There was a nostalgia tsunami last year when the return of Féile was announced. Ah, yes, the Trip to Tipp, recalled many people of a certain age, the ones who ran the gauntlet as much as experienced a rite of passage. No more dodgy burgers, hot dogs, and chips, ran the subheadlines. No more warm, one-variety-suits-all-tastes lager. No more six bodies in a two-person tent. And so it came to pass that last year's event – titled Féile Classical, due to the integrated addition of the Irish Chamber Orchestra (ICO) – went off with a wistful bang. So wistful, in fact, that a return to Thurles was very much on the cards.
This year's event, however, is somewhat different. The Féile Classical tag of last year has been dropped in favour of a more rock'n'roll template. The only exemptions from this rockier format will be for what the organisers call "some surprises", as well as appearances by Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey's Alive and Dangerous and Sinéad O'Connor, whose ICO-accompanied performance will comprise songs drawn from her back catalogue as well as from Shane MacGowan. Anyone who watched last week's Late Late Show will have witnessed a welcome reappearance into the public arena by O'Connor, and her presence at Semple Stadium – her first major festival gig in quite a few years – is bound to generate not only ticket sales but also a mass outpouring of admiration and respect for her.
Going back to rock’n’roll basics is fine, of course, but we now live in an era where the level of sophistication and cossetting at festivals was nowhere to be experienced back in the ’90s. Which means that along with the Féile line-up you have glamping (camper vans, optimistically named yippee tents, and hot tubs, which may or may not have something to do with the presenter of the Late Late Show), culture (a focus on animation, music videos and short films made in Tipperary), food (the highly anticipated Food for Life area, curated by renowned chef Kevin Thornton), and Féile Flipside, a festival fringe programme that includes a music trail, a photo exhibition, pop-up gigs, a silent disco, a walking tour of Thurles, and “surprise guests” performing “in the most unexpected places” (which sounds like PR speak for we haven’t exactly figured out what’s going to happen).
Timeslip to the ’90s
Let's not forget the music, however. The line-up next Friday includes O'Connor, Horslips, The Stunning, former Transvision Vamp lead singer Wendy James (making a return to Thurles after her band's appearance in 1991), The Frank and Walters, Eleanor McEvoy, and PictureHouse. Saturday's line-up is like a timeslip back to the early '90s, with Something Happens, Brian Downey's Alive and Dangerous, EMF (Whaaat? Unbelievable!), The Fat Lady Sings, Therapy?, and Sultans of Ping, as well as Mundy. Newer Irish music acts also get a look-in: these include Montauk Hotel, The Blizzards, Jack O'Rourke, Bitch Falcon and – all hail! – Thumper.
And yet for all the good, fun times, a nagging question persists. For the second year running, one of the mainstays of the first three Féiles at Thurles is missing: either The Saw Doctors are no longer a going concern or (we can only guess) are too expensive. Whatever the reason, there is surely a big bunch of festivalgoers who couldn't care less. Between Horslips and Sinéad O'Connor, The Stunning and Sultans of Ping, Wendy James and Eleanor McEvoy, there will be many satisfied customers here dancing to Dearg Doom while looking for their misplaced jumpers. Festival MCs are Something Happens singer Tom Dunne and all-round entertainer Jerry Fish.
Féile '19, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co Tipperary, Friday, September 20th/Saturday, September 21st. https://www.thetriptotipp.com/tickets