IT’S NOON and the tribes have started to gather at the Highbury Cock Tavern for the long procession down to Finsbury Park. The sun is playing hide-and-seek and the ashen-faced landlord has not only cleared his bar of furniture, but reduced the patrons to the ignoble status of drinking out of plastic beakers “for safety’s sake”.
Fair enough, but we’re over two miles away from the Fleadh, this celebratory one-day festival; a cocktail of Irishness that has its own unique, balmy flavour and a vibe/bonhomie unavailable anywhere else. You can catch the glints in people’s eyes when the decidedly young ASH amble onto the third stage (out of four), and proceed to make an unholy racket — disjointed and effectively purposeless. But then again, what did the Pixies sound like when they were 16?
Celtic elder SHANE MACGOWAN is late, but present and correct. However, most people don’t seem to be aware that he’s been replaced, in an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers sort of way, by a punk gremlin whose voice veers between being completely shot and a thing of beauty. Shane MacGowan & The Popes, to give them their full name, play some pub-rebel rockabilly, when not mauling old Pogues songs (‘Streams Of Whiskey’ and ‘Fairytale Of New York’ are cool, though), kicking ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ around, or singing what a nearby Irishman reckons is an IRA song.
D:REAM are ushered in by 30 minutes of dance music so as not to seem the anachronism their billing would suggest. Their leader Peter Cunnah is the day’s funniest showman, waving his arms, shouting the odds, trying out an acoustic number, anything to cover up the transparency of his thin machine soul/disco. A classy trouper nonetheless. In direct contrast to FATIMA MANSIONS’ long bursts of bile-filled “AAAARGHH”s and moody ballads on the third stage, which are the sworn enemy of sophistication.
It’s a homecoming of kinds for THE CRANBERRIES, whose comet-like rise is a fairytale come true. Perversely — or because of Dolores’ recent skiing accident — they decide to play an ‘Unplugged’ set complete with fiddles, whistles, acoustic guitars and the voice amongst voices. Some familiar songs, like ‘Linger’, survive but others don’t and you miss the frisson between Dolores’ flights of sadness and chiming crystal clear guitars.
As night slowly falls it becomes clear why today’s audience are a huge mixture of nationalities and cultures, all drinking together and by now in various states of decay; headliners CROWDED HOUSE have enough broad appeal to gather this many disparate people in a field.
While not exactly showmen — more self-effacing quip-monsters — Neil Finn’s melodic pop is descended from The Beatles (“Wings, more like,” says some wag) suffused with a bit of Squeeze for additional chart-friendliness. The gorgeous ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ and the catchy ‘Distant Sun’ are filled with yearning, longing, wide-open spaces and melancholia. A London-based Maori choir and Cook Island log drummers are drafted in for ‘Together Alone’ and Finn ends with a traditional a capella Irish farewell, returning the festival to its Celtic roots after its South Seas diversion.
The tribes stagger into the Finsbury Park streets, with amazing wails still ringing in their ears.
© Dele Fadele, New Musical Express, 18 June 1994