KnockanStockan 2016 Sunday Review
KnockanStockan is a diamond of a festival. A diamond in the rough, with beautiful landscape that surrounds Blessington lakes and the sloping hills of Ballyknockan. If festival heaven exists, then this is it. A melting pot of pure talent from the Irish gig scene fused with an appreciative crowd who love great music. Everyone’s hanging out on the undulating site dotted with art and sculptures set against the dramatic backdrop of the Wicklow mountains.
Sunshine rays set a perfect scene for Sunday afternoon. Families and slightly worn out weekenders stroll around the stages choosing a vibe to chill out to. Indie rockers The New Social draw a significant gang into the Dimestore tent. Infections catchy tunes, killer bass lines and a confident frontman get the kids rocking to ‘Smile’. A couple who just got married share the love of KnockanStockan with the rest of the audience. Their first EP in on the way, they’ll be snapping at the heels of The Academic in no time.
Over on the Burrow stage, Finglas man Daniel Anderson charms his adoring audience. His mix of kitsch folk pop (kitsch in a good way), happy harmonies and lush melodies goes down well with the craft beer appreciators sipping in the sunshine. Daniel’s clever observations have the wit and whimsy of Neil Hannon giving him a quirky attraction. Lush string arrangements on ‘Patterns’ and lyrical wisdom like “every song’s a souvenir” add to Anderson’s memorable quality. Radio friendly ‘Things We Have in Common’ and ‘Cecilia’s Sister’ bring their own little percussion party to the setlist and even the sheep in the field next door have bit of a shimmy.
A quick sprint past the big blue pizza bus back to the Dimestore tent leaves me just enough time to witness No Monster Club. High energy, high octane performance all round from these Dublin boys. Their urgent punk edged pop has the potency of The B52’s. A pink flamingo and pineapple inflatable on the mic stands highlights the sense of fun they evoke. Pure bubble gum anthem ‘Lemonade’ is fizzy from the outset. ‘I was just trying to get this silly little song to the world’ they plead. Keep going lads. Get it to the world, it’s cool, it’s retro and it rocks. ‘La, La Land’ is a crowd pleaser riddled with catchy Kinks keyboards. Veering on ‘Rock Lobster’ choreographed chaos, it peaks when frontman Bobby Aherne instructs his fans to chant it back to him. A massive version of Paul Harrington’s ‘The Rock ‘n Roll Kids’ unfurls itself next. Fast, refreshing, bursting with the pace of The Vaccines, it’s a proper belter of Ireland’s 1994 winning Eurovision song. Hilarious at times, the lads go all out for impact. A great gig, finishing with ‘I’ve Retired’, a short and snappy synth soaked pop tune.
The KnockanStockan line up is so good that act clashes are unavoidable. A tempting taster was all I caught from Paddy Dennehy and The Red Herring. An outstanding emerging artist, Paddy and his band have the look of the Irish and the sound of the deep South. Their sombre yet inspiring melodies were well received on the sunny slopes of the Burrow stage. ‘Bring Me Wine’, a sweet lip smacking soulful tune with twangs of New Orleans laced through it. ‘Hard Times’, a gospel glistening showstopper with rising vocals reminiscent of that Hozier moment. Paddy sounds somewhere between Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits. As I stumbled from the grassy knoll, my O’Hara’s beer firmly secured Paddy announced a Britney cover. ‘Toxic’ is his guilty pleasure apparently. And by the look of the punters grooving around, there’s lots of Britney fans in his midst.
Over on the other side of the site, the talented girls from Mongoose have packed out the Faery Field. Their unique blend of jazz, folk infused orchestrations along with their huge range of vocal ability has hundreds of fans clambering for a spot. People are perched on rocks, trees and up the steep steps to watch the girls in action.
Just around the corner, standing on the Wishbone stage, Dundalk man David Keenan cuts a slight silhouette as dusk beckons. This talented troubadour bears his soul. It’s storytelling though his songs; an amplifying sentiment with his voice which verges on early Paolo Nutini, but with the resonance of Glen Hansard or Luke Kelly. He starts ‘El Paso’, a song about his native Dundalk. Passing traffic soon stops and the crowd gathers as his gravelly tones resonate around us. This man has the soul of poet. It’s rare to meet artists who write with such gravity. His next song is about two homeless men that David met whilst busking on the streets of Liverpool, with the chorus influenced by a line from a WB Yeats poem. ‘Beggar to beggar cried, I placed two coins on your dead eyes’, just a hint of the depth of Keenan’s lyric. The integrity of his work is unquestionable. Launching into “The Friary”, David goes full throttle on the vocal, maximising the rhyming chorus. ‘You took a vacation, sleep deprivation and you’re out on probation’. Finishing with a chat about school bike sheds, he refers to the bike sheds as ‘a kind of Tir Na N’Og, because no one ever grows old in the bike sheds’. It’s always full of fifteen year olds who shouldn’t be there, doing thing they shouldn’t be doing. Funny that, because KnockanStockan is very much Tir Na N’Og this weekend. At Knockanstockan no one grows old.
Finishing out the night back at the Faery Fields, Booka Brass Band have it packed to capacity. People are crammed into every crevice of the natural amphitheatre. These brass boys have built a huge following with their own brand of rip roaring brass. Their appeal stretches across all ages, all ranges. A sixty year old man hangs from the tree beside me, he came here just to see these guys. Bathed in pink and gold lights they delivered a plethora of New Orleans inspired original material and a pick ‘n mix of pumped up covers. They get the crowd to bow down, bounce up and do salsa sequences then grind it to Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty to Me’. A brassed up version of Destiny’s Child ‘Say My Name’ unfurls before the lads round off their set with their well known trademark medleys. A triumphant finale for the end of the weekend.
Sadly, there is no KnockanStockan in 2017. It will be missed by both fans and bands. As the organisers Bettine McMahon and her crew take a break after ten years of hard work furthering the organic growth of Irish music, I feel it’s only fitting to issue a formal thank you. Thank you for the music, the memories and the good times. It’s no joke running a festival in Ireland when you’re up against commercial pressure, legal issues, costs and logistics. It’s a massive undertaking. We are very lucky to have experienced a decade of musical decadence from KnockanStockan. So here’s to the crew, enjoy the year off but please come back. Ireland needs you.
Review by Ciara Sheahan