Body & Soul begins with tiny knights and a first stage invasion
It’s grown in size but this festival is one of the most relaxed on hectic summer schedule
Darren McGuigan (Belfast), Aoife Raleigh (Westmeath) and Tony Mahon (Dublin) give it their all at the Body & Soul festival at Ballinlough Castle, Westmeath. Photograph: Michael Donnelly
Body & Soul gets off to a slower start than usual on Friday, the first of three days of the festival. The arenas are scheduled to open at 3pm, but it’s nearly 5pm before the main areas open their gates.
Not that anyone seems to mind: it might have grown in size substantially in recent years - the capacity is now at 15,000 - but this music and arts festival is one of the most relaxed on the hectic summer schedule.
People sit on the grass with sunglasses in place, even though the sun largely refuses to come out. After a countdown, packs of tiny children dressed as knights charge through the gate, waving plastic swords and tumbling across the Midnight Circus area.
Everyone seems more than happy to catch a breather, after the necessary 40-minute slog through security and bag checks, with gangs of people testing the 24-can drink limit.
Last year’s festival coincided with biblical rain, but the weather this year is more forgiving. Temperatures are forecast at 16 to 21 degrees over the weekend, with occasional showers, but no sign yet of heavy rain.
Last year’s deluge
After last year’s deluge the festival’s organisers have put plenty of work into shoring up the roads and paths that wind through the Ballinlough woods. The recent fine weather means the ground is solid under foot, with no sign of the mud that can sap a crowd’s energy.
This year the woods are filled with long fabric chandeliers, delicately lit and shimmering in the light breeze. Perhaps the most impressive and unusual installation is a funicular folly designed by architect Rae Moore. The brick structure has a circular hole in its roof, through which a light shines, making a slick and solid Pantheon-style disco cave.
The Library of Progress gets off to a fiery start. The tent takes its inspiration from the US’s Library of Congress, with discussions programmed all weekend on topics from the benefits of psychoactive drugs to bibliotherapy.
Blindboy Boat Club of the Rubberbandits leads a panel (including this writer) on fake news, with an audience willing to go toe-to-toe with those on stage. There’s plenty of arguments and sharp criticisms, and the first stage invasion of the weekend.
That’s followed by a cracking programme of spoken word and hip hop, Rhymes and Beats, curated by Emmet Kirwan. DJ Kelly-Anne Byrne opens up the Midnight Circus, pumping out disco tunes and dry ice.
Friday’s headliners are Australian retro pop act Parcel, who will bring their big hair and slick arrangements to the Body & Soul main stage, with Metronomy on the undercard and local favourites Talos further down the bill. DJs Twitch and Jonnie Wilkes will be bringing their Glaswegian club Optima to the Midnight Circus.
Saturday sees thing step up a gear, with Bonobo, Vitalic, Sleaford Mods and Idiotype top of most people’s lists. The Irish Times is curating a series of talks on the Wonderlust stage.
But the pick of the day for entertainment value might just be the kids’ edition of Sing Along Social at 2pm, when hordes of tiny knights will be singing their hearts out to their favourite tunes.
Expect it to be the loudest gig of the weekend.