My article about Electric Picnic Music Festival in Ireland featuring interviews with Blondie, Jerry Fish and more.
They came with raincoats carrying wheelbarrows and bins filled with cheap German beer, deckchairs and smiles on their faces despite the sideways rain and horribleness.
For the first time ever 41,000 tickets for Electric Picnic were sold, ten years after it made its debut on a hot, sunny day in 2004 with just 3 big tents, a main stage and a 10,000 strong crowd in Stradbally Estate, county Laois.
Since then the award winning festival has been described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “One of the best festivals we’ve ever been to.” Despite wet tents and deflated air mattresses (mine), resilient Irish festivalgoers who are “well used to it by now,” are having the absolute craic.
“Its amazing,” an 18 year old first timer informed me. “I can’t believe I haven’t been here before. My friends have been talking about it for years.” Ah yes I remember the youthful enthusiasm I had when I went to my first Picnic. I talked about it for a year until the following Picnic. “It was the first time we had something like that in Ireland. It was so special. Something magical happened,” Laoise Downes a seasoned Electric Picnic goer confirmed. “Its been a big part of my working life too as I used to organise the 40,000 official festival goodie bags. Now I just enjoy it as a punter.”
“Ireland’s Glastonbury” has evolved a lot since its early years. Its hugely popular among celebs,” publicist Lindsey Holmes said on site. “Jack Reynor and his model fiancé Madeleine Mulqueen were here, while cast members of Love Hate and Game of Thrones mingled with rugby stars and TV personalities.”
“Now you get kids in their 20s enjoying the Picnic in a campsite, while their parents are in the main arena or Mindfield Spoken Word area. Many of the people who were there in their late 30s when it started are now here with their teenage kids. Its great.”
Favourites Chic and the Pet Shop Boys closed the first two nights, while members of Blondie were smitten with Cavan foursome The Strypes, who played the main stage before the 1970s new wave punk act on Friday.
“Did we mention how much we like the Stripes?” Yes you did. Many, many times during a brief pre gig press conference in the Hot Press tent.
Despite the fact that Blondie were fashionably an hour late, they were welcomed heartily by fans, who had been feasting on free crisps in their absence. I was surprised to see children as young as 8 in the front row. “Yes of course we know Blondie,” they said in unison. Oh s’cuse me. “We’re here for the music,” so the audience members insisted. “This is our 5th Picnic. The bands are great. We love it and we normally go to sleep around 1am or later.” Another child in the front row piped out “I’ve been here 9 times.” Though not everyone was as informed – one festivalgoer asked if Blondie was “a man?” before the band arrived.
Harry was her usual cool self as she went through the motions. “We love performing our new stuff. Performing now is better than it used to be because the sound is so much better. We love the music in New York nowadays as much as we did in the 70s and 80s,” and so on.
What about One Direction’s cover version of “One Way or Another” then? “We like all music. Music changes. You have to love and respect all music,” they all nodded, “Even Justin Bieber at one stage,” guitarist Chris Stein added in an uncalled for act of punk political correctness. They took to the stage and to be fair, they were good. “It can’t be denied. They were really good,” a nodding festivalgoer confirmed.
I always enjoy the Camembert Quartet, who performed at the Salty Dog on Saturday. “Its one our favourite gigs of the year,” lead singer Paddy Cullivan confirmed. “I do cabaret at the Leviathan each year and been doing the Salty Dog now for the third year. “Anything can happen at the Salty Dog,” a capsized boat under the trees in Stradbally Estate, which is there year round. “Its like a fringe festival within Electric Picnic.”
We reminisced about the time we were in a hotel on the Sunday night after EP listening to a Rolling Stones CD over and over (it wasn’t mine and it was the only one there) there was a bang on the door and Johnny Rotten was standing there in his white dressing gown screaming ‘Turn that f***ing music down.” Paddy reminisced. “He hated that dinosaur music. Those were good days. That was just before the world ended. We stayed in beautiful apartments.” This year neither Paddy nor myself were drinking which means we have to experience the toilets sober much to our mutual chagrin.
Later on I saw the Stranglers and the Jerry Fish Electric Sideshow, which is in its second year now. “It’s fabulous to have your own stage,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s a lot of love here. I don’t mean to sound like an old hippie but love is the cement that keeps us all together. There’s so much diversity in Ireland now and there is such beauty in this gathering of interesting people from all around,” he said.
What do you make of the rain, bigger venue and younger crowds I asked? “I don’t mind the wet. I think its part of a festival in Ireland. I also don’t think we should fear the change. Festivals are important thing for the Irish psyche. “I was raised in the church of Buddy Holly and had a life changing experience at Glastonbury some years back.”
“Yeah I’ve had a few life changing gigs at Electric Picnic myself,” spritely DJ Sally Cinnamon informed me. “This is my 11th EP. I haven’t missed a single one. My favourite was 2005 when Kraftwerk played. David Kitt was with us round the campsite singing with at sunrise. It was magic. We never wanted to leave and I’m back every year since.”
“I saw David Byrne last year and I think I cried. I’m not going to lie. Then when I heard he was outside a tent with my friend, I wasn’t able to talk to him. I was too overwhelmed. There’s only so much one person can take.”
Country manager for Movember Ireland, Neil Rooney says Electric Picnic is a great platform to raise awareness for charity. “People can sign up for the charity here. We have a trailer in the Trailer Park offering free beard cuts, while DJs from Radiomade present their show inside. We are also hosting 3 course meals cooked by some of Ireland’s leaving chefs for our loyal customers. Organisers and sponsors have been very kind. We have pretty much had everything donated to us.”
Michelin star chefs Derry Clarke and Ross Lewis are hosting a sell out exclusive five star fine dining banquet in aid of Console charity throughout the weekend. “All the money goes to the charity,” Clarke said. “We’ve had a lot of sponsorship from organisers, which has made it possible.” It’s been a huge success.”
Just like the Picnic then, which is televised on RTE 2 for the first this year. Despite the weather, sleeping on the wet ground and festival fatigue on my part, the Picnic came round and proved itself to still be special after all these years.