The second day of the Stendhal Festival in Limavady brought hordes of new, bright-eyed festival goers flocking to Ballymully Cottage Farm to join the weekenders who’d been here since Friday. For those who’d camped here overnight, the jeans were a bit muddier by day two, the faces a bit more sleepy, but even a night of torrential rain on their tents couldn’t dampen the spirits.
Juggling pirates, giant bumblebees, strange beings clad in neon crochet and even one mystery attendee who arrived by helicopter, didn’t seem out of place amid the colourful sea of happy music lovers. I had another chance to mingle and chat to members of the crowd and some of Saturday’s top performers.
Tony Wright – AKA VerseChorusVerse – Belfast based singer-songwriter
GNI: Tony, I know you have been mentoring young musicians as part of the Prince’s Trust scheme and the band you mentored, The Runaway Creeps, played on Friday on the Nerve Centre Stage. How did it feel seeing them on stage, were you proud of them? And what did you take from the experience of acting as a mentor?
Tony Wright: I was actually playing onstage with them and I was proud of them the way I’d be proud of anyone I was sharing a stage with and putting in extensive rehearsal & writing time! I was nervous that I’d fluff my parts, but I had full confidence in the band as they worked so hard in the run up to the show, & that confidence paid off because they nailed it! I’ve been lucky enough to mentor some incredible musicians over the year & to see them grow in their careers & ambitions is just thrilling.
GNI: Did you manage to catch any other acts while you were here or was there anyone you especially wanted to see?
TW: Alas I didn’t get to see too many other acts at the festival but I did have the good fortune to catch some Goldie Fawn, Beauty Sleep and Susie Blue. I also saw a band I’ve never heard before called Foreign Owl and I think I have a new favourite band. Check them out! I will say that Stendhal is fantastic!
Anthony Toner – Singer-songwriter, originally from Coleraine, now based in Belfast.
GNI: I imagine you have played the festival circuit a bit. What do you think of Stendhal and how does it compare to other festivals that you have played at?
Anthony Toner: Surprisingly I have done quite a small number of festivals. But Stendhal was always one of those whose reputation went before it. It has a great reputation for the vibe as well as the programming. I kind of knew that I was going to enjoy it but I have been totally blown away by the whole atmosphere of the place, it’s just the most fantastic setting and it really feels like every single person here knows every other person, which is not an easy thing to create.
GNI: Your new album Ink is just beautiful, and thematically it is very personal. How does it feel playing those songs to a festival audience?
AT: I was daunted by it. When I was coming here I thought about songs like An Alphabet and I wondered how that would go over but then I thought you have to have the courage of your convictions. I mean if this is what you write, this is what you put out so I thought I’ll just go for it and actually it went over very strongly I thought. To be honest when I wrote that song I worried that it was so personal but it has connected with a lot of people.
GNI: There are so many other great bands playing today. Have you had a chance to see any other acts or is there anyone in particular that you want to see?
I’d really love to see Gareth Dunlop and his band who are playing shortly but I actually am on my way back to East Belfast where he is playing tonight. So, I will head home, maybe have a little nap, and then cycle round to The Big Top to see him as part of The East Side Festival tonight. I’d love to see Ryan Vail, I would love to see The Magic Numbers as I am told that they’re wonderful live, I’d like to see Ryan McMullan and a few others. I’d like to see Ciaran, because I love what Ciaran Lavery does. I look down the list and I think there are loads of people I would love to have caught.
Rackhouse Pilfer – I spoke to Willie and Leon from the Irish-Americana & Alt-Country Folk Band
GNI: As a bluegrass band are you more accustomed to playing more niche, folksy festivals and were you pleased with the response to your set this evening?
Willie: We were really pleased. We are not strictly bluegrass, we do a lot of different kinds of things so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for us to play a mainstream festival.
Leon: The crowd tonight were fantastic but we always enjoy playing in the North. The crowds up here are always great so we always love coming up here.
GNI: Have you played Stendhal before and what is your impression of the festival?
Leon: We have played here before maybe two or three years ago. It is a fantastic festival, we love it. It has a great vibe, very family friendly and with some great bands. There is such a great atmosphere it’s like a mini Glastonbury.
GNI: And you played Glastonbury this year. What was that like?
Leon: Well for me that was like a highlight of our careers. I grew up watching Glastonbury every year so for me it was a real ambition realised.
GNI: Will you get a chance to see any other acts while you are here?
Willie: We’re not sure, we haven’t really planned anything but hopefully we might get a chance to see a few things. I’d like to see Sharon Shannon, she’s always great.
Leon: It’s hard sometimes because there’re six of us, so there are always four who want to hang around and two who want to get home – but we do everything as a democracy.
GNI: Finally, last time I spoke to you, you were talking about going into the studio to record, so that album is just out, is that right?
Leon: It’s not out just yet, but we had all this vinyl printed up so we thought let’s just bring it with us, if people want to buy it we’ll start selling them. But we haven’t launched it yet, we’re gonna launch it in mid-September were hoping. We’ve been sitting on it for a long time because we’ve been so busy. The album was ready to go in March time but the summertime, for us anyway, is always the three busiest months of the year. We have to make hay while the sun shines.
Willie: Yeah, it’s not officially released yet but it’s ready to go essentially. We do everything ourselves so it takes time to get it all done.
Leon: But it’s ok, it builds up a little bit of anticipation for the new album.
Tony Villiers – Front man of Norther Irish band Tony Villiers and the Villains
GNI: Tony, do you categorise yourself as a blues act?
Tony Villiers: No I don’t. We do have a lot of blues influences; I listen to a lot of old blues, right back to Little Walter and Mississippi John Hurt. Then Doc comes in with that great classic blues, electric. And we have a country tinge, sometimes there is a jazz vibe to it. So, we just like mixing it up.
GNI: There does though seem to be a real resurgence of interest in blues music, you were playing the 7 Hills Blues Festival in Armagh earlier today and there was Blues on the Hill in Dungannon last week. Why do you think it is that it is such a part of the zeitgeist at the minute?
TV: Woah, good question. I don’t think it ever really went away but maybe it went out of fashion a wee bit. But the blues has an honesty that a lot of music doesn’t have. It takes three or four men, women, or children to play it; it’s straightforward stuff. I think at the core it’s honesty. And you’re telling a story that appeals to a broad number of people.
GNI: Have you played Stendhal before? What are your impressions of the feel of it and how does it compare to other festivals you’ve played?
TV: It’s fantastic! It’s absolutely fabulous! This is our first time playing it. We took a detour through the mountains on our way here and got lost which was fabulous but it meant we only arrived here about five so we’ve really only have had a couple of hours of the vibe. But it’s fantastic, I wish we’d been here from early morning to soak it all up.
GNI: You haven’t had a chance to see any other acts then?
TV: Well we saw a couple of acts as we were just milling about. Just floating about the site is fabulous because you’re getting the tastes, you’re getting the different vibes coming off each stage and getting a feeling of the place. And just the buzz – what a setting! It’s beautiful.
GNI: My last question occurred to me while you were playing. You went into a little bit of Henry McCullough’s Failed Christian during one of your songs. How important was it for you playing on Henry’s stage today? I know Doc would have known him very well, did you know Henry?
TV: Not at all but Doc is really our link to the past. Henry McCullough is an icon of Northern Ireland, no of the world stage, and this is like a little candle keeping things alive. And that is the beauty of it. Thought has gone into that and it is such a cool thing for a festival to remember its roots and where it the music all comes from because that is what this was all built on.
David O’Doherty – Comedian extraordinaire
GNI: I’d love you to tell me about your impression of Stendhal Festival and how you think it compares with other festivals.
David O’Doherty: I mean it certainly has the wildness of other festivals. I have just done a gig where a child came up on stage and gave me a slice of pizza which I don’t think has ever happened, maybe in the whole history of entertainment; a live pizza delivery! But yeah, I have had a brilliant time so I am now going to stroll around for the next few hours and probably get lost in some woods.
GNI: Are there any acts you want to catch?
DO’D: Well unfortunately I missed Ash last night because I know those guys from years ago. And I will check out Sharon Shannon and The Magic Numbers for deffo yeah.
Brigid O’Neill – County Down based singer-songwriter
GNI: So what did you think was the highlight of the festival and what do you think about Stendhal as a whole?
BO’N: The thing that came across most for me was the kids; just the sheer enjoyment of young people; the fact that they’re so in touch with hills and fields, rolling down hills and having fun. But of course, for me it’s also all about the music; to catch Anthony Toner was great, and Gareth Dunlop was just on a high, he really connected with the audience. I had been really looking forward to seeing Joshua Burnside live, and he blew me away he was amazing. I know Ryan McMullan very well and my daughter was dying to see him.
I also went round to see Rosborough who you had recommended to me and he was awesome! His voice was awesome, incredible! And his drummer was amazing. So that was a real treat for me. And to catch that gig just now, The 4 of Us, was really brilliant. It was lovely to hear The Magic Numbers as well. And Tony Villiers is great, I have seen him a lot of times. Also, everything is running on time, that means a lot at a festival, the atmosphere is great and everybody is just so friendly.
The 4 of Us – Newry born duo. I spoke to Brendan Murphy just before they went on stage and his brother Declan just after their set.
GNI: Brendan, have you played Stendhal before and what are your first impressions?
Brendan Murphy: We’ve never played it before but we’ve heard so much about it that we were just dying to play here and it hasn’t disappointed. We’re not even on stage yet and we’re excited.
GNI: Did you get a chance to see any other acts while you’ve been here.
BM: I saw some of The Magic Numbers, I saw some of Sharon Shannon, who is always fantastic.
GNI: Declan, tell me, what is your impression of Stendhal and what did you think about your gig tonight?
Declan Murphy: Best festival in Ireland! The people were absolutely amazing, there wasn’t a long face anywhere. We were walking around earlier chatting to people; the people working on the stalls, people with kids, it’s just such a brilliant atmosphere. It reminds me a bit of a wee mini Glastonbury.
GNI: There was a lot of love for you tonight, people chanting your name. Has that happened before?
DM: Well I hope that is the start of things to come. I think people just feel sorry for me because Brendan was giving me such a hard time.
GNI: I guess that’s what it is. Did you get a chance to see any other acts here?
DM: I saw a bit of The Magic Numbers, saw a bit of Sharon Shannon – both amazing. Sadly that was all we got to see. We were gigging in Castlederg last night and it was a late one so there was a bit of a lie-in this morning!
And with that sadly, the Stendhal weekend came to a close for me. While I would have loved to stay to hear Ciaran Lavery’s set, it was already after midnight and the shuttle bus to take us back to the car-park was in danger of turning back into a pumpkin. We took our two very sleepy boys homeward, already planning a return next year. I can’t imagine a festival with a more chilled, amiable, family-friendly atmosphere and can only commend everyone involved in its success.
Keep an eye out for our full review of Stendhal Festival 2017 – coming soon! Thank you to all the bands and acts who took time to speak with us.