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Féile 95: When Britpop came to Cork

As the music festival moved from Thurles to the Rebel County, Ed Power looks back on a year when it was a glorious time to be young and obsessed with music

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Kylie Minogue performed live with Nick Cave for the first time at Féile 95

Kylie Minogue performed live with Nick Cave for the first time at Féile 95

Kylie Minogue performed live with Nick Cave for the first time at Féile 95

Summer 1995 was a glorious time to be young and obsessed with music. Especially if you lived in Cork, to which the Féile festival was about to decamp after a spell in Thurles. It had already been a year of highlights. Björk had brought her Post Tour to City Hall four weeks previously (because of a curfew, she could not perform an encore but promised to return). And then many of us had taken the long journey north for the definitive Gen X edition of Slane: REM supported by Oasis and Belly.

Slane was incredible and, even in the moment, felt epoch-defining. Half the crowd seemed to be wearing novelty tape-on Gallagher eyebrows (a hilarious item of tat flogged by the T-shirt guys on the way in). Michael Stipe rocked tangerine pants so luminescent, the man on the moon could have seen them. At one point, everyone started throwing random detritus in the air. It was our rubbish Woodstock - literally.

The light at the end of the tunnel, though, was Féile, which took place 25 years ago this weekend. In its Tipperary incarnation, it had, frankly, a reputation at the time as a bit of a boggers' ball (which tends to be glossed over amidst the Féile 'Nostalgia Industry' that has since sprung up).

So if you were snobbish about music, it really wasn't for you. Neither I nor any of my friends would have been caught dead donning straw hats and going to Semple Stadium to see the Saw Doctors, Bryan Adams and Simply Red.

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Feile 95 line-up

Feile 95 line-up

Feile 95 line-up

Cork would be different. You didn't have to put on your wellies and pith helmet and venture into Ireland's rural heartlands (once a year for the Munster Final was enough, thanks all the same). Oh and did you see the line-up? The Stone Roses, Blur, Elastica, Prodigy, Moby, Tricky, Kylie Minogue, Massive Attack, The Chemical Brothers, Andrew Weatherall, Shaun Ryder's Black Grape, the Boo Radleys, Lush, Menswear….

Britpop was coming to Cork. It was as if they'd uprooted the Good Mixer pub in Camden, about which we would read every week in the NME and Melody Maker, and set it down beside Blackrock Castle.

"I have seen Take That," the London Times' Caitlin Moran would write in her review. "And the hysterics of their audience was nothing like the Roses fever at Féile."

There were hysterics all right. Sunday had been the day it was all leading up to. In a few hours, the Roses, the most important band of the era, would make their glorious return after years away. You could almost reach out and touch the anticipation, hanging in the heavy August air.

But they had a lot to live up to following Blur's performance the previous evening. "We're having this little competition back in the UK," singer Damon Albarn had told the Saturday night crowd, by way of introducing 'Country House'. This was of course in reference to their ding-dong chart joust with Oasis, which was proceeding at full throttle. He, more than the Gallaghers, was hyping Blur v Oasis. Albarn would come to regret this. Still, he seemed to be enjoying himself as he teasingly bashed out 'Country House', the terrible song with which he had chosen to do battle with Oasis and which, even by August 1995, was ageing horribly.

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Fans at the front of the stage during Féile in 1995

Fans at the front of the stage during Féile in 1995

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Fans at the front of the stage during Féile in 1995

The weekend also featured Elastica, fronted by Albarn's then-girlfriend Justine Frischmann. At that point, they had been touring non stop for nearly 18 months and were ready to keel over.

Up front to see them, my memory is that they were too skinny, strung out, dead behind the eyes. But the performance - all 30 minutes or so - was incredible. Sadly, this was the beginning of the end for Elastica. On the way back to the airport, bassist Annie Holland declared she was quitting. Their Britpop dream died somewhere around the Kinsale Road Roundabout.

With a mere two stages, Féile didn't confront you with the infinity of choice that is part of the modern festival experience. And yet it was possible to miss things. On Friday, for instance, my friends and I had scoffed as Kylie Minogue arrived on the main stage. Off we cleared to see Massive Attack in the dance tent.

One pal, though, lingered out of curiosity. When we returned, he revealed that, about five minutes after we exited, Nick Cave had turned up to duet with Kylie on 'Where The Wild Roses Grow'. It was the first time they had performed together.

Still, history would beckon all over again on Sunday as everyone counted down to the Roses, missing in action since getting bogged down making their (overblown, if not entirely terrible) second record.

All of that was several hours in the future, though, as a few of us sloped into the dance tent to kill time while Paul Weller proceeded through his ambling dad rock. Just then, Ian Brown - the Roses' shaman-esque lead singer - walked past. He was tiny, as if he'd emerged from inside the Russian Doll of another larger Ian Brown.

"F**king hell…," said one of my friends and rushed after him for an autograph. Another chum had spent the weekend by the fence cordoning off the backstage area, looking for celebrities at whom to shout.

His diligence finally paid off when Moby, who had gone on before the Prodigy on the Friday, walked past. "Mobyyyyy….!" he yelled through the chain-link. Moby stopped and looked around. Mission accomplished.

Festivals were different in 1995. Féile 95, as I say, featured just two stages - the main one in front of the Blackrock End and a dance tent outside the stadium proper. There were no shamanic healing spaces, no massage tables, no spoken word area. Had someone suggested a poetry reading or interpretive dance recital, you would have assumed they had drank too much shop-brand vodka on the stroll down the venue. Electric Picnic or Body And Soul it was not.

The Stone Roses provided the weekend with its crescendo. The band's bassist Mani would list Féile as one of the group's greatest gigs. That is how I recall it too. Others, though, begged to differ. In the years - gulp, decades - since, I have encountered more than a few who remember the Roses as indulgent and aimless. That was also the opinion of Orbital, the Kent techno brothers who had gone on afterwards. "The Stone Roses were crap," Orbital's Paul Hartnoll told me when I asked him for his Féile memories in 2012.

"The most boring f**king thing. Sorry, I don't want to slag people off, but I'm too old to stop. At first, they were good. Then they got all these stools out and started an acoustic gig. Hello! It's Sunday night, we're in Cork, this is a big festival. What are you doing? I don't think even Paul Weller would have had the f**king nerve - and he might have actually carried it off."

Irish Independent