The August Bank Holiday weekend is something of an unofficial Irish tradition on the holiday calendar. The last Bank Holiday of the summer calendar gives everyone a chance to escape their busy city lives and escape to the country. Nestled deep in this countryside is Castlepalooza, a small festival set in the grounds of a historic 17th Century castle and surrounded by the oldest primordial Oak woods in Ireland. With a focus on emerging acts from Ireland and further afield the event is an opportunity for artists to hone their craft and for fans to find new music.
Saturday began with a small audience enjoying some poetry inside the castle, which provided a welcome refuge from the deluge of rain that was falling. Rain had been falling since early morning and puddles abounded throughout the grounds. Still though, rain or no rain there was music to be heard! Wicklow 5-piece The Daily Howl got proceedings under way on the Metro Herald stage but unless folk music is really your thing then there was not much from this set to get pulses racing. Always difficult to be the opening act though, so kudos to the boys. Outside DJ Baz was kicking off antics on the main stage, desperately trying to get people to forget the torrent of rain that was falling (and it was a torrent!). Electronic music producer Benny Smiles was inside in the dry and he came armed with a guitar in hand and electronic paraphernalia to his side. As a performer he is cool, calm and collected; and the electronic side of his music is refreshingly chilled (no banging synth!). Alt-rock outfit Otherkin follow, and from the opening chords they are an impressive act. They have a good stage presence, competent craftsmanship and some great tunes, all delivered by an engaging frontman. They might just be worth keeping an eye on. With the rain continuing to teem down outside and with no decent shelter near the main stage we decided to skip one or two acts in favour of staying inside in the dry. This led to us witnessing Affleck, a Belfast-based three piece who combine live instruments such as the fiddle with electronic music (it would turn out to be the first of many fiddles at the festival). Although the band look like they are fronted by a 15 year old (and naming two songs after video game Minecraft doesn’t help) they turn out to be surprisingly good, combining their different musical elements into a cohesive whole. By this point Liza Flume should have been taking over vocal duties on the main stage but she could not make the festival so guess what we did? That’s right, we stayed indoors. Hey, it’s our holiday weekend too you know!
Alias Empire were setting up and by the look of their set it was going to impress. With their symbol emblazoned across their equipment and visuals displayed on the ceiling this electronic 3-piece delivered a solid set of synth-drenched music, they certainly would not be out of place at a dance festival. Following them was sole electronic artist Hauer, but his set was underwhelming and his failure to connect to the audience was his ultimate downfall. Having none of those problems were Limerick lads Fox Jaw, a band now well known on the Irish festival scene. Producing music with a dark core and delivered by a frontman with a deep, gravelly, booming voice – it is easy to be lured into their mysterious world. Back inside, the increasing crowd was about to be treated to one of the highlights of the weekend when London lass Synaesthete took to stage. Standing alone with nothing but some drums and a mixing desk it would be easy to underestimate Sarah Tanat-Jones, but what follows is the standout set of the weekend. She effortlessly mixes synth with and an incredibly powerful voice, all the while hammering the s**t out of her drums. And boy is it ever powerful! Her stage presence puts many bands to shame and her personality shines through telling her adorning Irish audience that everyone is “so nice” and that she has “not heard a bad word all weekend”. With a debut album two weeks away you would be doing yourself an injustice if you do not check it out. Outside it may not have looked like the Caribbean but it sounded like it as the Dublin Afrobeat Ensemble did their best to lure their sun out with their infectious energy and Afro-funk tunes. King Kong Company were causing a stir inside with their masked frontmen (and women), heavy EDM and general manic antics. Party mode was now fully engaged as everyone jumped around to the beats of this truly insane group.
Vann Music were the first band to take advantage of the dying sunlight outside as the lights from the stage lit up the castle and they proceeded to enthrall the brave souls who were now heedlessly standing in the rain. We Cut Corners also brought their incredibly unique sound to the main stage, the talented duo sliding between instruments and singing songs off their second album released earlier this year. Dan Croll experienced difficulties ahead of his Irish debut when none of his monitors or instruments worked and it took a good fifteen minutes to remedy it. Still though, it gave us plenty of time to admire his fashionable specs and he was clearly in very jovial form. When he did get going his beautifully gentle voice soared over the courtyard of the castle as the lyrics to Compliment Your Soul rang out. Andrew Weatherall and Gruff Rhys were charged with closing the night on the two stages and did their best to make everyone forget that they were all going back to very, very wet tents.
Thankfully Sunday’s weather was much better, not exactly the Barbados but by God it had stopped raining. The dry weather gave everyone a chance to sample the little nuances that were on offer, things like the vintage clothes shop, the hammock area, the face painting, the range of food, and the obligatory tea & coffee (we were particularly impressed with not there not only being Soya milk on offer but also Almond Soya). And for the first time we have seen at a festival: running water with sanitisers and mirrors! We s**t you not! Right, back to the music.
We started Sunday with unique talent Samuel Vas-Y, a solo artist who switches between languages, plays the guitar and sings songs about his dog. He is a gem of a find, affable, talented, and he wears a jumper well. Elaine Mai was busy singing and producing dance floor beats until her microphone stopped working and you couldn’t hear her. Continuing on like a soldier her mic then decided to have an attack of feedback and it got so bad she had to unplug it. A clearly annoyed (and in no way at fault) Elaine held her composure though and gracefully finished her set with a remix of a Destiny’s Child song and an apology to her fans. Meltybrains? also had technical difficulties at the start of their set when absolutely nothing worked. This meant they started fifteen minutes late but at least there was a palpable sense of excitement by the time they did get going. They delivered a knockout set of experimental, electronic music (with the aid of a wickedly cool looking clear fiddle) and went on to thrill the steadily growing fans. Outside, The Clameens were also thrilling their audience, especially the girl who decided to go off and dance in the mud completely on her own. And who could blame her? Their pop-rock music is addictive and they have a frontman who knows how to connect with an audience. Northern Ireland has a new export! Back inside Enemies were continuing to thrill people with their by now well oiled live show whilst London-based three-piece Sisters were gaining new fans outside. Funeral Suits followed but their style of rock/electronica music and subdued live performing felt slightly out of sync with the festival atmosphere. There were no such problems for Parisian outfit We Were Evergreen as their gentle, melodic music washed over the gathered punters, even making use of a Xylophone in the process.
Back in the Metro Herald tent Daithi was being his usual brilliant self but tonight he seems particularly fired up. He goes on to produce quite possibly the most energetic performance we have seen him play thus far, sweat beginning to drop off the bottom of his hair as he frantically pushes buttons and wrestles with his fiddle. By now the tent is wedged with music fans, all of whom are enthralled by his live performance and show their appreciation by dancing wildly. He is followed by Onra, a solo artist that provides one of the only hip-hop moments of the festival weekend and makes you wonder why there is not more of this sort of music on festival timetables. Giles Peterson was supposed to end the night outside but he unfortunately couldn’t make it and so the night was handed over to a d.j.
And with that our Castlepalooza 2014 adventure was over. Our impression? We likey? You know what, we did! Despite the weather on Saturday there was an undeniable sense of relaxation all weekend. Everyone was smiling, there were no drunken melees and the Oak tress that surrounded the festival provided an air of genuine serenity. Many people donned fancy dress costumes on Sunday too, which provided some amusing viewing as you waited for the bands. The talent on offer is varied and generally of a high quality, the age range ran from young children to the older generation and the stages are all extremely close to each other. (There are also two other stages where D.J. s play all day if you prefer to dance to your little heart’s content). Our only major fault with the weekend was the sound difficulties that some of the artists had to endure. An act starting late is one thing (and to be fair no one really cares) but when an act has to abandon a planned set due to sound issues or the paying public cannot hear the vocals/instruments then that is an entirely different story and it really needs to be addressed for next year. All in all though Castlepalooza is akin to that feeling you get when you find a tenner in your pocket. You never knew it was there, but when you do find it you feel like the luckiest sucker alive.