Eamonn McCann: See Ash and Cat Malojian at Glasgowbury and find out how other half live
There was a fellow on the radio the other day saying that the Dublin Government’s subsidy of the Apprentice Boys’ Siege celebrations showed that, “there is growing respect between the two cultural traditions on the island.”
Fair enough. Better there should be respect between traditions than suspicion and hostility.
But “the two cultural traditions”? Can the entire population be divided and allocated thus? Where does Fighting With Wire come in?
Fighting With Wire will feature with 48 other bands and choirs and tumblers and jugglers at Glasgowbury this Saturday. All but a couple come from the North. As to which of “the two cultural traditions” they fit into, I wouldn’t know.
Some of them wouldn’t know themselves.
Glasgowbury is the soul-child of Paddy Glasgow, singer-songwriter and cultural proselytiser from the Deep South of Derry, who willed the event into being in the badland of Draperstown in the summer of 2000 to promote local bands and raise funds for the Ulster Cancer Foundation.
Since then, it’s just grown and grown until, now, in the view of all the best judges (ie, people who agree with me) it’s the most innovative and authentic and sheerly enjoyable musical festival in these islands.
It boasts a setting so beautiful as make a dour philistine swoon. Not that there are any philistines in the vicinity. Nor dour folk either. They’re well-enough catered for at other annual fields. Glasgowbury happens in the nestling valley of Eagle’s Rock, nearest townland Monemeena, surrounded by the proud hills of the Sperrins, ochre and russet and olive and green, rising to the sky all around in rolls of rumpled velvet. Walk onto the site, warm vibes of welcome eddy softly on your face.
Watch Cat Malojian's video for We're Alright
It was, possibly, in a moment of pre-cognition of Glasgowbury while idling on Westminster Bridge that Wordsworth fell to murmuring:
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
Or mayhem so congenial, which is much the same thing.
Some rock festivals tremble on the brink of riotous assembly. Others — Oxygen, Glastonbury — have become corporate instruments of social control. But Glasgowbury is where it’s at, an annual eruption of collective joy, an occasion for stepping out en masse from straight, jacketed society to share in the sense of freedom and couldn’t-care-lessness that comes from sloughing off the rules that confine and constrict and aim to categorise us all.
It’s counter-intuitive, experimental, original, dissident and thrilling. Rough sounds and sweet airs in the deep of the mountains, brash melodies for cheerful mutineers.
It doesn’t matter that you’ll likely never have heard of most of the bands on the bill. That’s part of the point. Discover what you didn’t know was going on. Then realise that you knew all along, and that it’s good.
The only ungenerous thought to occur will be a certain smugness at your uncommon good sense in being here.
Fighting With Wire are Derry heirs to greatness, like the Undertones on scrumpy, with a sound that’s been tempered in a blast-furnace and attitudes to match. You get the feeling they think a gig’s been a failure if somebody leaves without their ears bleeding. Their just-released debut album Man vs Monster is battering the brains of the nation (whichever) into submission right now.
Cat Malojian. I once referred in print to the “alt-Americana catchy tunefulness” of the Lurgan duo, only for somebody to thrust Stuart Bailie’s considered review in my face: “They carry a hint of remorse, like the scratchy feeling of Sunday's best shirt.” Glasgowbury is a no-hassle environment.
Feel free to walk right up to Stuart and ask him what he’s on about. The luscious, lyrical Oppenheimer will be there again, too, with the slick, sweet, soft-spoke darkling melodies that are re-writing the rules. And Paddy Casey, singer, song-writer, slide guitar genius.
And And So I Watch You From Afar, inflicting assault and instrumental battery on brilliant tunes of their own crafting. And Skruff, who have been pole-axing Derry’s city-centre sin-set for years and have never sounded more immediate, and who have to be mentioned because their manager is a SDLP councillor and we all know how scary they can be.
Topping the bill there’s Downpatrick’s Ash, who’d drifted off my radar for a while there but have wound themselves up again and can be counted on to erupt with the trapped energy of a too-long sabbatical. They have a new song available on download, Ichiban, all the evidence you’ll need to know they’re still necessary.
Oh, and there’s Here Comes The Landed Gentry and Mojo Fury and DaggerLee and The DelaWares, The Beat Poets, Mantic (featuring raunchy blond vamp Victoria and Odhran the Incredible on bass), Junior Johnson, Keith Harkin, Swanee River, the Inishowen Gospel Choir, The Q (worth the price in on their own), Triggerman and others, honestly, too many and magnificent to mention.
Twenty-five quid. Fifty pence a band. From lunchtime until long past your bedtime.
No bullsh*t. No bullying. No hassle. No fear.
In the tradition they never told you about.