Elaine Mai, Karl Spain, Neil Hannon and Nick Kelly get set for Westport

Tony Clayton-Lea picks his five must-sees of the weekend and has the LOLs with some “Westporters”, Elaine Mai, Neil Hannon, Karl Spain and Nick Kelly

 

FIVE TO CATCH

DAVID GRAY
Funny thing, time. Twenty years ago, we were wildly excited about David Gray’s first few albums, which gather – not to put too fine a point on it – as tough a set of acoustic songs as you can get without bruising. Ten years ago? The man’s music was as as bland a colour as his surname. Six months ago? He was down at the Other Voices shindig in Dingle, and took everyone by surprise with a set of new songs from his new album, Mutineers, that weaved magic as well as muscle.

SINÉAD O’CONNOR
Sinéad O’Connor came back with a mighty bang in 2012 with her album How About I be Me (And you be You), and presumably not wishing to let any more tufts of grass grow under her feet, she’s due to release its follow-up, I’m Not Bossy I’m the Boss, next month. We watched in amazement last year at O’Connor’s show at the National Concert Hall – she rocked and rolled and twisted and shouted, turning in a vibrant, vivid performance that puts most other acts in the shade.

THE DIVINE COMEDY
There hasn’t been new Divine Comedy material since 2010’s very smart Bang goes the Neighbourhood album, and we’re guessing that, as this is a festival appearance, DC Top Cat, Neil Hannon, won’t be previewing any. And he probably won’t be throwing out sections of his 2012 opera, Sevastopol, and this year’s contemporary music theatre work, In May, which means we’ll just have to do with DC/Hannon’s way-above-average pop songs. He once used the word ‘architraves’ in a lyric, you know - not many people can do that and live to tell the tale.

LISA O’NEILL
There’s singular, there’s singular, and then there’s Lisa O’Neill. We’ll agree that she isn’t to everyone’s tastes (what is?), but if you like your singer-songwriters the right side of odd – and amusing with it – then Cavan’s O’Neill is a perfect choice. Her Meteor Choice Music Prize-nominated album of last year, Same Cloth or Not, retains its appeal through a mixture of durable melodies and a lyrical vulnerability not often heard these days

ARDAL O’HANLON From classic comedy (Fr Ted) to serious theatre (including God of Carnage, Art, The Weir – which for the latter he is nominated for an Olivier Award in the Best Supporting Actor category), from writing novels to stand-up comedy. There seems to very little that O’Hanlon can’t put a hand to, yet he is known in Ireland primarily for being funny. Mad . . .

 

 

ELAINE MAI Q&A

What was your first festival experience and, honestly, did you really enjoy it? It was Witnness back in the day. I was 16/17 and only delighted to be allowed to go to it. So yes, I had the time of my life.

What are the three most important things to bring with you to an open-air festival? Motilium, wet wipes and ear plugs! Ear plugs are a must.

When it comes to festivals, are you a B&B/hotel or a sleeping-bag-in-a-tent person? If it’s going I’ll take the hotel, but if not you’ll find me camped as close to the showers as possible.

What is your most important must-have festival accessory – and why? Black bin bags . . . Glamorous? No. Practical? Absolutely.

This event is billed as a Festival of Music & Food – who are you most looking forward to seeing perform, and what are you most looking forward to eating? There is a fantastic line-up this year and so many great Irish acts playing. I’m really looking forward to seeing Little Green Cars as I’ve never seen them live before. I’m looking forward to trying as much food as I can while I’m there! As long as there’s no meat, I don’t discriminate.

KARL SPAIN Q&A

Do comedians have such a thing as a ‘Rider’ at these open-air festivals? Yes, there are “refreshments” available. It’s usually water and beer, but there can be lots of sweets and chocolates, as well. The backstage area can often look like a kid’s birthday party organised by irresponsible parents. Are festival crowds easier to win over than a core “comedy-type” audience? An audience can change in seconds from good to bad and vice versa; the uniqueness of a festival is that you could be on sometime in the afternoon with noise coming from other stages. But the audience at Westport last year was great. The comedy tent was bursting at the seams (and not because I was wearing it).

What scares you more about open-air festivals – the toilets or drunk hecklers? The toilets are no longer as scary as they used to be, but then maybe I have better access as performer. The heckler thing is not usually an issue, either.

This event is billed as a Festival of Music & Food – who are you most looking forward to seeing perform, and what are you most looking forward to eating? Music-wise, I think the Divine Comedy. Seeing The Waterboys last year was amazing for me, but there are lots of acts on all the stages that I’ll be taking in a bit of. And it would be rude if I didn’t sample a lot of the food, as well, wouldn’t it?

Go on, tell us a joke . . . No, not until Westport. Jokes are too serious to be flung around.

NEIL HANNON Q&A

Are onstage performing times important? I admit I used to get a bit shirty about going on stage very early. To be giving your all while people eat croissants and yawn can be disheartening. But I’ve become less fussed as I’ve got older. In fact it’s the really late ones that kill me these days. I would usually be tucked up in bed before most of my continental shows even begin.

What is the weirdest festival you’ve played at? I find the oddest “festivals” to be the ones that happen in car parks in city centres. I’ve done quite a few around Europe. The one that springs to mind was beside the docks in Belfast over a decade ago. Our drummer missed the flight from London, got pissed in the airport, and arrived just in time to ruin every song we tried to play. Nothing to do with the festival, I know, but funny nonetheless.

Are you particular about your backstage facilities? My biggest problem at festivals is getting cold. I abhor a draft! I hate it when you’re left freezing in some empty portacabin at 10 o’clock at night with nothing but a can of beer, waiting to be pushed on stage. I’m not the type to complain though . . .

What do you talk about backstage with other musicians? When you’ve heard that an act you admire are on the same day as you, you always assume that you’ll be hanging out, making merry, and trading emails with your heroes by the end of the night. In reality, it’ll be a nod of recognition if you’re lucky. I did share a bus back to a hotel in Spain recently with The Human League though, which was, for me, TOTALLY AWESOME.

This event is billed as a Festival of Music & Food – who are you most looking forward to seeing perform, and what are you most looking forward to eating? I see to my delight that my mates Lisa O’Neil and Ardal O’Hanlon are on the same day as us, which will be fun. I will also try to catch The Cast Of Cheers and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Couldn’t give toss about posh nosh really. Ooh, but where there’s fine food there’s usually fine wine too! That’s more my line.

ALIEN ENVOY/NICK KELLY Q&A

Do you wander into the crowds before or after your gig? Both – before to gauge the temperature, after to bask in the warmth.

Are onstage performing times important? Really important. When you’re a less well-known artist an afternoon slot is better – it’s when people’s heads are open to discovering new things. By nightfall, the vast majority head for the biggest act on the biggest stage. I once had a lengthy stand-up row with a promoter who wanted me to go on AFTER Lou Reed at the original Liss Ard Festival (for complex reasons to do with MTV coverage slots, I hasten to add). We held our ground and played, as we’d originally been booked, to a packed tent straight before the main attraction. If we’d caved, we’d have been theoretically headlining the stage – but to 12 people talking loudly about how great Lou had just been.

What is the oddest festival you’ve played at? Has to be Liss Ard again, and not just for the reasons described above. This tiny, extortionately priced nu-hippy boutique festival mysteriously rose without trace in a magical woodland setting in West Cork in the late 1990s – and somehow attracted the aforementioned Lou, Patti Smith, John Martyn, David Gray, and Nick Cave to perform for free. I watched Princess Diana’s funeral on TV from my bath in the luxury onsite accommodation before I played. We all planted trees together the next morning.

You’re on stage, dry as a bone, and you look out at the audience, who are soaked to the skin. Do you empathise or laugh? Empathise – when I’m not onstage, I’m in the crowd.

 

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