Monday 19 March 2018

Bringing the dark notes of that ju-ju magic to Stradbally

From Jerry Fish to the Waterboys, some of the most incandescent acts around are headed for Electric Picnic, says Barry Egan

Federico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish poet gruesomely murdered by Franco's brain-dead thugs in 1936, once wondered about the impact great art has on people. He talked about the wound it leaves in our sensibilities as duende and defined it as all those songs that have dark notes and raise gooseflesh on our skin. Me, I've always got that from the Waterboys.

Waterboys mainman Mike Scott, who has a bit of the soul of Lorca and Bob Dylan and Van Morrison in him, is a poet of sorts himself. Read Scott's lyric aloud now to December and tell me that he doesn't have duende. "December fell deep in the bleak midwinter time when Jesus Christ howled a saviour baby's howl a primal truth as pure as ice," Scott sang, "And though we crucified him on a cross and dragged his words from prayer to curse/ He was able to go anywhere/ He was almost one of us." I think it says something about Scott that he would open the eponymously titled debut album The Waterboys in 1982 with a song like December, does it not?

Other songs like A Bang On The Ear, The Whole Of The Moon and Strange Ship confirm cap'n Scott as one of the most inspirational Celtic soul boys since Van Morrison. We can thank the gods that he dropped out of his degree course at Edinburgh University in 1977 to pursue the muse of punk and new wave. Shakespeare's loss was our gain. You will see what I mean at Electric Picnic, when Scott plays with his band on the opening night, September 3.

Other bands making the pilgrimage to beautiful Stradbally Hall in Co Laois include Roxy Music, PiL, Leftfield, Marc Almond, Massive Attack, Eels, Cathy Davey (who was incredible duetting with Neil Hannon last Friday at Sean Penn's 50th birthday party shindig in La Stampa), the incredible Imelda May, and possibly one of Ireland's greatest bands, The Frames.

I have always loved that quote by Glen Hansard of the Frames: "They say that boxers and musicians are the two most abused groups in entertainment because all they want to do is go out there, get in the ring and fight, and it's so true." The Frames play Saturday (as do Seasick Steve, Steve Earle, Cathy Davey and Paul Brady) in what will be one of the most eagerly awaited performances of the weekend.

I will also be eagerly awaiting the performance of Jerry Fish and his Mudbug Club. Erstwhile Emotional Fish iconoclast Jerry released an album last year, The Beautiful Untrue, that is astounding in its breadth and range. Jerry has a voice that has ju-ju echoes of Tom Waits, Willy DeVille, Leonard Cohen, Dr John and a million arthouse noises you heard somewhere in your subconscious -- as do the Fall, who play on the Saturday night along with Massive Attack, the National and the aforesaid Jerry Fish among many, many others. Promoter John Reynolds is to be congratulated for putting together a great bill yet again.

My own favourite personal memory of Electric Picnic is from 2007. I had gone for lunch on the Saturday in a local hotel and I dropped my keys on the floor of the restaurant. I was on my hands and knees searching when I saw another man on his hands and knees pretending to be an animal for his kids. We almost bumped heads. Then I looked up and it was Nick Cave.

We then both continued on what we were doing. Later that night I was standing by the side of the stage with his wife Susie Bick, a former Vivienne Westwood muse and model, while we watched the same man throwing himself about the stage like Jack the Ripper in excelsis in front of 30,000 people. It took me and the crowds through a windswept landscape of dark sex, melancholia, obsession and black-hearted murder balladry. It was one of the greatest shows I ever saw.

I expect nothing less this year from the Waterboys. And the Frames. And PiL. And Jerry Fish. And Imelda May.

Electric Picnic takes place on September 3-5. Weekend tickets at €240 available from all usual outlets.

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