Another year has come and gone, and just like that the masses returned to Ballymully Cottage Farm for one of the best lineups Stendhal Festival has had to offer since its inception back in 2008. Fully prepared to face a weekend full of rain and very little shine, the arrival of the sun alongside some soaring temperatures came as a more than welcome surprise with festival goers replacing their coats and wellies with layers of suncream.
With my bags extremely overpacked, a mistake I often make despite knowing I’ll probably end up wearing the same outfit the entire time (I did), I arrived to pitch tent during Friday afternoon’s only downpour. Despite the mud, I touched down at the BBC ATL Introducing stage to catch my first act of the night, modernlove. As they prepare for a world headline tour later this year, it comes as no shock that the boys drew in an attentive audience with their easy-going style and sound. They were sharp, they were cheery, and they set the bar high for the rest of the festival.
The weather was only set to improve as Red Eye Pariah took to the Air stage, announcing “it’s roasting”. There was no denying the groups great presence, demonstrated during moments such as bass player Alex Close very literally getting into the crowd as he took off his instrument and invited all around to sit down with him. The infectiously nostalgic melodies of ‘When Push Comes To Shove’ set the audience into motion, and they humorously ended the set by teasing “do you wanna hear a song by The Arctic Monkeys? That’s great, here’s one by Red Eye Pariah instead”.
After a few pints, I had the greatest cheesy gravy chip known to man before returning fully fuelled to the Henry McCullough stage for Sprints, a band I had been hoping to see for some while. The Dublin based garage-punk band can only be described as one of the nicest group of individuals to watch on stage, constantly showing their gratitude as they powered through a set of seriously relevant and weighty tunes. Emotive lines such as “she’s good for an up and comer” and “they never called me beautiful; they only called me insane” were sure to resonate with the many listeners whilst guitar driven melodies during the likes of ‘Literary Mind’ kept everyone on their toes.
If you weren’t already left sweating, you certainly would have been once the next visitors to the BBC ATL Introducing stage, Chalk, were finished. Despite it being my third time seeing the group, I’m yet to leave a Chalk gig not utterly mind blown by what I have witnessed and, it’s safe to say that everyone else on Friday night thought the same. A performance filled by the industrial sounds of their latest EP ‘Conditions’ alongside the hypnotic and electronic influences of new songs, the three-piece continue to break the boundaries of the post-punk world.
To conclude my first day at Stendhal, a must have visit to Wooly Woodland was made to have a much-needed groove with the effortlessly cool emcees of the Belfast Groove Collective as they drew in a crowd that just about shut the entire area down.
Set to face a day of even more sun rays, which did not in fact react well to my pasty pale skin, my Saturday morning began with an unplanned stumble towards the Air stage. There I witnessed one of my favourite acts of the weekend, Rebecca Mulhern. Despite not knowing what to expect, I was immediately won over by the opening tones and sweetness of ‘Sunday In Bed’. As she won over the masses, announcing “you’re all looking fresh this morning… a quiet Friday night?”, things only got better with the arrival of a stylish rendition of ‘Lover, You Should Come Over’.
Another accidental dander left me tucked away in the cozy corner of Wooly Woodland as I was graced by the harmoniously full sound of Tessio. I was left in awe of the pair as they release a series of subtly effective songs that demonstrated a skill for songwriting way beyond their years. “I was expecting like six people to be here” was the response to a wave of audience affection and cheer.
ROE drew in a crowd of young and old at the Stevie Martin stage, with all age groups collectively enjoying the dark indie-pop artist as she effortlessly displayed her skills for both piano and guitar.
From one empowering female artist to the next, Sasha Samara and her iconic red dress ukelele combo radiated joy from the Air stage. She was such a popstar as she danced around with the world’s biggest smile on her face. I particularly enjoyed her compelling performance of ‘Broken Vessel’, it was extremely emotionally raw with a great twist of an ending.
Looking out to the audience with an innocent smile, Ethan Hollan and his band had that infectious type of sound that had people tapping their feet and nodding their heads. Inviting everyone closer, Hollan was at one with the Wooly Woodland stage. His relaxed use of a loop pedal added new levels of enjoyment to the performance, not to mention the ridiculously funky bass lines that were thrown in.
A gap in the line-up gave me a brief moment to devour a well-deserved pizza before heading back up to the Stevie Martin stage for Robocobra Quartet, another highlight of my weekend. The gripping motifs and punctuated rhythms, drawing resemblance to the likes of Squid and Talking Heads, kept the crowd enthusiastically dancing as they baked away in the day’s heat. Despite being hidden away behind his drum kit, front man Chris Ryan’s large and in charge personality humorously shone as he ended the set stating, “we’re away to see Joshua Burnside”.
I was also away to see folk singer-songwriter Joshua Burnside whose charming voice filled the humid air as he dedicated his first song to his wife. Announcing that he will now play ‘Late Afternoon in the Meadow (1887)’, I turn to my right to see a group of friends so enthusiastic about this that they jump up and down, subsequently singing along to every word. Joshua’s music was unifying to all watching on the Karma Valley stage hill, his lyrics feeling like a little slice of home. It was only set to improve as Myles McCormick joined the band, banjo in hand, and a series of jokes about wrong setlists and mastering the “yeo” made us all chuckle.
Winnie Ama was dressed in the most fabulous sparkling blue dress, and despite having only seen the end of her set, she kicked off this Saturday night with a bang as she delivered one of the festivals most feel-good performances from the Henry McCullough stage.
Fya Fox takes the crown for her effortlessly smooth style, declaring “oh, I can’t say that there’s children here”. As she strutted in her high silver boots, Fya’s powerhouse vocals, particularly during ‘Like Loving Jesus’, and grand stage presence cemented her as an obvious one to watch. A trip to the toilets lead me to the sonic-pop trio Boy M5 who came fully equiped with their own banners and energetically catchy tunes.
As the sun began to set, the lights of the Henry McCullough stage began to beam from Lauren Ann, the alt-pop artist who takes the indie sound of Newdad and Just Mustard, turns it on its axis, and creates a distinctively angsty noise. Her songs were full of crashing choruses as she puts her all into them, something that didn’t go amiss by the audience who also began to give it their all as the set went on.
Undeniably, my favourite act of the weekend was also the final act I saw thus ending my Stendhal experience on the ultimate high. Even before they took to the stage, the crowd began to chant the name one of the finest bands about currently, Tramp. The atmosphere created between band and audience was unmatched, mosh pits forming left, right, and centre. Lead singer Sianna was born to rock the world, fronting the “indie punk rock hallions” in a way that would leave you speechless. The four bounced around the stage as they switch from pop-leaning harmonies to punk fuelled fury, with a cover of ‘Psycho Killer’ thrown in for good measure.
An outstanding weekend, I look forward to doing it all again next year (minus the sunburn).