The integrity of the soul


Avril Stanley didn’t intend for Body & Soul to be the typical music festival experience – and she still doesn’t, she tells JIM CARROLL

WHEN AVRIL Stanley talks about the inspiration for her festivals, she talks about her childhood. Events such as next weekend’s Body & Soul festival and the alternative nirvana of the same name at the Electric Picnic came about from trying to recreate childhood experiences.

“I lived in Ireland and spent my summers in Canada,” explains Stanley. “I had normal life and school here and this other world over there, running around a lake for months on end, bonfires, toasting marshmallows, sleeping in a tent. It was that side of life. This is what you do here, and then you go somewhere else and there’s all this.

“As a kid, that was a real adventure, going from one reality to another.

“Now, I enjoy that sense of stepping out of everyday life and trying something else and being someone else and experiencing something new.”

The desire to create such alternative realities for others is what has drawn Stanley to festivals. “It’s not the rock’n’roll or bands or main stages,” she insists. “I genuinely don’t care about that at all and would love to get to a place where that’s just a part of it, but not the main attraction.

“Everyone wants to know who is playing and that’s fine and I understand it, but I would like to move it on from that and redefine what festivals are. I think they’ve got pigeon-holed and I’m not sure why.

“When we get feedback from people about Body Soul, it’s rarely about the headline acts. It’s about the guy playing the fiddle at 5am in the bog cottage, it’s the pop-up party in a tent, that’s what people report back.

“That’s the part I love to tap into. The festival should be about the memories you leave with, and we’re trying to make those memories as good as they possibly can be, so there’s something there for everyone.”

The Burning Man event in the heart of the Nevada desert was a catalyst for Stanley in what a festival could be about. “People spent an entire year planning their art for their space in such depth and with such attention to detail and then, everything was burned and nothing was left. I was there for three weeks and it was amazing to see that process. I wanted to experience that more often in my life.”

After living in Calfornia for a few years (“I was putting on parties for 200-300 people based on the Celtic calender in old warehouses, and was on a real roll, having a great time”), visa issues brought her back to Ireland.

She started doing events in Galway, but got really disillusioned. “People were coming late to stuff, it was all about the pub and our beautiful art was getting robbed because people were taking rather than adding, so I left again.”

She was running Body & Soul as a healing area at the Big Chill festival in England when the Electric Picnic got in touch. “I got involved and had a crazy experience the first year which nearly had me running away again. It was the Galway experience on a different scale. People were sitting 10-deep around this beautiful crystal shrine with three pints apiece. I just thought that if this is the future, it’s not for me.”

Yet rather than running back to London, Stanley decided to stay. “The Picnic triggered something in me. I’m from here; we have an amazing wealth of art and culture here and I should get stuck in and commit to doing stuff here. I was going to give it a shot.”

For many, the Body & Soul village has become an essential part of the Electric Picnic experience, as much for the possibilities therein as for any of bands playing on its many stages.

“It invites magic to happen – and that’s without getting hippie about it,” says Stanley about her Stradbally Hall domain. “To a degree, it’s curated, but it’s not staged, things do take on a life of their own. You line things up and then you step back and see what happens when people interact with and participate in stuff. Sometimes, it’s right time, right place and you’re lucky.”

This is the third year of Body & Soul’s stand-alone festival in Co Westmeath. The expansion, says Stanley, came about to earn the money needed to keep the show on the road. “We have really high standards. It’s not about big, it’s about quality and attention to detail, and it’s expensive to deliver all that.

“We expanded because we want to continue on that level and I want to invite the artists who have inspired me to come to the festival. To be able to do that and build bespoke stages and architecture and have unique programmes, you need budgets.”

The Body & Soul festival began in the middle of the recession and Stanley is very conscious of the need to keep the ticket price affordable. “Everyone was advising us not to do it, but it was the right time to do something positive. I think the ticket price is incredibly fair and we’ve managed to keep it under €100 when it should be more than that.”

Yet, don’t expect to see Body & Soul growing any bigger. “This is not like a train heading off into the distance looking to attract thousands of people,” Stanley insists. “It’s about integrity, intimacy and togetherness. If that starts to waver or get lost, that¹s the point for me to stop.”

Body & Soul takes place at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath from June 22nd-24th



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