Stendhal Festival of Art:
On the same week that Derry~Londonderry hosts the all Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, Belfast brings the 25th anniversary Feile an Phobail to a close, and the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival gears up for its second year, Stendhal Festival of Art raises its head above the big timers and asks to be noticed.
Situated in the picturesque surrounds of Ballymully Cottage Farm on the outskirts of Limavady, Stendhal brings an all encompassing artistic experience to the Roe Valley. Currently in its third year, Stendhal is a collection of all things musical, earthy and artistic.
The festival line-up features an array of individual artists and bands performing on four different stages, including the Karma Valley Stage and the Garden Shed Stage at Poetry Corner. The soundtrack to the weekend is diverse, including sets from established acts like Duke Special to local youngster Cahir McLaughlin.
Kicking off proceedings on Friday evening on the Karma Valley Stage are female punk rockers Vanilla Gloom, who have all the attitude of a classic punk band with the head-banging tunes to back it up. Following suit are Derry boys Triggerman, who delight their crowd with back-to-back hard rock anthems.
Duke Special then headlines opening night, filling the main stage with his remarkably emotive voice. His Belfast accent adds a wonderful charm to his descriptive lyrics, which often tug at the heartstrings, while his bouncy, ragtime melodies inspire the enthusiastic audience to dance en mass.
As he performs hits like ‘Freewheel’ and ‘Last Night I nearly Died’, I conclude that seeing Duke Special live isn’t like a standard gig. It’s an immersive and stirring experience, but still wholly accessible. Despite power cuts throughout his set, Duke delivers something very special indeed.
Saturday comes and so does the rain, but it doesn’t dampen the spirits of those festival goers here to watch 15-year-old local Cahir McLaughlin open the Main Stage. McLaughlin plays an array of covers, ranging from the Foo Fighters to Coldplay, and debuts some of his own material including tracks ‘Little Bird’ and ‘Rhythm’, an impressive toe-tapper of a tune that possesses a highly addictive chorus.
Sons of Caliber are up next, mixing songs from their latest EP, The Tundra, with new offerings from their highly anticipated debut album. The indie folk band dispense an energetic set full of spirited singing and strident strumming, filled out by solid bass and drums and the occasional violin break.
The beauty of Sons of Caliber’s songs is in their simplicity and intimacy. The harmonies between lead singer Andrew Farmer and Rosie Barry are something truly gorgeous to behold. As they play the love song ‘Yellow Rose’, they share looks of reassurance and smiles, and eventually their set finishes all too soon.
Crowd pleasers Paddy Nash & The Happy Enchiladas get the Main Stage compulsively pigeon nodding to their folky goodness and catchy lyrics, whilst Scala Strings quartet dazzle their audience at the Air Stage by playing a symphony of pop and classical songs, including a rendition of Sigur Ros’ ‘Hoppipolla’.
Stendhal veteran Rainy Boy Sleep, aka Stevie Martin, takes to the Main Stage to a packed crowd, and the Stendhal audience love this local boy. Martin’s stage presence is confident, his charm, wit and energy incredibly captivating, and having played Glastonbury and supported the likes of James Morrison and Cyndi Lauper, he deservedly owns the spotlight as the day wears on.
The Main Stage is drawn to a close by a solo set from Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, but minor sound problems inevitably affect his performance. Meanwhile, legendary Celtic folk-rock band More Power to Your Elbow bring the Karma Valley stage to a close, whilst godfather of Northern Irish Punk, Terri Hooley, closes the Garden Shed Stage with his infamous DJ set.
My particular weekend highlight is The Dead Presidents, who sing all things disco, and turned the folk to funk. Offering up a set of pitch-perfect soul, funk and reggae – and propelled by charismatic frontman Matthew Wilson – the late night crowds can’t help but dance in the muck.
Stendhal Festival of Art is a charming melting pot of a festival. Turn one way and there is Victor McCullough playing country, turn another and you’ll find bluesy guitar in the Art Gallery, or the midnight rave in the Secret Garden. Albeit small in size, this festival has enough heart and soul to entice people back for more, making it very hard not to #lovestendhal.
Originally written for Culture NI