In the run-in to Body & Soul weekend, you’d have been forgiven for being a little weather-beaten. The superlatives for our soaring temperatures were running out, the ‘Ireland is hotter than X’ comments become tiresome. And yet, you silently pleaded it was going to last just a little longer.
As a first-time festival goer, it was a stroke of luck that the scorching sun was holding strong as the Westmeath festival kicked off on Friday evening. Thanks to a delayed arrival, this reviewer’s intro was a captivating spectacle by Fever Ray as darkness blanketed the Main Stage. Shaved-headed and with her signature clownish makeup smeared, the Swede’s performance featured entertaining dance sequences with her band, themselves dressed in their own unique costumes, including one in a caricature-like muscle suit, and tracks like ‘Mustn’t Hurry’, ‘When I Grow Up’ and ‘To the Moon and Back’.
Saturday saw Saint Sister enchant the crowd on the Main Stage with a haunting rendition of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ in memory of the late Dolores O’Riordan. There was also probing talk from journalists Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde, the makers of the West Cork podcast which gained international recognition this year for its examination of the Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder in 1996.
Baxter Dury entertained the Main Stage crowd that night with his own deadpan sprechsgesang. Mumbling something about potatoes along the way, the son of innovative 80s star Ian Dury gave an exceptional account of himself, his amusing yet often heartfelt lyrics given appropriate nuance by a solid female-backed band embellishing the set with suitable electronic pop cadences. Fan favourites like the depraved ‘Miami’ and the dark ‘Cocaine Man’ particularly went down a treat.
There was plenty of Cork talent on display at Ballinlough Castle throughout the weekend, too. Cork band The Altered Hours more than satisfied night owls and late festival arrivals on Friday, careering through a set of swirling psych noise featuring tracks off their recent ‘On My Tongue’ EP, as well as from their well-received 2016 album ‘In Heat/Not Sorry’.
There were also shows from R&B group Shookrah and prolific Cork-based songwriter Laurie Shaw on Friday, while North Cork’s Chris Kent took to the Vodafone Comedy Tent on Saturday evening.
Have you ever heard or seen eight women together onstage rapping in Icelandic about women’s rights and politics? I thought not. Sunday was one of the musical highlights of the festival with a gripping performance from Reykjavikurdaetur (or ‘Daughters of Reykjavik’), an all-female hip hop collective from Iceland whose combination of female-empowering, don’t-give-a-fuck lyrics and razor-sharp beats have made them an unlikely fan favourite in many countries.
Boasting about sending ‘pussy pics’ and name-checking figures like Miles Cyrus and Ban Ki-Moon, the eight members gave a show of astounding energy and shock factor, pouring champagne and vodka down their audience’s throats at several points. The fact the language barrier seemed to matter so little is a testament to the strength Iceland’s new darlings have as performers.
Rivalling the energy was Shame, a South-London post-punk quintet whose frenetic live shows have seen them hailed as one of the most exciting guitar bands in recent times. Performing in the Midnight Circus tent earlier on Sunday, the group gave a characteristically sweaty performance, singer Charlie Steen earnestly beckoning the crowd to move forward and get closer, laughing and telling B&Sers ‘just enjoy yourselves’. Barely out of his teens, Steen is already quite the able frontman, roaring furiously, whipping his shirt off a couple of songs in and hoisting the whole mic stand over his head as he surveyed the crowd.
There was some fantastic comedy to be had in the Comedy Tent from the likes of Dublin comedian Joanne McNally and Northerner Paul Currie, who left audiences dumbfounded with his brilliant mix of stand-up and clownish buffoonery.
All the music, comedy and talks on offer over the three days was framed by a calm and carefully designed festival site, with an ‘I Believe Her’ area in the woodlands and a Food on Board section with an array of delectable dining options, from Japanese rice dishes to Hawaiian poke and even lobster. The earthy Arbutus Yarns stage invited revellers to enjoy a unique music experience from the comfort of armchairs in the woods, while there were countless DJ sets and singalong socials to be enjoyed.
The festival drew to a close on Sunday with the optimistic reggae/hip hop-infused show from Jamaica’s Chronixx, bringing to an end a scorching weekend of good music, food and plenty of soul.