Thursday, 29 April 2010

509 THE 2001 LONDON FLEADH, Finsbury Park, London N4, Saturday 16 June 2001

After much humming and hawing about this, I finally decided to do my first Fleadh! Got tickets for myself and Ady - Rachel resting up for her London to Brighton bike ride the next day - in Kempsters the day before, twisted Ady's arm into driving, and we were on our way! Headed through torrential rain on the M4 to London, parking up at Ealing and tubing over to Finsbury Park, laughing at the floods on the Seven Sisters Road and the river coming out of the main entrance to the Festival site. Good thing we were both (wet) suited and booted!

Got in, programmed up, and got our bearings in time for the start of the days' proceedings at 12. Headed for the bigger of the 2 tents, separated from the main arena by a road lined with trees. Big Tent compere Phill Jupitus introduced CLEM SNIDE, whose single "I Love The Unknown" has made a real impression on me, and who I wanted to check out. They were as laid back, laconic and wry as this song; the slow delivery of a Jonathan Richman allied to the quirky worldliness and trippy musicianship of Eels, with a hint of a string-section thrown in. A good start to the day, and a set during which I puzzled, just where do I know their additional 5th member from?

Took a quick wander into the main arena during RICHARD HAWLEY's set, which struck me, frankly, like Andy Williams. Then headed back to the Clem Snide sign-in at the signing tent to clear up the mystery! Sure enough, he was Pete Fitzpatrick, a Boston musician from the band Pee Wee Fist (hosts of gig 444!) and a friend of Ed Valauskas! Chatted to him and his Clem Snide colleagues about Boston rock, then hit the late-running Tiny Tent to avoid the rain and catch a set from TRISH SMITH, which was dull but inoffensive calypso jazz. Switched tents briefly to see COUSTEAU play some slow-burn late-night mood music; rather cinematic and a little like Tindersticks, but not really the thing for a rainy lunchtime! Then back to the Tiny Tent to see OWEN, a band who peddled some reasonably, vaguely uplifting and folky guitar pop, kind of like a junior leather-clad The Fat Lady Sings. Not earth-shattering, but not bad either.

We then had some dead time, so took a wander around the soggy arena and chilled while the late-running AFRO CELT SOUND SYSTEM did exactly what it said on the tin, mixing some heavy Burundi beats with occasional fiddly diddly stuff. Schizophrenic and a little confusing. Next up, though, were not the scheduled Gypsy Kings, but STARSAILOR, and when singer James Walsh opened his mouth to comment that his band were the youngest people on the site, the heavens totally opened! Umbrellas up and macs on, we nevertheless toughed it out, and despite his obvious nerves, Walsh delivered a pretty good set, influenced by the likes of The Verve but without the pompous arrogance, and with some gentler, Jeff Buckley-like touches. I enjoyed it much more than I expected, despite God going all Old Testament on us, giving these Catholic sinners trying to enjoy the evils of rock'n'roll a good drenching!

Oddly enough, AIMEE MANN then came onstage and the rain stopped! A Bostonian with whom I'm a little unfamiliar, Aimee trotted out a very pleasing set of ear candy pop with occasional bursts of world-weariness or cynicism, which certainly warmed the spirits. Very nice and pretty, but honestly I'm hard pushed to remember anything of the set beyond Aimee's cheekbones now!

Ady and I took the break for some tea then were Big Tent-bound, catching the end of JASON DOWN's strange mix of trad country and abrasive hip-hop. Not my cup of tea at all, but next up was! The tent was heaving for the early evening arrival of TEENAGE FANCLUB, whose presence on this bill (along with Evan Dando) swayed me into coming, and it appeared I wasn't the only one! However, from the opening chord, their summery shimmery guitar pop, sun-kissed melodies and splendidly soothing 3-part harmonies completely chased the rain away, and ensured that this set would be the highlight of the day for me. And the set was;

Near You, Start Again, Verisimilitude, Cabbage, Don't Look Back, Out Of Time, Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From, Neil Jung (dedicated to Main Stage headliner Neil Young!), About You, I Need Direction, I Don't Want Control Of You, (a marvellous) Sparky's Dream, (a totally unexpected but luscious) The Concept.

Everything was delivered with optimism and care, and Set Of The Day was duly won by these Scottish dreamers with Beach Boys in their ears and surf in their songwriting. Great stuff!

Ady popped off to the Main Arena to catch some of the Waterboys set, but I stayed put. Actually, that's not strictly true; I shoved about 10 rows nearer the front, so I was about 5 rows from the stage for the entrance of one of my musical icons, and the real reason why I was at Fleadh... A sparse stage set-up was intruded upon by none other than Marianne Faithful, the 60's ion duly introducing, "one of my greatest friends and a songwriting genius," EVAN DANDO. Evan, now accompanied by Chris Brokaw of Come playing shotgun for him, again delivered a supreme masterclass in holding an audience's attention, and regaled us with a superb acoustic set of his quirky, slightly countrified, slightly drug-ified Lemonhead pop gems. This set was;

The Outdoor Type, Turnpike Down, Down About It, (a brilliantly moody) It's A Shame About Ray, Hannah And Gabi, Hospital, The Great Big No (again featuring some spine-tingling audience call and response), Big Gay Heart, All My Life (an already familiar newie), Fall Down Dead, Into Your Arms, Confetti (almost jolly in Evan's delivery), My Drug Buddy, (a superb) Rudderless, Ride With Me

All were rendered by Evan's marvellously deep, rich baritone. The man may be a bit of a space cadet, but he writes great songs and he's got a superb voice.

Met Ady by the Big Tent afterwards, then joined the rapidly-diminishing queue in the signing tent and got the back of a postcard scribbled on by the main-men from my Set Of The Day hosts Teenage Fanclub. Also, had a few words with the fine chaps as well. Cool!

So, now t'was nearly time for the denouement, evinced by the Main Stage arrival of NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE. I caught about 1/2 hour of Young's primal howl music, cranked up to full volume and punishing his battered fender like a medieval slave. I remember writing something similar about Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis once, and the twain are kindred spirits, similarities abounding between these two rootsy, rocky guitar heroes. I also enjoyed Young dedicating a snappy little number, "Piece Of Crap", to new US President, George W Bush. However, Ady and I were heading through the dusk and the mud and the very very drunk people (I don't recall seeing so many people staggering around looking so totally out of it at a festival before!), and also back in time! To the Tiny Tent, where headliners THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG had already started up their set. And started as they meant to go on as well, with a great sing-along "Ghosts Of Cable Street", from their classic 1986 album "How Green Is The Valley". Indeed, the vast majority of their set was from those swashbuckling days, when the Men, Red Wedge, slightly Irish influenced fiddly diddly roots rock with political overtones, and black leather waistcoats roamed the land. And a good time was had by all, from the sing-along sway of "Scarlet Ribbons", the immaculately delivered acapella "Barratt's Privateer" by Phil "Swill" Odgers, to the raucous dash through "Ironmasters" and an entirely appropriate "Born To Be Wild".

"We'll be back so long as there's a Fleadh," toasted Men vocalist Stefan Cush to the sweaty masses, also entirely appropriate. Because this festival is a celebration, mainly of Irish culture, heritage and rock'n'roll style, but also of life, all inclusive and all embracing.

So we survived, muddy but elated. My first Fleadh won't be my last, I hope; rain or shine, if it's on, I'll be back!

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