the beyond his reputation kind of talented producer, musician, and band member performed most of his set on the drums and vocals with his ethereal bass and synth accompaniment in “Kaleidoscope” however for the song “Everyday” he switched over to guitar creating an incredibly special and powerful moment for the audience as they were given a glimpse into his wondrous abilities.
The biggest thing in electro pop-punk in Northern Ireland at the moment is undeniably the Mormecha produced LORIS who opened their set with their hit single “Yeah”. Every live performance they give is polished to perfection and musicality. Their obvious musical chemistry creates a flawless vocal performance backed by the electro pop guitar and keys however the unique edge that this band has is the pulsating base elements from the drums and effervescent guitar riffs. LORIS is reliably incredible as they push the boundaries between musical genres in a way that has not been seen anywhere but Belfast yet.
The fantastic Skinny Lister headlined the Main Stage on Sunday night, ending Sunflowerfest on an infectious high that could not have been achieved by any other band. Their English folk-like style ranges from ballads to sea shanties which are each incredibly different but somehow stamped with the Skinny Lister trademark musicality. Throughout their set their double bassist crowd surfed with his cello and the front man jumped off the stage and over the barriers to be able to dance with the crowd. There was nothing like crowd surfing and singalong’s to original songs such as “Trouble on Oxford Street” and dancing to their original spin trad songs like “John Kanaka”. It was not possible not to fall in love with this band and their incredible talents seemed to explode from them as they played each note.
Overall, Sunflowerfest was an unforgettable weekend showcasing some of the most incredible musical talents and creating an amazingly welcoming environment where people of all ages could enjoy themselves and feel safe to enjoy the Bliss, Enchanted Garden and live music.