Listening to Barra Best and Frank Mitchell earlier in the week, I feared that this year’s Stendhal Festival might be a bit of a wash out. In fact, even upon waking up yesterday morning, the outlook was decidedly grey. Still we headed off, and somewhere about Dungiven the skies opened – we were done for, for sure. And then, it happened…
We tuned into the Mark Patterson show on Radio Foyle who was broadcasting live from Ballymully Farm at just about 2pm as The 4 of Us were chatting to Mark ahead of their show that evening. Offering it up to the weather gods, they played their 2002 single Sunlight, and it worked a charm – the clouds parted, the sun came out and I didn’t see another drop of rain for the rest of the day.
And with the glorious sunshine on our side we set off to enjoy the first full day of Stendhal festival 2018. For the first time this year, the festival opened their gates on Thursday night, allowing campers and other eager revellers to get their festival vibe on a day early. We joined midway through day two and I chatted to people throughout the day about why people seem to hold this festival in such affection.
Rosborough – The highly acclaimed singer-songwriter from Derry played the Henry McCullough stage at 3.30 on Friday and it was my “must-see” set of the day. As his music carried out over Karma Valley, the crowds steadily gravitated towards the bright orange cover where we sat until they were spilling out on either side. Rosborough is one of the best and most exciting original singer songwriters on this island at the moment. Check him out if you get the chance.
Gigging NI: Glenn, you’re a veteran of Stendhal now – what is so special about this particular festival that makes you want to keep coming back, year on year?
Rosborough: I think it’s the atmosphere, everyone just feels like family. You meet so many friends that you know, and then anyone that’s new just gets into the groove of it. As soon as you come in through the gates you can feel that atmosphere.
GNI: And what is the significance for you of playing on this stage, named for Henry?
R: Aye, it’s brilliant, I mean Henry was a global sensation. I was just saying to someone earlier, when you think about the likes of Henry McCullough or Rory Gallagher, coming from this wee small island, it makes you realise how special it is, and how special festivals like Stendhal are to keep it going.
GNI: So, you have released two recent singles, any news on an album release?
R: I am thinking probably next year for the album, but I am definitely going to be bringing out another single before Christmas so keep your eyes peeled.
GNI: While you’re here, are there any other acts you really want to catch?
R: Yeah, Reevah, I caught her earlier. Amazing. She’s a singer-songwriter from Derry. And the of course The Wailers as well.
Are you around tomorrow as well?
R: No, I am off to England tomorrow, down to Newquay for another festival. It’s the Boardmasters Festival, so that’ll be fun.
HUNKPAPA – Everyone seems to be talking about Hunkpapa these days, so this was one act I was determined to catch. And it all started so well – a gregarious bunch of performers, who seem to be preparing to be a stadium band when the time comes, with their anthemic chanting and raindance style antics. Complete with digeridoo – this was perfect summer afternoon festival fodder. However less than halfway through their set, their lead singer Weston Clendinning was taken ill and was forced to leave the stage. Initially it was thought he’d return, but as it transpired he wasn’t well enough and the remainder of their set had to be abandoned, much to the disappointment of an eager band of fans. I spoke to bassist Paddy Cartwright to find out what went wrong.
Paddy Cartwright: Sorry about that – he was just as white as a ghost. Apparently, he was feeling very ill in the van on the way here. So – sorry.
GNI: I am sure everyone will understand. So, this is your first time at Stendhal?
PC: Well yeah, Johno our guitarist has played once before – but as brief as it was, it’s been brilliant so far.
GNI: Sorry the set didn’t go to plan; will you hang out now and catch some other bands?
PC: Definitely And So I Watch You From Afar – I’ve still not seen them live and they’re supposed to be unreal. And The Ulster Orchestra actually, because I have a classical background, I did a lot of opera singing when I was younger and I play trombone as well. So, I think that will be good.
GNI: I had thought the band were from Armagh but I am picking up an English accent there?
PC: Well two of them are from Armagh and one is from Spa in Ballynahinch. My family are from here, but I have lived all over the place. I went to Queen’s and so that is how I ended up here.
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GNI: So, what is on the horizon for Hunkpapa? Any plans to release an album?
PC: We are writing an album currently. We are also starting to shop around, and we have a bit of a team starting to come together, agents and so on, so that’s all still to be announced. We’ll hopefully be off in November and December, touring in and around Europe and America, all still to be confirmed. But it’s all looking really good.
GNI: Any other message for the fans about the set you had to cut short tonight?
PC: Yeah, well I think he’ll be alright, he’s a very tough man. I think that’s why it is such a surprise because he’s used to playing two and three sets a week. I think he needs a bit of a rest. I am sorry the set wasn’t longer, there was more to come.
Next I spoke to Brian Collins – sound technician on Stevie Stage for the weekend.
GNI: So, what’s been the highlight on the Stevie Stage for you?
Brian Collins: I think actually so far for me, it’s been The Henry Girls who played last night. Amazing, beautiful, natural music.
GNI: And it was the first Thursday night at Stendhal, was it well attended?
BC: Yeah, it was full of campers coming into the festival and so there was entertainment for them as they were arriving. It was great for me just to walk around the site and see all the great work that was done down in the woodlands and how its all lit up – it’s just such a great space to be.
GNI: Have you worked Stendhal before?
BC: I worked here last year and then played here with a band maybe four years ago.
GNI: The 4 of Us are coming up on this stage next, are you looking forward to that?
BC: It’s a bucket list gig for me, I have been a fan of theirs for years. They played down on the other stage here last year and I saw them for about thirty seconds and they were great. I work a lot of gigs but going to actually see the bands you want to see, doesn’t always happen. So, I’m really looking forward to this.
GNI: Any other thoughts about the festival and what makes it so special?
BC: I just think it’s a really nice place to be. With the hustle and bustle of life I think sometimes you need to just get out and relax. It’s amazing, it’s a great place for kids and it’s a great chance to bring them along, there’s something for everyone.
THE 4 OF US – Newry brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy brought the house down in their Karma Valley set last year, and so it was with great excitement that the crowds returned to catch them again on the Stevie Martin Stage. Not deterred by the glaring sun, Brendan entertained with his usual bonhomie and Declan wowed with the funkiest of guitar skills.
GNI: So, how was your stendhal experience this year?
Declan Murphy: We thought that the crowd were in great form – great singing, not to mention the exotic dancing.
Brendan Murphy: Yes, we were blessed with the weather and the turn-out. You are always concerned when playing festivals with multiple stages that the crowd will move on to see someone else halfway through the show, but we started with a great turn-out and it just kept getting bigger as we went on.
DM: There is a really chilled vibe to the festival; everyone we met was in good humour. We played it last year, and we were greeted by the staff and crew, this year, like old friends. Happy days.
JEALOUS OF THE BIRDS – Naomi Hamilton, the super talented singer-songwriter from Portadown, is better known by the moniker Jealous of the Birds. She has been causing quite a stir for the last year or more, not only in Northern Irish music, but further afield.
GNI: So, what is your feeling about the festival since you’ve been here?
Jealous of the Birds: Stendhal is probably my favourite festival back home, because it’s super family friendly, the bands are always great, it’s just so rustic and beat, the vibe is always really good. This is our third year to play here so we really love it.
GNI: Any other bands you’re trying to catch?
JOTB: We are definitely gonna see The Wailers, we’re going to see Joshua Burnside, we really just want to wander around and see what’s happening.
GNI: I think you have just finished Queen’s is that correct? So what is the plan now?
JOTB: Yeah, I graduated last year, and we have just signed with Atlantic Records so we are releasing our music with them at the start of next year so that will be really cool. We’re gigging a lot, we have a little tour coming up in the UK in November as well.
And our latest single is Plastic Skeletons so that’s out now if anyone wants to check it out.
For the rest of the evening we mooched around, enjoying the beer and the food and the beautiful balmy weather in stunning surroundings. In between acts there is so much to see and do. We made sure to catch some of The Wailers‘ set on the Karma Valley stage just as the sun was going down and they were phenomenal; for Bob Marley fans it must have been really special. And with that we headed homewards, looking forward to the packed schedule we have planned for the next day. Saturday overview to follow…