Wellies, céilis, poetry and páistí as Picnic proves an ecumenical matter


Frank McNallyrounds up the weekend at the Electric Picnic in Stradbally, Co Laois

FOR THE ever-growing number of Electric Picnickers aged 12 and under, the stand-out act at this year’s festival was Mud. Not the 1970s glam rock band, of Tiger Feetand other hits: those are one of the few retro acts yet to make a comeback at Stradbally, in fact. No. The mud here was of the water-mixed-with-soil variety. And to the despair of their parents, the kids loved it.

Wearing Sunday-best wellies, they lapped up the wet, squelchy version on Friday night. Twenty-four mostly dry hours later, Saturday’s stickier kind was even more fun. OK, the novelty was wearing off a bit by Sunday, when prolonged morning rain added puddles to the mixture. But even then, there were still children refusing on principle to walk around a pool of muck, and insisting on going straight through the middle of it (at least once).

For the more mature festival-goers, the mud was something to be endured.

In a couple of places, it approached the consistency of quicksand: sucking the wellies off the unsuspecting and occasionally threatening to swallow the welly-wearers too. And yet the testing conditions never quite got the better of the Picnic’s laid-back mood. In a few cases, they added to it.

One of the weekend’s unforgettable moments was on Saturday afternoon, when the Tulla Céilí Band inspired punters in the Body and Soul arena – a grassy hollow, surrounded by trees – to get up and dance.

Some very talented female steppers duly obliged, doing passable imitations of Jean Butler: their grace and sensuality in no way lessened by the mud-covered wellies they were wearing. It was a profoundly Irish event: befitting the body-and-soul theme. And it made you realise, in retrospect, how much better Riverdance might have been if it too had had a welly sequence.

The TCB, incidentally, performed twice on Saturday: proving their rock’n’roll credentials by coming back 12 hours later and bringing down the curtain on the day’s performances at 4.30am. They thereby followed the lead of their great rivals, the Kilfenora Céilí band, who headlined a stage at Glastonbury early this summer. It has taken a few decades, but céilí bands are finally cool, even outside Co Clare.

There was a bit of everything at the Picnic – almost. The many non-musical acts ranged from Tiernan (Tommy) to Tubridy (Ryan), whose festival revue was one of the best attended events in the spoken-word village, this year neatly renamed “Mindfield”. Other hot tickets there included Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine, reading her favourite poem, by John Berryman.

There was one notable exception to the festival’s catholicism. The Picnic still prides itself on being a sports-free zone. So soccer fans were forced to become refugees on Saturday evening, fleeing into the local village pubs to watch Ireland beat Cyprus. And the exodus began again on Sunday afternoon, when hurling aficionados had to forgo Florence and her likes to watch Henry and the Machine perform in Croke Park.

Back with the music, Madness rolled back the years on Saturday night with a brilliant performance, juxtaposing their string of relentlessly catchy 1980s hits with material from a fine new album.

But the weekend’s big nostalgia act was Brian Wilson. Appearing not long after the Tulla Céilí Band and Wellydance on Saturday evening, but from a difference universe, the Beach Boys singer benefited from the closest the weekend’s weather got to Californian.

This wasn’t particularly close, it has to be said. Still, at least it wasn’t raining. And listening again to those famous vocal harmonies, you could almost convince yourself that the stuff under your wellies was sand, not mud; that the wind rustling through the trees of Stradbally was really the surf rising; and that, over there, that was the Pacific ocean you could see the moon glinting off, not just a large puddle outside the Portaloos.

Good stuff

-The XX: shoegazing lives
-The official programme: fab
-Great musical moment: David
Kitt’s Move It On -Kicking coffee
from Badger and Dodo, by the big
wheel -Fine food by Rathmullan
House, with a hint of Lough Swilly
-The Chair-O-Planes. You’re
making me dizzy -Double bill of
the weekend: The Acorn followed
by Bell Orchestre: exquisite
Canadian musicianship

Bad stuff

-Friday traffic. We thought last
year was bad -Toilets: please
sirs, can we have some more?
-Bat For Lashes cancelling. Sob!
-Welly thieves. &!*?ing $#!*s
-Woodchip. Too little, too
useless. We want tracks, tarmac
and an M50 by next year -Slow
food. Hurry up! We’re rushing to
the Main Stage. Ah no, it’s great.
Really -Autumn nights. Brrr!
Indian summer my muddy foot