Although on first inspection, Fleadh 2004 seems about as culturally Irish as the nearby Red Hot Chili Peppers gig, by the end revellers from the Emerald Isle are out in force banging their bodhrans
With the threat of a downpour overhead, the Finsbury Park crowd turn up for this year’s Fleadh festival, dressed for every eventuality with the weather. This being my first Fleadh, my head is filled with thoughts of the Emerald Isle, Guinness and twinkly-eyed Irish folk. As it turns out, on first appraisal, most of the festival goers are over 50, sitting on collapsible garden furniture, drinking steaming cups of coffee and reading the Sunday papers. It is seemingly one of those ‘festivals in the City’, as a woman in a Barbour jacket with a Home Counties accent whines behind me, ‘Ooh look Patrick, there’s a wine bar over there!’ Everybody has ‘up early on a Sunday’ expressions, which for me, is a new one.
Kicking off with Billy Bragg on the Main Stage, we are treated to a welcome rendition of ‘Sexuality’, getting everybody off on exactly the right foot, judging by the amount of smiling and singing faces. With a few comments about ‘Thatcherite bastards’ and working too many hours in the week he raises more than a few laughs. As the sun beats down, layers come off and Irish cider slips down all around.
Wandering over to the Borderline Stage, the packed tent pulses a resonating Irish sound. The wonderful melody of Laura Viers floats out, melancholy and soulful with a heavy drumbeat backing up her voice. Outside, despite a distinct lack of Irish accents in the crowd and a looming threat from the weather, the atmosphere is friendly, with everybody jubulantly relaxed, enjoying a bit of fun with the family, and a bit of a jig later on.
The Delays draw a big crowd on the Main Stage despite being introduced as ‘the Delays – big fans of fly fishing’. Their nu-folky/electro sound has everybody up and at it with the amazingly wide-ranging and clear voice of Greg Gilbert echoing out over the crowd. An absolutely brilliant live band, they blind us with new single ‘Lost in a melody’, which goes down a storm. Talking of storms…
At about 3pm, I hear my first Irish accent which I follow all the way to the Borderline stage. At which point the heavens open and everyone makes the mad dash to the trees, the nearest burger van, canopy, or tent. It turns out to be a blessing in disguise because it means catching the tail end of Nick Harper , bursting with high speed, skilled guitar playing. As he reaches his final few bars he receives even greater applause than the Delays.
I stay to listen to the sublime Juliet Turner whose melodic voice transports everyone from rain sodden North London to the Land of Myths and Legends, an amazing moment.
Looking out over the sea of umbrellas, I realise that having never been to the Fleadh before, literally all walks of life come here for this historic one-day event. The Irish, the not so Irish, the City folk, the families, the oldies, muso’s and just the local young people to enjoy a bloody good day out, experience some different music, and of course, all that Irish cider.
Even though the ground underfoot is damp, people’s spirits are certainly not, and when the mighty Christie Moore arrives the Main Stage the crowd show they are up for it – everyone singing, the bodhrans (Irish framed drums) being banged in the audience, the obligatory festival mad old man dressed in tie-dye at the front, flailing his arms around in a trance, everyone with a drink in hand and general merriment being had by all, and misty-eyed Irish folk, who have now come out of the woodwork, shouting along to the songs of the old country with arms around one another united.