London Feis 2011

Bob Dylan, Van Morrison play debut event

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Photographer:Sara Bowrey

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by John Bownas | 20 June 2011

Spelt to look like ‘fice’ but pronounced with a typically Celtic twist as ‘fesh’ (you suppose as in ‘feshtival’ – aptly enough for an Irish affair where beer features high on the order of priorities), the London Feis 2011 brings a celebration of all things emerald green back to Finsbury Park.

It’s been a good few years since 2004 when the Fleadh last graced the heartland of London’s Irish expatriate community, and this new event is a welcome return for the green brigade.

But the audience don’t all speak with a heavy brogue accent (although most do), and not every artist comes loaded with a Celtic folk-rock arsenal in their back catalogue.

Although The Waterboys (8/10) might seem to many to be the real Irish deal they do of course have their roots north of the border in Scotland. And the last time anyone checked his passport, Bob Dylan’s (8/10) real name was still Zimmerman - not O’anything.

Jimmy Cliff (7/10) is another ringer – not a man who anyone would instantly mistake for a born-and-bred Belfast lad…although there are those Irishmen who will claim that pretty much every musical genre has its roots in Ireland. Reggae included. After all – who was it that put the ‘Dub’ into Dublin?

In fact you do have to wonder how Jimmy did find his way onto the bill. Sandwiched between the exuberant Hothouse Flowers (7.5/10) and the airy Clannad (6/10), Jimmy may have recently hit the rock’n’roll hall of fame, but he stands out as a random musical moment over the weekend.

Of course some of the weekend’s artists have ‘Ireland’ written through them like a stick of Belfast rock.

Shane MacGowan (6/10) for instance couldn’t be more stereotypically Irish if he tried, and if your name is Declan O’Rourke (7/10) or Fionn Regan (8/10) it’s hard to get away from your roots.

Festival impresario Vince Power may stage the event, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its issues.

Only announcing publicly on the day before the festival that there would be three stages and not letting anyone have the actual running orders until they are on site runs counter to the otherwise clever wheeze of putting crowd-pleasing acts like The Undertones (7/10) and Hothouse Flowers on early in the day.

Had these early draws been announced sooner then it’s a safe bet that a lot more people would have arrived earlier than they actually have – and they wouldn’t have been grumbling about having missed bands they had wanted to see.

And when your target audience are Irish drinking types you’d have thought that more Guinness bars might have been the order of the day, along with far more toilets.

The snaking queues for the main arena loos run right halfway down the hill and into the crowd for most of Saturday afternoon.

Closing off the Sunday proceedings (which it has to be said is played out to probably only half the numbers that turned up on Saturday, making the loos and bars issue less of a problem), another interesting tactic is swapping the advertised headliner, Van Morrison (7.5/10), for Thin Lizzy (8/10) - both of whom it has to be said suffer from some rather nasty sound issues.

Perhaps it’s the impending RMT tube strike that has threatened everyone’s smooth escape at close of play or perhaps there is another motivation. Whatever the reason, it’s not every day that headliners get bumped down the bill at the last minute.


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