Friday 2nd December
Through darkness we drove to Dingle. I was assured by my friends that the views en route were beautiful, and looking now on Google Images I see that they were right, but it was pitch black, and I could only make out a few bleary metres of road ahead of the car. But they were beautiful metres, and I took my friends at their word.
I was going to Dingle with Paddy and Cliodhna. We were staying in a house with some of their friends, and I was promptly assimilated into the group and rightfully rechristened ‘Tomás’.
Early on that first night, a stranger in a smoking area gave us a book: a 1975 copy of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels by Eilidh M. Stenning. It was a book about how to properly care for that particular breed of dog, and – as none of us owned a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – I thought the text could be put to better use as an autograph book. I planned to collect as many musicians’ signatures as possible over the course of the weekend.
Our first act was Pixie Geldof. As space in St. James’ Church was limited, the performances there were livestreamed to widescreen televisions in Dingle’s pubs and bars. Pixie Geldof’s was one such performance, and we watched it over the heads of a crowded room at the Benners Hotel. She was really good, actually.
Later, at Nellie Fred’s, we saw my favourite live act of the weekend, sort-of-funk group TooFools. They were brilliant, and I’d had just enough to drink at this point to dance along unselfconsciously.
At 4am, as we searched with difficulty for a taxi, I spotted a man leaning against a wall. Instinctively I reached for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, for the man at the wall was Jack Gleeson: Joffrey from Game of Thrones. It was late and dark and the air was thick with alcoholic fumes, but he kindly signed our book.
We’d end up seeing Joffrey a lot over the course of the weekend. Hozier, too, seemed always to be hovering within prodding distance. I wouldn’t myself have known his face, nor his music, nor indeed the fact that ‘Hozier’ was one man rather than a band, but it was nice having him around. I failed repeatedly to bother him with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
Eventually we commandeered an old man and his taxi, and, at 5am, as my housemates continued with their own acoustic session in the kitchen, I retired to bed and started reading Knut Hamsun’s Hunger (1890). I’ve never read anything by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun before, but Wikipedia assured me that my copy was the definitive English translation, so I slept easy.
Saturday 3rd December
In daylight, the view from the kitchen window was magically transformed from dark to visible.
On the hillsides opposite, I noticed tiny points of fire amid the plantlife, spreading in an impossible way, hopping from point to point like Morse Code in flame. Plumes of smoke rolled over the mountains, and I worried about terrorists. Paddy explained to me that it was actually just farmers burning gorse, as it is bad for the sheep. Paddy knows things about farms, so I trusted him and returned calmly to the breakfast table.
We went in the afternoon to Dingle’s cosy courthouse, where the band Malojian played in the dock. In that sort of a room, it was natural and easy – and, I presume, occasionally encouraged – to assume the role of juror, and my judgment was harsh. ‘A bit derivative of Supergrass’, I think I said. The chat between songs was good, though. Fine patter.
After finding Malojian innocent of all charges, we went to church. Not to cleanse our rotten souls, but to see self-described ‘experimental electronic artist’ Ryan Vail.
In front of the altar, bathed in purple light, Vail’s hands fluttered softly, deftly, somewhat pretentiously over the keys of his instruments, like a man operating an expensive time machine. It was nice music to get pins and needles to, though his own lyrics were replaced in my head with The Mighty Boosh’s ‘Future Sailors’. Something about his manner and everything he said and did suggested that this wasn’t the effect he was going for.
Finally, having missed Imelda May, it was time to see Lisa Hannigan. We returned to Benners Hotel and moved desperately from room to crowded room, looking for a free space like third class passengers trying to find an empty lifeboat on the Titanic. Eventually, like third class citizens we settled outside, and watched the live feed through muffling double-glazing. Twice removed from Lisa Hannigan’s ethereal performance, I still enjoyed it. ‘Undertow’ is my favourite track from that new album of hers, but it’s not on YouTube so here’s ‘Fall’.
(Lisa Hannigan passed us in the street the following morning as we loitered outside a pub, but I didn’t bother her with our book of spaniel care).
After Lisa, angry punk so-and-sos Girl Band appeared, shattering the Hannigan dreamscape. By now we were sitting on the floor inside, warm under the TV, but I was baffled by Girl Band. Initially, the music sounded promising, but then some vocals happened. Not my shouting cup of tea. Joffrey seemed to love it, though. Decide for yourself.
In Girl Band’s wake, there came another jarring gear-change in the form of Dublin rapper Rejjie Snow. He performed his song ‘D.R.U.G.S’, with its memorable mantra:
I got all the drugs (drugs)
I got all the weed (weed)
I got all the blow (blow)
Baby, what you need (need)
He concluded with ‘Snow (My Rapsong)’, with its refrain of ‘Snow, Snow, Snow, Snow.’ Oh good, I thought – a Christmas song.
His performance was fun, as were the shots of an uncertain crowd in the church, but the cumulative effect of Lisa Hannigan, Girl Band, and Rejjie Snow was strange and fractured. We saw Rejjie later on, in the hotel. I didn’t bother him with Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, but we did ask if he had any drugs, and he laughed and went upstairs.
We went out into Dingle after that, and we bumped into a friendly man called Glen Hansard. Glen talked to us about his recent performances in Australia, and shared some of his agreeable, peaceful ethos. He seemed to be a very nice man, and I felt glad to have met him as I watched him disappear into the rave tent. Too late I remembered the copy of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in my pocket.
Sunday 4th December
Sunday was a more subdued day. We took a cursory walk through the market, and then returned to the packed courthouse to see Ailbhe Reddy. Her setup was simple – a guitar and two backing vocalists – and she was great; my favourite song was ‘Somebody’s Daughter’.
As the weekend drifted softly to a close, we went to Crean’s Brewery to see our final act – a set by Michele Stodart (of The Magic Numbers), who reminded me a little of Kirsty MacColl. The Brewery is set slightly out from the town, a little outpost against a backdrop of mountains. We’d visited it several times on Saturday, and – though I didn’t have any of Tom Crean’s Premium Irish Lager – I was very impressed by the price of their crisps.
After buying all of the chocolate digestives from Dingle’s Supervalu (they were on offer), we set off through the dark for home.
I bade goodbye to new friends and a wonderful weekend, and, in the back of the car, by the intermittent glow of streetlights, I proudly reviewed my book of musicians’ autographs:
- Joffrey, from Game of Thrones.