We’ve arrived by the banks of the Boyne in perfect tent pitching weather. The skies are cloudy. There’s a pleasant breeze. But it’s still very warm. Now in its ninth year, Vantastival is the unofficial start of summer festival season in Ireland. The June bank holiday wouldn’t be the same without it. Featuring a fully home-grown line-up and independently run (with sponsorship from some big brands), it’s established itself as the true home of quality independent music in the country.
With the tent up, food is the first priority and it’s great to find Lala Poutine set up here. The Canadian dish is hard to find in Ireland, so it is a genuine treat to dig in to the many variations of chips and curds. King Kong Club contest winners Where’s Luke kick things off on the Firestone stage with some accessible but earnest rock. Amid the rough hewn planks of the Woodland stage, Kilkenny’s The Southern Fold blend bluegrass and southern rock to great effect. The lead singer’s ZZ Top beard matches his gruff bluesy voice. They have a sweet, soothing sound accentuated by the male/female duo on vocals. It’s only when the pair duet on a cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night?’ that I realise I’ve seen them before.
The sun eventually emerges and soaks the Boyne Valley in baking heat so we skedaddle to the shade of the Woodland again. The festival’s recycling drive is being ably assisted by a troupe of children in hi-vis vests walking around with plastic bags and encouraging the grown-ups to finish their beer so they can take the empty cans. MG favourites Nix Moon played a storming set here last night, if the videos on Facebook are anything to go by. They’ll have won a few more fans in the run up to the release of their debut album. The band are still here and looking remarkably fresh as Sun Mashene hit the stage. The five piece play some loud rock with noticeable influences of ‘90s Manchester guitar pop and undertones of shoegaze.
Back in the Firestone tent, Navan’s Chinese Newspaper are immediately the most impressive act of the day so far. A four piece guitar band who have mastered all the tropes of rock 'n' roll, their songs are packed with ideas and creative play. They are by turns light and tuneful, then crushingly heavy. In his shorts and funky shades, the lead singer is the spit of a young Olga from The Toy Dolls. It’s quite fitting too, as both bands have a similar magpie approach to music, even if they don’t sound alike. The drummer may resemble a hipster Trump but he has the chops to get away with it. He switches from funky to double-bass-pedal insanity with the twirl of a stick. Chinese Newspaper’s energetic and original music draws in an enthusiastic and eclectic festival crowd. They sound like the finished product already. If they can transfer that industry and inventiveness to the studio, they’ll do well.
Elephant take to the main stage. There’s a Future Islands vibe from the music. Front man Shane Clarke sings in a falsetto to a guitar he wears “Beatles high”. He and the guitar are engaged in a duet, and the band fill out the sound to main stage proportions. This band, that he refers to as “the next stage in the evolution of the group: Elephant 2.0”, are unobtrusive but essential to the big sound. It’s simultaneously familiar and different: very much in the vein of Future Islands so.
And that’s the end of a very hot summer’s day outside Drogheda. Tomorrow, we have Exiles, Thumper and our old friends, Makings to look forward to. Goodnight!