Glasgowbury

A heady mix of the old and the new has the sun shining on the Sperrins

Glasgowbury is a festival where up-and-coming musicians, mostly Northern Irish, either graduate to the next level or try to make a name for themselves. Across five stages, and set in the magnificant surroundings of the Sperrins Mountains in County Derry~Londonderry, it is Northern Ireland's number one music festival, and growing every year.

This year, founder and organiser, Paddy Glasgow and Co treat festival goers to a fine mix of established performers and pleasantly surprising newcomers. The longer campsite queues and, on reflection, understandable additional security checks, don’t ruin the fun, even if they take a bit of getting used to. 

Dan Mulligan, aka Dolbro Dan, plays the G-Spot Stage early on Saturday morning. The Bangor man’s moderately clever, ironic lyrics are ear-catching, and some time spent with professional musicians has given an extra dimension to his songs, one that he felt was lacking when he last performed at Glasgowbury in 2008. He may be a little rough around the edges, but the potential for bigger things is evident.

The sunny weather, ideal for any festival, has revellers in good spirits at the G-Sessions Stage and Small But Massive Stage, there to check out Team Fresh and More Than Conquerors respectively. But, despite being described by Oh Yeah’s Charlotte Dryden as 'a guaranteed winner on the live circuit', Team Fresh fail to convince.

If More Than Conquerors are slightly more effective, they lack stage presence. That certainly isn’t true of Knuckle Dragger, though, whose punky approach brings some energy to the Spurs Of Rock Stage. By this time, crowds are starting to gather at the two main stages…

And, at the G-Sessions stage, I find General Fiasco, who deliver the best show of the day so far. A mixture of catchy tunes and assured banter go down very well with the fans, though the real winner here is a memorable cover of the Weezer classic 'Buddy Holly'.

The quality continues with the solid Girls Names at the Small But Massive Stage, before I head off to catch the highly-rated Derry singer-songwriter, Rainy Boy Sleep at the Eagles Rock stage. One of the surprises of the festival, this is a highly enjoyable, energetic performance from a vibrant, quirky young artist: think Stuart Murdoch and Graham Coxon combined, minus the twee-ness of the former.

It’s Furlo, however, who get the best crowd of the day thus far, at the G-Sessions Stage. Free from the confines of performing in a tent, as they did last year, the popular Derry band is able to build on their ever-growing reputation with a fine open-air set. It the end to a successful week from Jonny Everett and company, following a spectacular kicking-off of the Buncrana Music Festival just days before.

Alternative Cork quintet Fred then ascend to the same stage. And alternative’s certainly the word for the most versatile performers of the day. Talented keyboard player Carolyn Goodwin adds the skills, while Nick Frost-alike lead singer, Joseph O’Leary, gets the crowd bouncing. Fred are funky, psychedelic and easy to listen to, a welcome change from the more booming sets at the event.

By now, the cold wind is blowing in and revellers are starting to think more about how to keep warm. But there’s still plenty of talent to warm the cockles… And for that, the Eagle’s Rock Stage seems like the place to be after 8 pm, with Katie and the Carnival, Paul Casey and Foy Vance taking to the stage in quick succession.

Led by Belfast-based Katie Richardson, Katie and the Carnival are the true winners at Glasgowbury 2011. It’s the first time Richardson and her band have played at the festival together, and it’s incredible how well they complement her. She transcends the stereotype of the quirky female vocalist, thanks to remarkable stage presence, a soulful voice and joyous wit.

She also looks a little like Duffy at first glance, but what we really have here is more like a female Duke Special, with the potential of the sadly departed Amy Winehouse. She confesses afterwards to being both 'overwhelmed' and 'over the moon' by such an electric atmosphere… and so were we.

Unfortunately, Paul Casey isn’t able to take us to the same 'Different Planet', but the Jim Eastwood of Glasgowbury – in that he 'does exactly what he says on the tin' – doesn’t let his regular audience members down. And in a festival tent, that’s what matters.

Alas, Foy Vance is a disappointment. He has the demeanour of a man who doesn’t really want to be here, and it shows in the dreariness of his set. Luckily, the headliners, Cashier No. 9, are much more effective, and end this year’s festival on a high.

And so ends another memorable occasion on Eagle’s Rock… Where everyone trugdes back to their tents or cars dry and on a high. Let's hope the sun shines in 2012.

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