Comeback kids' main course at mouth-watering Picnic
Barry Egan can't wait to catch Pulp and Sinead O'Connor at the laid-back festival in the midlands
Expect nothing, Alice Walker once said, live frugally on surprise.
There are great expectations for Electric Picnic 2011. Some critics -- like me -- are even thinking that this year's bill (deep breathe: Arcade Fire, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Big Audio Dynamite, The Rapture, Interpol, Sinead O'Connor, Gavin Friday, Jerry Fish, Gemma Hayes) is the best ever.
After putting on the gig of the year in Prince at Malahide Castle last month, promoter John Reynolds is not one to rest on his laurels with Electric Picnic in three weeks' time at Stradbally Estate in Co Laois. (It is a lovely, laid-back three days of great music, great vibes, great performance, poetry, whatever you're having yourself, and top organic food: a place where the recession no longer seems to exist, whatever about matter.)
It is a major coup to have landed Canadian indie gods Arcade Fire, who headline the Saturday night. Their newish album The Suburbs is one of the most critically lauded albums of recent times and the most compelling. The lead singer and songwriter Win Butler writes about not just the shiney happy shopping malls of Texas (where he and his brother Will grew up), or the places of his Canadian present. They are, wrote Alastair McKay in his Uncut review, the architecture of alienation.
"Butler's travels are psychogeographical -- trips to the bland landscapes which symbolise everything that is missing from contemporary life. The action isn't just in the rear-view mirror. Butler is also commuting to the near-future, the place JG Ballard saw as "a vast, conforming suburb of the soul" where everything interesting had already happened."
By the time the multi-instrumental, mixed gender, seven-piece Arcade Fire take the stage on Saturday night, lots of interesting things will already have happened. Polly Jean Harvey will have headlined on the Friday night. The Dorset-born anti-diva (who was born to a stonemason father and sculptress mother in October 1969) has just released one of the records of the year thus far with the peculiarly enjoyable, disturbing even, Let England Shake. "Smile, smile Bobby, with your lovely mouth," she sings on the title track. "Pack up your troubles, let's head out to the fountain of death and splash about, swim back and forth."
PJ is, of course, the singer who suggested to the Observer journalist during an interview a few years ago in a Somerset pub that they visit the local church in East Coker where TS Eliot's ashes are buried. She thought "his heart may be here but the rest of him elsewhere".
On the same Friday night at Electric Picnic, Sinead O'Connor will give one of the most anticipated performances of her career. She is one of the greatest singers -- male or female -- that this country has ever produced. The power of this Dublin chanteuse when she sings has been evident ever since she first emerged all those years ago with her debut album The Lion & The Cobra in 1987.
She has a new album out early next year. I heard some demos from it and it has possibly the best songs Sinead has done in a decade -- if not ever. For this reason alone, I would suggest making sure you are at Stradbally on Friday night: Sinead O'Connor is back and, even allowing for rock-critic hyperbole, she rocks like never before.
There will be a similar sense of a returning great on the Sunday night, courtesy of Pulp. With the likes of James Vincent Morrow, Big Audio Dynamite (featuring Mick Jones, formerly of The Clash), Bob Geldof, Joan As Policewoman and Mogwai among many others earlier in Sunday, Pulp should be the grand ending to an incredible three days.
The reformation of Britpop demi-gods Pulp should be one of the highlights of the Electric Picnic if not the entire musical year in Ireland. As we know, Jarvis Cocker is certainly unique in the music business. The charismatic main man of Pulp said recently the band's reunion was brought about by the death of a friend.
"I think that had a lot to do with it. You suddenly realise you can't take things for granted. I've had a few anxiety dreams already," Cocker said.
"The favourite is usually wandering through a festival, then looking at your watch and realising you should have been on stage 10 minutes ago."
I will draw a thin line under Jarvis's comments to Q magazine 2009 in relation to whether Pulp would ever get back together: "We live in an age where repetition and nostalgia are lifestyle choices. I'm prone to it too -- I go on YouTube and find things I haven't seen since I was a kid. But I'm a contrary sod, so if someone wants me to reform a band I tend not to."
I don't care once the aforementioned contrary sod plays Babies:
"Well it happened years ago,
when you lived on Stanhope Road.
We listened to your sister,
when she came home from school,
cos she was two years older,
and she had boys in her room.
We listened outside and heard her. Alright."
I want to be in the crowd of 30,000 singing along with Jarvis to that.
Electric Picnic, September 2, 3 and 4, Stradbally Estate, Co Laois