Last weekend marked the occasion of the ninth annual Stendhal Festival in Limavady’s Ballymully Cottage Farm. We had already been out and about on Friday and having been towed out of the car park, we were back bright and early to face the Saturday mud!

To be fair to festival organisers, with no accessible parking on site anymore, they did put in place alternative parking and and a shuttle bus service. There was a bit of a wait – bit I don’t think anyone could reasonably have predicted the rain of biblical proportions which fell in County Derry in the space of those two days!

Highlights for me on the Saturday, were several. The incomparable Lisa O’Neill was a revelation.  Her weirdly, hauntingly beautiful voice, her charming humour, her Cavan drawl, make for a compelling performance. I will jump at any chance to see her again – I loved her.

Ursula Burns was back to her usual bat-crap-crazy self that we all know and love. Ursula is as talented as she is hilarious and anyone who knows only the sanitised version portrayed on Britain’s Got Talent, needs to get themselves along to one of her own irreverent shows to see what she’s really capable of.

Damien Dempsey on the main stage was as good as you’d expect, but man did it rain down on us! Most notably, the incredible, newly reformed General Fiasco were sensational! If there was any justice, those guys would be megastars!

Fresh from a festival in Switzerland the night before, Amy Montgomery showed no sign of flagging in one of the most dynamic performances I have seen in a long time. Two years ago when I first saw Amy I thought she was a great performer – now after gigs all over Europe and a stint at this year’s Glastonbury, she’s verging on world-class!

FT: So Amy, each time I see you play it’s on a bigger stage to a bigger audience. How did that feel tonight?

AM: Tonight was amazing and I really didn’t expect so many people to be there. I mean the whole place was filled. 

FT: Things are going a bit nuts for you at the minute, aren’t they?

AM: Yeah, a little bit nuts yeah. A lot of it is happening away from Ireland, a lot in the UK and in Germany and in Switzerland 

FT: Tell me about Glastonbury, what was that like?

AM: Glastonbury was HUGE! I have never seen a festival so big. And our gig, it was special. It was in a huge tent, the capacity was seven thousand, it was the Acoustic Stage and I was just so grateful to be there. You know, when your journey takes you to Glastonbury you’re just filled with pride and it’s a bit overwhelming but in a good way.

FT: And you’re excited or your first headline show that’s coming up in McHugh’s I’m sure?

AM: Yeah, really excited, and I hope that after tonight people will want to come.

On stage with Amy, respected producer, esteemed musician and now full-time member of Amy’s band, was Michael Mormecha. Catch Amy, Michael and the rest of the band in McHugh’s, Belfast on 27th September.

FT: So, what is your impression of Stendhal and what did you think about how your set went tonight?

MM: It’s actually lovely, because Amy and I have done this festival three years in a row and the first time we did it was on the Friday morning, really early and that was just the two of us and now coming back and playing the Saturday night with a four piece band – the way the festival is going and the way our band is going there’s a good correlation. 

FT: So, you’re kind of known as a producer as much as a performer. Has this whole thing with Amy taken over, is that your main focus now?

MM: It actually is. It’s happened to randomly coincide with me moving out of the farmhouse where I had my studio but we’re so busy live that it doesn’t matter. We’re looking for a new place but we are so busy gigging and Amy is off to Australia in October.

FT: Just quickly tell me about Glastonbury, how exciting was that?

MM: Aw it was just crazy. I had done it once before with Malojian but we did a cafe stage in the afternoon, but to play the Acoustic Stage which is one of the main stages; the crowd was awesome and the weather was awesome. The first time I went, I didn’t really get it, but this time I totally understand why people make it their pilgrimage – it’s so special.

Spotted all over the festival site throughout the weekend was the inimitable Richard Deboo. AKA Richy Boy, if you don’t know who he is, I suggest you make it your mission to find out. Bringer of joy, fashion icon and dancer extraordinaire, Richard Deboo is simply sunshine in winklepickers!

FT: So, tell me, Stendhal Festival, what do you think about it?

RD: I think it’s an absolutely incredible festival. It’s the first time that I have been here and I didn’t know quite what to expect but it’s been so happy and friendly with a wonderful group of people who are really here to have a good time. It’s really family friendly, there’s so much eclectic music everywhere, there are so many different stages, so whatever you’re into, there’s something you can find, and when you find it, you’re gonna love it.

FT: For anybody who doesn’t know you, can you explain a wee bit about what it is that you do?

RD: It’s kind of complicated I guess; my stage name is Richy Boy so I dance a lot and I go to a lot of festivals and a lot of gigs and I’ve got quite a following on the clubbing scene in Northern Ireland – and I dance everywhere. And why I dance is because of what music gives you, which is a joy and a fabulousness and a connection to people.  And it’s also respecting what the musicians are doing. It makes that connection between you and the band and the audience and bring it all together with smiles and fun and happiness and that is my raison d’être, that is what I do. It’s about sharing the joy and the passion.

FT: I don’t know anybody else who does what you do really.

RD: It’s kind of unique, nobody else really does it. I have my little badges and my little badge family and it’s all about sharing and bringing a community of people together, who love live music, and who want to respect what musicians are doing for us on this island, which is something absolutely incredible. I mean it is stunning, the quality of the music.

FT: So do people ask you to come along or do you just go to what you like or how does it work?

RD: It’s a combination of both. I mean I go along and I find things, but at the same time I get hired out to turn up at festivals or events and I’m there to be myself and sharing what I do with my own personal sartorial style and the way that I dress and the way that I look and my personality. And it’s all about just feeling the goodness that pop music gives you.

FT: Do you mind if I ask a wee bit about the clothes? Are they all bespoke or where do you get them from?

RD: Yeah, it’s an interesting one because you can’t just go into Primark and buy them off the peg or anything. So I have to hunt online to find these kinds of things and a lot of the places where I get them, they aren’t custom made, but I have to go a long way to find them, geographically speaking. I get a lot of them from South Korea cos they have a lot of weird and wonderful stuff over there.

FT: So they’d love you!

RD: Exactly! I have found my people over there! They’re beautiful and they have all the most incredible clothing and I think, “Yes! I like that! I’m gonna buy that right now!” It’s wonderful.

Topping the comedy bill this year was celebrity comic, Phill Jupitus. Though the Stevie Martin Stage was packed to capacity, to the point where I couldn’t even get inside the big top to hear his set, I did manage to catch up with him afterwards.

FT: So, tell me, how did the set go tonight?

Phil Jupitus: Yeah, it was a lot of fun, a really lovely response from the audience, who are very good humoured, under some quite trying weather conditions. But yeah, it was really good fun, I started quite enjoying myself. 

FT: Oh good. Have you had a chance to wander around the festival site at all?

PJ: Not as such no, but I’m kind of looking forward to having a bit of a bimble later yeah. I was maybe gonna see Basement Jaxx but I’ve got to get back to Edinburgh tomorrow so it’s kind of six of one and half a dozen of the other. When you do festivals and you’re in transit doing them and you arrive, you do a set and you leave, I never like it because you get that flavour that there’s stuff going on…

FT: And you don’t get a chance to see any of it? 

PJ: No, not a lot. All of my mates we raving about Hothouse Flowers set last night so I’m sorry to have missed that. 

FT: Have you been in Northern Ireland much, have you spent a lot of time here?

PJ: Yeah. Generally in Belfast I’ve done theatre work, so I have worked the Opera House a lot in musicals, so I have had a number of quite long haul trips to Belfast so yeah that’s always been good fun. 

Particularly pleasing was that I happened to run into BBC presenter Joe Lindsay. As he’s a fervent supporter of the Northern Irish music scene I was keen to hear his thoughts on Stendhal.

FT: So, Joe, what’s been your experience of the weekend so far? Any highlights?

Joe Lindsay: Do you know, this is my first time at Stendhal because I am normally away filming, and it’s one of the greatest festival atmospheres I have seen. When you say it’s really “family friendly” the suggestion is that it’s not going to be much fun, but it really is. And I think that what’s really great about it is that you see how much everybody embraces it, there’s a really good vibe here. The kids are really enjoying the music and it’s just a really great place, the site is fantastic. I mean the weather hasn’t been ideal 

FT: So the mud hasn’t dampened it for you too much?

JL: Of course there’s mud! It’s Northern Ireland, what do you expect?? 

FT: And it’s 50 years since Woodstock so I suppose it’s fitting that there’s mud.

JL: Exactly, now that was serious mud. Look, as Billy Connolly says, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, so get yourself a sexy Kagool and live a little!

FT: Any acts you have seen and really enjoyed or any you really want to see?

JL: Ah, New Pagans last night, who were awesome as always, but torrential rain came on in the middle of it so I had to watch them from under a tarpaulin, closely huddled together with a load of strangers. But they were amazing. I didn’t get to see a lot last night because we were working. I am really looking forward to seeing Arvo Party later because Herb’s just incredible. And General Fiasco, it’s always great to see them playing. 

An avid supporter and attendee of Stendhal festival, songstress Brigid O’Neill made her first appearance here on the Air Stage on Saturday afternoon.

Brigid O'Neill
Brigid O’Neill launches the ‘Arrivals and Departures’ EP in The Black Box, Belfast.

FT: Brigid, I know you love the festival. How was it to play here for the first time?

BO: I was delighted to be asked by Quiet Arch to play the Air Stage this year. I have been going for a few years so it was great to be on the bill as the focus is really on the amazing diversity and talent of our own local artists here.  

F&T: Any artists you particularly enjoyed this weekend? 

BO: Wonderful to see Mary Coughlan again.  As a fan of 39 years I have opened for her a few times now and she never ceases to impress me. And I finally got to see The Lost Brothers in action live! 

F&T: And how did your set go?

BO: I really enjoyed my set, even though the rain did get in the way a bit.  One of the most fun things I’ve done this year was being driven to my gig with all my gear through parting crowds of waving festival goers in the mini tractor. Felt like royalty!

F&T: What makes Stendhal so special?

BO: The volunteers and staff work incredibly hard. Here’s to Stendhal 2020! 

My final interviewee of the weekend was Phil Conalane frontman of high energy, great fun, classic rock group Blackwater Conspiracy.

F&T: So Phil, this is your first time playing at Stendhal. What did you think about it?

PC: Yeah it was great – a bit wet! But what are you gonna do? 

FT: Have you had a chance to catch any other acts while you’ve been here?

PC: Well I caught a little bit of Amy Montgomery and she was sensational as she always is.

F&T: Have you had a wander round the site?

PC:  I haven’t really had a chance to see too much of it but from what I have seen, it’s much bigger than I imagined it to be, it’s much more spread out than I thought it would be, and if the weather had been a bit kinder we’d have been able to see even more. When we were coming down to the stage it was just mud everywhere but what are you gonna do? 

FT: I know you have an acoustic set coming up soon with the Cookstown Rock and Blues Showcase. Anything else coming up?

PC: Well we’re taking a break for a little while, I’m going to have a holiday and stuff. We have been touring all summer all over England and doing all the festivals over there. So we’re taking a bit of time off and then get ready for the next tour which is in November and back over to the UK again to do a string of shows over there.  Also we have a new album coming out in November and it is called, Two Tales and the Dirty Truth of Love and Revolution

FT: Oh, do you want to explain that at all? Or maybe not?

PC: Hmmm, well, I think it’s up to everyone else what they want to take from the album. When they listen to it they’ll take their own meaning from it. It’s a nice little short title. 

F&T: I love it!

So there you have it; two fun-filled, mud-caked days of music, comedy and festival spirit. I can’t say the rain and mud improved the experience at all, but in spite of it I can guarantee that I’ll be back at Stendhal for its tenth year. The gorgeous setting, the people, the top class music including up-and coming acts and established music heroes, means Stendhal is always an exciting weekend. Come the summer of 2020, I’ll be there, whatever the weather.