Building on the success of four previous colour filled incarnations, Hillsborough’s Sunflowerfest returned for another outing with an eclectic bill hoping to please a wide ranging punter base. Good news to start any outdoor festival was the Friday evening stayed dry. But less about the weather and more about the bands.
An all female Japanese rock trio is probably the last thing you’d expect at a NI local music fest, but with Akabane Vulgars OSB Sunflowerfest adds a bit of international spice to the early proceedings. And with the rather unique task of following that were Halloween advocates Little Miss Stakes. With ghoulish face make-up complimenting the leather attire, LMS’ aren’t ever going to be everybody’s cup of tea – In fact they’re probably not the tea drinking types. Their set in the Barn Stage is the closest thing we’ve seen to a punk Rocky Horror Picture Show played out within the grounds of a farm. It’s an interesting exhibition of horror pageantry, but musically it is a more style over substance.
The Rupture Dogs might not have been the most active of acts in 2014 but on the Main Stage on Friday they showed off exactly why they are probably the most underrated rock act in the north of Ireland. Not to say there are legions of neysayers (if any), however the Co. Down natives are far from given the recognition they deserve for putting on some the most intense live shows around. Their early evening set is frantic, pulsating with beastly songs which could shake arenas to their foundations. Bassist Terry McHugh wails his gigantic head of silky blonde hair like some kind of luscious weapon, while frontman Allan McGreevy made us question if he actually has a bag of rusty nails for vocal chords. Musically they have room to be a bit more progressive and perhaps ambitious, but don’t pass up the next time you can see these lads in action.
If you haven’t made up your mind on The Bonnevilles by now then you might have reasons to reopen your file on the Lurgan duo. Their jaunt on the Main Stage was built upon the scuzzy bluesy material fans have come to know well, but it was fresh tracks which caught the ear. With more prominent melodies and riffs oozing in a southern drawl, The Bonnevilles are taking leaves out of The Black Keys play book and it’s sounding great.
Peter McCauley played all the Rams’ Pocket Radio hits on the Campfire Stage with varying degrees of gusto. All on his lonesome, the local piano basher was a whole lot less bashy and more nimble with his piano playing this time round, though it didn’t stop him from flaunting his trademark sharp vocal assents. He asked some of the crowd to join his on stage for his last song to round out a wholly engaging flourish of acoustic rock-pop.
Waterford electronica collective King Kong Company were perfect foil in the lead up to headliners The Orb. Reggae vibes were at the centre of their grooves. Slowing down the pace of the day, only for them to jolt us with a rave every other track. The band swept us off our rocking feet as we slipped into a loosened psyche as suddenly everybody became our best friend.
Godfathers of British electronica The Orb are greeted with a heroes welcome as they slither to their decks; a mass of the dreaded and the barefoot swarming together, front and centre. The air is thick and unmistakably potent, a stiff chill encouraging dancing from the early stages. Unsurprisingly from an act who once immutably played chess on TOTP, on stage theatrics aren’t exactly their bag. A screen provides hallucinogenic visuals which mirror the 90’s ambience of the beats. Each track bleeds into another and it’s a tough sell to anybody for which isn’t a fan. A splicing of Eminem’s ‘Without Me’ makes a surprising spin, but seemingly only to mix a reference to toking up.
Beaming in confidence with a frontman sporting the largest quiff in Hillsborough, Lipstik Lizards proved on the second day that an early slot doesn’t have to be a hindrance to stamping your authority on the festival. After the smooth electronic jams of the night before the crowd were thirsty for some six-string induced noise and the Belfast quartet delivered it in spades. With a set based on a foundation of hair metal we were happy that the silk scarves and colourful spandex had been given a miss. It’s slightly baffling to hear a youthful band play music so very much its own bygone era. Sure it’s fun, but you’re never quite sure if they’re actually taking their fables of sleaze seriously or it’s a dare gone too far. Ultimately the musicians at the heart of the music are talented enough to put on a great show but if only their set was full of tracks with the thundering progressive scope of ‘The Only One’. We’ll be hearing a lot from these five in the future of NI music, but perhaps not under this guise.
Marked out as one of the most promising classic rock acts in Northern Ireland (for which we have many) Screaming Eagles saunter onto the Main Stage and decant a repertoire of gutsy axe anthems. Similar to fellow local rockers Trucker Diablo, the Banbridge four-piece have an American shine to their work and a domineering vocal performance to give tracks like ‘Devil and the Dust’ a modern edge.
There is more than just the tunes to enjoy (although we do love the tunes.) Sunflowerfest is a thriving hub of boutique market stalls and remedy stands. Children are incredibly well catered for too, and once again families have flocked to the festival in great numbers. Our personal favourite was the Screen in the Trees. Quite literally a screen hidden amongst the trees, it’s hard to beat watching Father Ted and cult movies under a starry sky!
Saturday at Sunflowerfest wouldn’t be the same without a thrown down from Pocket Billiards. The buckfast swigging skankers fairly packed out the main stage with a mini army of a brass section to reign down good time ska tunes. It’s a lengthy outing but energy levels don’t dip, rarely does ‘SPIDE’ and ‘Belfast Town’ produce a tame crowd response. If they keep coming, so will the riotous revellers.
To end a day which scored high in the grizzly hairy men department, The Answer proudly demonstrate why they are at the summit of Irish rock with a heavyweight showing which swooned a bustling Tubby’s Farm. If we thought it was cold on the previous evening then Saturday proved that winter is looming. Nestling amongst the throng at the front was a good tactic to keep warm. It was 90 minutes plus of a career spanning set of tracks honed in front of the most passionate rock fans in the world, and it’s no surprise that the Newcastle rockers are a well oiled machine at this point.
Front man Cormac Neeson shuffles and bops across the stage like a possessed southern preacher, his on stage antics the rock n roll soul of the band. ‘Under the Sky’ is nicely layered with Texas charm, ‘Never Too Late’ opening with a gloriously outlandish guitar solo which skids into punchy hard rock. ‘I’ve heard this place is full of long haired, beer drinking hippies!….sounds a lot like our studio.’ proclaims Neeson as he’s greeted by rousing cheers. There is nobody better on this island than The Answer at putting on a mighty classic rock show.
As much as we should pretend to the contrary, we had no clue who Robocobra Quartet were either. But hidden within the Barn Stage, shaded from the Sunday afternoon blaze of sunlight, this Belfast four-piece gave us a good telling off we’ll soon not be forgetting. It’s a quartet in a non-nuclear sense. Bass guitar provides the rhythm, a brass two-some dabble in moody bright spots and a drummer tries his hand at singing – or more appropriately, viscerally screeched spoken word. It’s a focused performance of varying speeds and intensities, the instrumentation a sinfonietta of ever changing storms. Each track is loaded with pungency, with hipsters targeted in ‘Artbook Flipping’ and the failure of fickle fame mocked in ‘Threnody for Vengaboyz’. Ballsy, cultivated and lyrically not afraid to get in your face. We hope they stick around.
Youth take over the most of the indie infused final day. Math rock synth chamberlains Go Swim were slow starters but new material is sounding sharp ahead of Bestival. LORIS continue to to tease and flirt with us as a veil of mystery still remains. It’s hard to tell what side of the pop spectrum they will end up falling on. Whatever it is, we’re transfixed. Meanwhile strident fans of hair dye R51 swerve into various different genres from shoe-gaze to feisty emo. Jonny Woods on guitar is a spunky wee nipper, reminding us of a young Tony Wright. It’s a rollicking riff fuelled end to the set which left the barn stunned and if they can produce more stiff blows like ‘I Could Kill You Sometimes’ then they’ll be onto something great.
A final large campire burns long into the night as the incendiary Mojo Fury wrap up the weekend on a damp Sunday evening. Blissfully carefree but appropriately brash, the Lisburn natives are primal in approach as they lurk in the smokey shadows. Tracks from ‘Visiting Hours Of A Travelling Circus’ still sound as mind-crushingly brilliant as they always have and they provide the steely backbone in a blistering flurry of aural assaults. For which the highlight was the ‘The Mann’ a break-neck pummelling which has the crowd raising its fist in appreciation. Lashings of ‘The Difference Between’ impresses also with the juxtaposing ‘All In Awe’ and ‘Origami Bird’ pleasing in equal measure.
A unique mixture of bands over a long weekend. But the glue which stuck them together was a strong theme running through of each day. A big mark up on previous years. Sunflowerfest continues to bloom.