Liss Ard festival is a small boutique festival with a capacity for three and a half thousand people, situated about three kilometres from Skibbereen, I thought it would be nice to sample a festival south of the country for a change and again I would be volunteering for POD who was running the festival this year. The actual arena is a fairly compact size, fairly similar to the Sea Sessions festival size although remarkably different from the Sea Sessions content on offer. Liss Ard offered an eclectic mix of reggae, disco & funk, indie rock, electronic, trad and contemporary folk rock music and a selection of poetry and book readings at the literary tent which I am ashamed to admit I hardly visited.
Saturday 4th August
The camp site was not too far from the main stage (a delightful marquee which came in handy for these sunny spells and scattered showers). Having made friends with Dave the metalhead, we set about making friends with all around us and creating a neighbourhood watch scheme to make sure no young raggamuffins came hopping over the fence to rob our tents. There was some incredibly heavy rain showers in between burning sunny spells. Music did not commence till 2 pm so I set about discovering the arena.
The first music I heard was a group called Tieranniesaur, who came across like a folky Cocteau Twins with a nice touch of electronica. I went into the main stage to catch their last number and was suitably impressed. Augmented by four guys on drums, bass, guitar and keys, three girls fronted the band on vocal with laptops and mixers. Will be checking them out at the Picnic, no doubt.
I never had the time for the following act the Heathers so I remained in the camp site with Dave where he proceeded to drown out their sound with some rock classics on the boogie box, that Northern Ireland tourist ad did not do the group any favours and is one of the main reasons I did not tune in.
Cork based group Interference took to the stage next, they had an unusual melancholic sound, mainly string driven with fiddles, cellos and integrated with a full rock band creating a hypnotic pulse of a sound. I caught a little bit of their set on video.
The next act the Bob Mould Band was going to be the last band I would catch before starting my shift as volunteer for the festival. Bob Mould was certainly lively enough with a great big crystal clear rock sound blasting out. He played the Copper Blue album in its entirety plus some Husker Du classics. As much as I enjoyed the energy from his performance, this music was not really for me, I found it a bit too abrasive and metallish for my liking, most of all I did not like the sound of his voice, although the tent was suitably packed with Mould fans who did appreciate the performance.
Around 7 pm I decided to look for something to eat before my shift kicked in, the Lebanese Kitchen stall had a great choice, I settled for a chicken shawarma, a sort of kebab wrap which was delicious and set me up for the night.
8pm – 2 am. Having checked in with Catherine Kehoe, the volunteer coordinator, I was given the job of looking after the disabled entrance to the hotel and the entrance to family camping which was directly behind the literary tent, so I could still tune into music and talks coming from there. I caught a little bit of Joe Dunthornes literary reading which pulled in a fairly hefty crowd to the tent and a little bit of Low Mountains set which also had a rammed tent, with people trying to get into the side entrance. Their set consisted of classic covers, contemporary folk numbers and a bit of blue grass with the audience giving resounding approval. Sadly I was snatched away by security to another post at the main entrance so I did not hear any more music till 2 am. My job here was to direct people to the shuttle buses which was taking them to the Skibbereen show grounds as the festival car park had become unusable due to the rain earlier on Saturday. I also encountered some hot headed security, I had to stop people leaving the festival site as they were counting how many should go on the bus, I had to let eight people through but ended up letting eleven through because I was basically splitting up some family. I mean what are you supposed to do there.
When I finished my shift I signed out and was surprised to be handed a food voucher from Catherine, an added bonus and got myself a steak burger and settled down to watch the final half hour of Nicolas Jaar on the main stage.
Nicolas played a kind of ambient techno which was refreshing and different from the usual bpm fodder, with his Mac and mixer he delivered incredibly weird vocals. Jaar was augmented by a guitarist who was doing a Dave Gilmour sort of blues soloing to the music and another guy who played a fine sax and occasionally a synthesizer. The light show should get a special mention too, beautiful back drop lights that gave off a shimmering glittery effect and spotlights that created hues of electric blue and gold in the backdrop.
The last hour or two was spent at the camp site with Dave and a few others, Dave put on a disco classics cd from the 1970s, seeing that most people had got to see the excellent Chic which I missed because of my shift, the last concious memory was of some of the lads singing backing vocals to the Tramps Disco Inferno and Chics Good Times.
Sunday 5th August
I arose at 10.30 am still quite shattered as the disco sing along must have went on at least to 5.30 am. The Sunday faired better weather wise with it being dryer and sunnier too. At the starting of my shift we were given the job of wrist banding day ticketers to the Sunday leg of the festival. My first few wristbands were sloppy enough but I picked it up as I went along. As the day progressed I could not help noticing that a lot of people had misread the T and Cs of the festival, this concerned bringing alcohol into the festival. As with any festival with a license, campers are supposed to bring in their alcohol on the first trip while setting up the tent. The amount of people turning up with drink on Sunday was crazy, there was practically a bar set up before the security check point where people were getting absolutely steaming before even setting a foot into the arena. Dave my camping buddy took the shuttle into Skibbereen to stock up, but he did mention to security on the way out that he was going to take some cans into the camp site to which they agreed, when he came back they never searched him.
My sister Marguerite, her husband Brendan and son Oisin came for the day trip today as well as friends Matt and Caroline, Matt was doing a reading at the literary tent in the afternoon. At the time I was too busy wrist banding to take much notice of their arrival.
Music wise whilst working I could pick out the merry sound of the West Cork Ukulele Orchestra and the following act Joan As Policewomen. Joan had a plaintive sound with lovely vocals and piano playing, but I felt she could have done with some drums and bass to fill out the sound.
The next act I recognised immediately as I have a number of his albums, Roy Harper, I wish I was free to see this as I have never saw him in concert. He opened with Highway Blues from his 1975 Life Mask album, still sounding as crisp as ever, Harper must be about in his seventies now but still sounds as vital as ever. I Hate the White Man was another that I picked out while working away. I finally got a half hour break at 4 pm so straight up to the Lebanese Kitchen for another chicken shawarma courtesy of POD and another food voucher, yum. In between I caught up with my sister at the literary tent and a little bit of the delightful Macrae Sisters who were playing some amazing old time and hillbilly sounds. After the break my shift went in rather quickly, I was free to enjoy more of the festival.
Meeting up with the sister et all, we sat at a hump in the hill in the arena which overlooked the main stage, so we all soaked in a bit of Mick Flannerys set, the marquee was packed to the hinges for one of Irelands most popular singer and songwriters. His music has touches of John Martyn, Bob Dylan and Declan ORourke and you can tell that he has been influenced to a degree by Tom Waits. He is a perfect warm up for a Sunday evening.
Cian Finn (Intinn) was up on stage next for a reggae warm up to get us in the mood for Toots and the Maytals, like Mr Whippy and the Rootical Sound System, Finn has a wondrous selection of obscure and archival reggae sounds, the main stage effectively functioning at this time as a large chill out area.
Toots and the Maytals always give their very best, this will be my second time catching them as I saw them at Electric Picnic 2005, when I was working at the Picnic last year I had to work during their performance which was a bummer, but only found out afterwards that Toots Hibbert had a throat infection and could not perform with the band, so I am happy to say that this time round he was in fine fettle. The band opened as they always do with Pressure Drop which immediately set off dancing feet all around, everyone bouncing until the very last note. I only have one wish for Toots and the Maytals and that is get a real brass section guys, I know you use backing tapes or a keyboard to emulate the sound but a real brass section looks even better. Of course, as you can imagine with this band they done their greatest hits, Louie Louie, Funky Kingston and so many other classics. Toots would be pushing 67 these days and I reckon he must work out to still have that energy and voice that he has.
My sister left during the Toots gig which must have been really hard for her to do, but they wanted to get wee Oisin back home to bed at a reasonable hour in Bandon. I wandered about the arena with Matt and Caroline enjoying the ambient sounds coming from the main stage courtesy of Revelation Sounds, a techno ambient inspired dub reggae.
It was back to the camp site with Dave and fellow campers to finish off the last of our cans and to talk about the day. A fine wee festival in West Cork.
Improvements to the festival for the following year could be, more stages, maybe two more marquees with different types of genre. Not that I am knocking the music, but to some folk the music could be a bit samey with the singer / songwriter thing and needs to be a wee bit more diverse to maybe rival something like the Body & Soul festival. Other things that could be improved on could be, more seats and tables around the eatery areas, because of the rain on Saturday some of the area was still a little wet and muddy for sitting down on. Someone also suggested that there should be a small marquee for children too, with perhaps the odd film showed on a screen. I look forward to next year where hopefully I will make this festival again.