Bushmills Live - Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Co. Antrim
There comes a time in anyone’s life when the thought of a day at a music festival sends a chill down the spine. When schlepping from stage to stage getting soaking wet, sunburnt - or both - all while having to navigate long queues for warm booze or to locate drinkable water and hygienic toilets just doesn’t appeal any more.
Step forward Bushmills Live, a boutique festival at the famous Bushmills distillery close to the Atlantic coast of Northern Ireland where around 700 people congregate around two small indoor stages watching some handpicked bands while supping some mighty fine Irish whiskey. You need to win a competition or be invited along but, fear not, TMF found a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar - and can report that this was about as perfect a festival as you could hope for.
The heavens opened as I stepped off the bus but the first of the two stages was a mere 30 yards away from the gate so the elements were easily escaped. With a welcome whiskey cocktail in hand I settled in for the first of the days turns, Brooklyn based indie dance funksters Rubblebucket.
Although they already have three albums under their belt, this was their first ever gig on European soil and they weren’t about to let the opportunity of impressing a new crowd pass them by. The seven piece careered through a joyful set of bouncy, eighties-influenced, horn heavy, pop that set the toes a-tapping, the smiles a-grinning and, with a crowd walkabout included, were an infectiously entertaining start to the day. Catch 'em on tour if you can.
The offer of a distillery tour was too tempting an offer to pass up so I only managed to catch the very end of the Levity Breaks set but the few minutes I did grab was pleasingly rocky so I’ll catch up with these lads properly next time around. A short break - and some more whiskey - followed before the first of today’s contingent of singer songwriters, Luke Sital-Singh, took to the stage. With a deprecating sense of humour and a voice that moves from the achingly soft to the ear shatteringly loud, Singh provided a magnetic set of slow burning, acoustic majesty with bursts of frenetic electric energy. His heart-rending lyrics kept the audience captivated. His debut album, The Fire Inside, is due in August and should be one to savour.
The alt. indie folk musings of Matthew and The Atlas were next. Main man Matt Hegarty has the kind of gravel toned voice that could sink a ship at a thousand paces. Banjos to the fore at the start, Hegarty and co. soon switched to full on electric mode and delivered a life-affirming set of dark and brooding indie folk. Hegarty's almost sinister tones touched the very soul of an oddly sparse crowd. With only two stages, and no one else on at that time, it was a real shame to not see more people watching what turned out to be the highlight of the day.
Perhaps people had decided to get themselves a prime spot for the main attraction of the day which, with all due respect to headliners, The 1975, was clearly the indie supergroup Tired Pony. Frontman Gary Lightbody had the audience eating out of hand from the very start and his dry humour - and the obvious enjoyment of everyone around - meant the annoyance of having to listen to some sub-Snow Patrol indie dirges was offset by the beautiful, slide guitar-led Americana ditties that were laced throughout what was, to be fair, a rapturously received set. The only other real quibble would be that one of the great rock guitarists of our time, Peter Buck, seemed wasted as a very quiet sidekick to Lightbody. Hopefully Buck will make up for that with a solo tour of his own.
Next up was another set of dark and brooding folk, but this time with a high falsetto provided James Vincent McMorrow. It provided a strangely similar, yet contrasting, set to that of Matthew and The Atlas. Fortunately the crowd had swelled and were richly rewarded by a raucous and heartfelt set that ran Hegarty and co. close. The penultimate set of the day was from Northern Ireland lad David C Clements, whose own brand of languid and slightly dreary folk palled, when compared to the likes of Singh, McMorrow and Hegarty, and sent many people to the main stage early in preparation for the finale.
The headliners of any festival are supposed to bring the show to rip roaring conclusion and, although they tried their best, Manchester lads The 1975 provided a deeply disappointing climax to procedings. Quite how these lads have managed to be so lauded and successful escapes me as, apart from a couple of moments of noisy, instrumental dinginess, their set was chock full of instantly forgettable, anaemic indie pop ditties with underwhelming titles such as ‘Sex’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Menswear’. I was not alone in this perception as there was gradual exodus of people throughout their aimless, soulless and thoroughly mundane set. It was a relief when they finished. 'More whiskey!' went the cry!
The 1975 aside, Bushmills Live was a an absolute blast. Bringing bands and fans alike together in an atmosphere of mutual fun and respect, as days go, this one was hard to beat.