Festival Fit: Falling and Crashing in Kilkenny, and Fair of Muff in Cavan

Sounds like a lewd Shakespearean compliment you’d hear at Kilkenny Arts Festival, but there really is a Fair of Muff in Co Cavan, and good vintage wireless coverage at Moynalty Steam Threshing Festival

Fair of Muff – what do those three words conjure up in your mind? They transported me back 400 years to a bawdy Stratford-upon-Avon; I imagined it to be a terrifically lewd compliment worthy of the bauld Bard himself.

My interpretation was influenced by the cast of the Globe Theatre, who pitched their tent and rough-hewn wooden stage in the Castle Yard at Kilkenny Arts Festival last week for what felt like an awfully authentic performance of The Taming of the Shrew, complete with some wonderfully wicked double-entendres. As I sat stewing in ye olde-skoole theatre vibes, my mind languished in an ornate gutter, but I gazed with appreciation and deference upon the stars. Only Shakespearian actors and Leonard Cohen can carry off being filthy with such aplomb and panache.

The crew at Kilkenny Arts Festival have pulled out all the stops to celebrate its 40th year. The music programme is the strongest of any arts festival, with an impressive breadth and depth to what's on offer. Tonight you can catch an elder statesman of punk, Mark E Smith, fronting a band that's been around almost as long as the arts festival itself. They're well worn, but The Fall are still standing. If the Mancunian post-punks aren't your bag, check out champions of contemporary classical cacophony Crash Ensemble, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw. Crash perform the world premiere of American composer Michael Gordon's piece Dry in St Canice's Cathedral tonight. Tomorrow you could immerse yourself in Orff's Carmina Burana, Malian legend and BBC World Music Award winner Bassekou Kouyate with his band, and then top it all off with local-boy-done-
good RSAG thumping out a late set on Sunday night followed by Donal Dineen on decks. That's an epic weekend's music.

Last weekend Phisqa brought some interesting jazz, fuelled by Peruvian pulses and latin hooks, to Kilkenny, but Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band owned the night. Tony Jo is originally from Trinidad, and now fronts this heavy funk band from London. Take the strut of James Brown, the groove of Toots Hibbert, the funkadelia of Parliament, the thump of Rage Against The Machine and the darkest musings of Tom Waits, and mix with a Calypso sensibility to get something close to what The Spasm Band get up to onstage. There was much dancing.


If you do make it to Kilkenny this weekend, make sure you check out the striking and impressive print exhibition at Blackstack Studios, and if shoe-porn is your thing, Costume in The National Craft Gallery will help you find your shoe-horn.

For fear of the wind changing and me being caught in highbrow mode, I took a spin up to Moynalty Steam Threshing Festival to ground myself with some vintage rural kicks. Colcannon, set-dancing, steam engines, threshing, turf-footing, boxty, tractors, vintage radios, livestock and wholesome, hearty, steamy good times is what the get-together in Co Meath is all about. Shindigs like Moynalty are my festival echinacea, topping up my immune system, lest I should come down with PR palsy from over-exposure to the marketing and media types who pull the strings at some of our big summer sessions.

I was a little disappointed not to see the prize-winning cocks this year, but there'll be more than enough of them on show in the guest area at Electric Picnic.

As I trundled towards Derry for the first Fleadh to be held cross-Border, I stopped off in Kingscourt, Co Cavan for diesel and Meanies, only to be told three magic words: Fair of Muff. It turns out there's a Muff in Co Cavan, and serendipity saw me directed towards it on fair day. I could never claim to be influenced by Shakespeare or high art – The Muppets and Viz comic shaped me – so imagine my delight as, between travelling hawkers and colourful horse dealers, I watched locals peddling their asses by the crossroads at the Fair of Muff. Sweet.

Safe travels, don't die.