Monday 22 January 2018

Picnic time brings a silver lining to summer's end

Win Butler of Arcade Fire. Photo: Getty Images
Win Butler of Arcade Fire. Photo: Getty Images

It's almost time to go down to the woods and kiss the summer away at the Electric Picnic. Like its old rival Oxegen, the recession has hit the festival where it hurts, and it was noticeable that the EP's long-time policy of selling only three-day weekender tickets was jettisoned last year, with fans able to buy a stand alone ticket for Sunday for the first time -- a policy repeated this year.

The Picnic will see its smaller scale as a blessing in these austere times, as well as the fact that it's not as reliant on attracting a marquee name to sell tickets as Oxegen is -- I know people who happily forego the music stages in order to bask in the cerebral pleasures of the Mindfield area and the sensual delights of the Body & Soul section. And then there are those who never made it out of the back garden of the Bacardi B-Live arena, but that's a mojito of a different colour.

We may have no bread, but the annual pilgrimage to Stradbally does at least provide the circus -- bearded ladies optional.

This year's line-up will appeal most to music lovers who came of age in the Nineties: the Chemical Brothers's loved-up prog-dance monster munch will have ravers of a certain age dusting down their retina-burning glo-sticks, while post-rock assassins Mogwai will be attempting to blow the sound barrier to kingdom come.

Jarvis Cocker, meanwhile, will be keeping us to our pledge to all meet up in the year 2011.

There are also a good many bands on the bill who are returning to Ireland having played some of the best gigs the capital has seen this year: The Unthanks, for instance, were mesmerising at Vicar St in April: a heady mix of eerie murder ballads, wistful Northumbrian love songs and, er, clog-dancing. And in the meantime, singer Rachel has become a mother for the first time.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, meanwhile, rolled out their rebellious indie jukebox at the Button Factory earlier this summer, where the New York retro-heads reminded us why we all loved The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Smiths and Brian in the first place.

Potentially playing to a bigger crowd, they could be one of the bands to abandon the queue at the bar for.

Arcade Fire's status as a festival favourite has long been secure, but anyone who saw their extraordinarily committed and passionate set last December in the O2 will want to leave the suburbs and make a beeline for the Laois countryside for a repeat dose.

And I know of at least one smitten fan who has practically stalked the new princess of country, Caitlin Rose, all over Europe ever since she first pitched up in Kilkenny last year.

I predict a restraining order will be in place by the time she skips out of Stradbally.

But of all the returning conquering heroes, the one I'm most psyched about seeing again is John Grant, who knocked us all for six when he played Kilkenny's Watergate Theatre and Dublin's Button Factory last May.

Like listening to Scott Walker sing the songbook of Stephin Merritt, Grant has emerged as a true star since he rose from the ashes of his now-defunct band The Czars and, with the help of his friends Midlake, recorded Mojo magazine's album of the year for 2010.

Bizarrely, rather than be hailed as the brave musical genius he so clearly is, Grant has been practically ignored back home in America.

With Midlake also on the bill this year, will they do the honours and join Grant on stage? It's a mouth-watering prospect.

As for bands who are playing the festival for the first time, I'll be in the front row for LA's Best Coast. Bethany, if you're reading this, give us a wave.

And I haven't even mentioned any of the large local contingent playing the Picnic this year.

Holding their own with the out-of-towners, the likes of Jape, Gemma Hayes, The Cast Of Cheers, RSAG, Codes, James Vincent McMorrow and And So I Watch You From Afar, while a few legendary characters will also be walking among us, such as Sinead O'Connor, Bob Geldof and The Undertones.

Altogether now, as Paul McLoone won't quite sing, there goes the summer ...

Electric Picnic takes place on Friday 2, Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 September

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