Harmless Noise

A music blog from Ireland.

Harmless Noise

April 18th, 2011
Notes :: Irish Bands At Glastonbury 2011

This is a response to Steven Rainey’s blog post on Irish bands at Glastonbury 2011. Read the full post over on AU. I think it’s time to focus on quality over quantity at the world’s largest outdoor festival and see the bigger picture.

Contemplating the line-up of Glastonbury, in order to place it in the right context, its history and the role it plays as the UK’s main festival must be considered. Music fan and dairy farmer Michael Eavis was so inspired by the atmosphere of a Led Zeppelin concert at a Blues festival in Bath, he returned home to Worthy Farm in Pilton with an idea for a rock festival lodged firmly in his mind. The day after Jimi Hendrix’s death on 18 September 1970, the Pilton Festival opened its gates, drawing hippies, rockers and new age spiritualists from all over Britain, many of whom were attracted by the mythical associations of Glastonbury Tor and the surrounding Vale of Avalon set in scenic Somerset. The headline act was T-Rex, admission was £1 and included free milk from the Eavis herd of cows.

These days, Glastonbury music festival is a drastically different affair. It’s the largest green field, open-air festival in the world and while Eavis still plays a major role in its management, the Live Nation/MCD-owned company Festival Nation control the logistics. Performing on the Pyramid stage is one of the greatest accolades any band can lay claim to and this year, after postponing due to injury in 2010, U2 will headline for the first time in their 35 year career while relative newcomers Two Door Cinema Club have also bagged a spot on the Pyramid Stage. There is a strong tradition of Irish artists appearing at Glastonbury and over the years Irish artists Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Sinead O’Connor, The Boomtown Rats and Ash have all headlined, while a multitude of smaller acts grace the billing every year, more recently including Villagers, Fight Like Apes, Ham Sandwich and The Flaws.
2011 sees U2 and TDCC joined by Not Squares, James Vincent McMorrow, Imelda May, the Hothouse Flowers, the Japanese Popstars, Space Dimension Controller, Rainy Boy Sleep and DJ Kormac along with the Belfast-based Isobel Anderson bringing a distinctly Irish flavour to the line-up. Of those mentioned, Two Door, Imelda May, Japanese Popstars and DJ Kormac are returning for a second time which is no mean feat considering Van Morrison is the only Irish artist to ever play Glastonbury three times. 2010’s line-up consisted of nine Irish acts, so it’s clear that the organisers want to give Irish music some presence on the line-up each year but what stands out is that they’re actively observing what’s happening in the Irish music scene. We have more to offer than ever before and this is reflected in the selection of bands this year; U2 and Hothouse Flowers represent Irish music as it’s formally recognised by the international community but the younger performers can engage that same audience and provide a more accurate portrayal of contemporary Irish culture where music is concerned, with emphasis on our globally-underrated electronic output. The Irish bands on the line-up this year give some insight into the way the music community at large see us, and what they’re seeing is a more adventurous and exhilarating array of new music that is representative of our cultural evolution.

By continuing to support previous performers while inviting fresh talent such as Not Squares, J.V. McMorrow and Space Dimension Controller to play at one of the world’s biggest festivals before those artists have sold out their country’s biggest venues, it’s not simply a matter of providing the UK audience with music they already know and love: it’s staying loyal to the original ethos of exciting new music that made Glastonbury such a success in the first place. That Irish music is consistently recognised at Glastonbury is proof that this tiny rock continues to make a major impact on the world. Rather than the ten most popular Irish bands, they’ve veered towards ten diverse choices to give the world a glimpse of what’s really going on. It’s truly astonishing to weigh up those bands and realise that the same list could be filled twice over with equally strong contenders from this island and amid all the other voices clamouring to be heard, ours stand out. Irish bands are well-represented at SXSW and Canadian Music Week but those are specifically industry-orientated showcases with dedicated personnel working on the bands’ behalf. When the big guns ask you to play Glastonbury, you know you’re doing something right.

Unlike Steven Rainey, I don’t agree that “only” ten Irish bands will make it to Glastonbury this year or that “because a band has played Glasgowbury, or Forfey…should not mean that they are ready to step up to Glastonbury”. Every band should strive to be good enough to play Glastonbury, to knock a different group off the bill and take to the stage. It’s an enormous achievement that, while not exactly marking a group out as having ‘made it’, shows they have the potential to do so. When ASIWYFA played Belgium’s 45,000-capacity Pukkelpop festival in 2009 they hadn’t even released an album and were practically unknown outside Belfast just a year before. A Plastic Rose stormed straight into the Reading & Leeds festival the same summer despite the fact that their debut album ‘The Promise Notes’ was only released in March this year. If a band can sell well at a local venue and tour successfully, then the next logical step to that is moving from safe ground to the world stage. It’s curious that Rainey condemns those who express a desire to be chosen for big festivals based on their local success, considering his article continues with the following statement: “it’s time that Northern Ireland stopped patting itself on the back and realised that if it wants the big rewards, it has to go out there and get them”. The supportive attitude of local scenes is exactly what instills bands with the courage and confidence to succeed beyond their home turf and scale mountains, or tors, abroad.


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8 thoughts on “Notes :: Irish Bands At Glastonbury 2011

  1. Pingback: Notes :: Irish Bands At Glastonbury 2011 | Journalist.ie

  2. Nay, it’s a lovely article, but are you not actually agreeing with the central point that I originally made?

    Bands like ASIWYFA and A Plastic Rose didn’t sit about looking at what was happening and moaning about how they’d been passed over. They got off their backsides, and did everything they could to get to where they wanted to go. And then they worked even harder to take it further.

    This is the attitude that I want to see more of, rather than the occasionally self-indulgent, and self-pitying mentality that pops up here in Belfast / Northern Ireland (I can’t really comment too much on the Republic of Ireland).

    The people I am clearly condemning in my article are those who “conquer” Belfast, and then sit back for the rest of the world to take notice. It has happened time and time again in our fair city, and this attitude simply must stop.

    Fr example, Not Squares deserve to play Glastonbury. They have established themselves as one of the most ferocious live acts in the country, and show no sign of settling down. If anything, they’re even better now than they were last year. For many of their peers, simply being “big in Belfast” is enough, and almost something worth aspiring to in its own right. Bands like Not Squares aimed to the top, and then worked hard to get there. And are still working hard.

    In Northern Ireland, “The supportive attitude of local scenes is exactly what instills bands with the courage and confidence to succeed beyond their home turf and scale mountains, or tors, abroad,” is frequently the very same thing that prevents bands from ever leaving their home turf.

    There’s a big world out there, and more bands should be prepared to take the plunge and get out into it.

    I enjoyed reading your article, but I can’t help feel that you’re making exactly the same point I am, only using different words.

    • Heya, thanks for stopping by. While perhaps we’re agreed on the work ethic of using a supportive and successful home base to step further afield, my point was geared more towards the fact that you said “only” ten Irish bands would be at Glasto this year. Considering the fact that we’re really not well-known on a mainstream level, in comparison to the number of established acts I think we did quite well to provide a diverse array of music in the ten chosen artists with a particular emphasis on new electronic music.

      That really was the point I was striving for, more so than the local success aspect, that there has always been a tradition of strong Irish music at Glastonbury but the fact that our culture has changed so much has been highlighted by the organisers choosing such a contrasting (U2/TDCC – Hothouse Flowers/Not Squares – Imelda May/Space Dimension Controller) line-up of Irish acts. So while there are ten bands playing this year and there are another ten we could put forward who are equally good, the fact is that the organisers haven’t just made easy selections of the most popular artists, known in the UK and Ireland, but instead used that space traditionally reserved for popular Irish music to instead present something a little more adventurous and unexpected.

      I think one of the problems with the Belfast thing is kind of exemplified in the way you wrote about the North and South scenes as seperate entities. Personally, I consider the island’s music scene as one entity with regional differences but you focused more on national boundaries. And if we look at it in that respect, a band with a similar outlook to your own who have ‘conquered’ Belfast would in fact have conquered the music scene of their country. So it’s to be expected in a way that they think themselves deserving of better. I don’t agree this is the case but that’s how it appears to me. When you consider that bands like Villagers, Imelda May, Ham Sandwich, Fight Like Apes and The Flaws, who have all done really well here in Dublin with extensive media coverage, have been chosen for Glastonbury on that basis, it kinda puts into perspective why bands with a similar impact in Belfast would feel they’re due the same.

      Bar a few exceptions, I’m not really familiar with bands from this neck of the woods who’d expect to be selected on such a basis. While I really love what I hear here and think we can easily take on the world, it’s not exactly as simple as just getting out there. A lot of them simply don’t have the means to make as much of a go of it as ASIWYFA in terms of touring, so they accept they’re not as well known. Then there are the ones who are content to just make music and don’t make an effort to court publicity, so anything that follows on is a nice bonus. There are some really hard-working bands who know they simply aren’t good enough to be picked just yet but use that knowledge to refine their act. There’s also the fact that an awful lot of new bands are still overlooked in general, despite the coverage they get here and on other specialist outlets, because the majority of people in Ireland aren’t aware of the true expanse of music on offer. But that’s changing steadily I think, which is great.

  3. “I don’t agree that … “because a band has played Glasgowbury, or Forfey…should not mean that they are ready to step up to Glastonbury”.”

    Do you then think that every band who has played Glasgowbury is ready to step up to Glastonbury? Surely Steven’s point was that some bands think once they’ve conquered the Belfast “scene” that they are entitled to play in the big time? And So I Watch You From Afar got to where they are by a lot of hard work, not hard work inside Belfast, playing Auntie Annies and the Bunker 3 times a week, but getting out, touring Europe and the world. Steven, I think, is saying that some bands think the process is “play Belfast, play Glasgowbury, play Glastonbury”, when they leave out the HUGE bit in the middle between Glasgowbury and Glastonbury.

    • I didn’t say they were ready, I said they should strive to be good enough. An aim to play Glasto is good as any other goal, and probably more realistic than say, being bigger than U2, who came from a completely different model of music industry.

  4. FYI: The Japanese Popstars will have played Glastonbury 3 times this year and Decky Hedrock from the act will be his 4th time, as he played it as his other alter ego Hedrock Valley Beats in 2000!!

  5. Ash have also played Glastonbury at least three times. I’ve seen them there twice and they were back last year, too. Pedantry, sorry. My favorite festival ever by a mile :D .

    For what’s it’s worth, Glastonbury’s only that much of a showcase if you make the top two or perhaps three stages, anyhow. And there are the best part of forty of them, so just playing isn’t really enough if what you’re after is publicity. Just my tuppence worth. Not Squares, for example, will be lucky to get an inch of UK media coverage for their set. Fair play to them for getting there and everything, but they shouldn’t go thinking it’ll get them a lot of attention, just a few new fans from the shows themselves. I think, given that nothing like every major band is on the line up, obviously, 10 or 11 really isn’t all that bad; it probably represents a good tenth of the bands that are near to the scale required for Glastonbury and come from Ireland (though, of course, where you draw that line is a pretty difficult one). I’d say that’s about the same ratio as the UK bands have, too.

    • Hey no worries, thanks for letting me know that about Ash. It’s kinda hard to find the correct info on all the artists who’ve returned without going back through the full line-up each year and I pulled those from the vague confines of my memory!

      The ratio of UK bands is probably a bit higher considering the larger volume and levels of success attained that lead to their bookings, I’m not sure if that’s what you meant anyway? I don’t see Glasto so much as a showcase in comparison to SXSW etc, just that it’s a huge festival with the chance to perform to an entirely fresh crowd. Maybe there won’t be major media interest in the bands like Not Squares and Space Dimension Controller who are heading over for the first time but there’s still a possibility that people will want to check them out based on the little they already know which I’m sure the bands will be happy with!

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