12 Nov 2009

Electric Picnic loses the plot.

photo taken by Tony Walsh: Me & Dennis Just Dennis (with skeleton facepaint) at the Electric Picnic 2008.


The Electric Picnic takes place in the grounds of the Stradbally Estate, Portlaoise, Ireland, every year.

My experience there in 2008 was so amazing, I wondered if this year would be shadowed by my memories of it. The shadows were much more real and disappointing than that could have been: but whether by the logistic incompetence or the skinflint capitalism of the organisers, I do not know which.

What is brilliant about Ireland is the warmth and hospitality of the people. Unlike the British: they talk to you, to each other, on trains, at bus-stops, in bars, and anywhere else where strangers might become better acquainted.
Last year, I camped next to fellow Brit poets Dennis Just Dennis and Tony Walsh, and we were befriended by three young Irish women: Sam, Rachel and Michelle, who also came to see and hear our poetry and as a result became interested and inspired by poetry in general. (I love it when that happens!). 'The Girls' as we fondly called them, met up with Dennis and myself this year (Tony couldn't make it - we all really missed him!) and joined by their friend Sarah, continued where we left off last year with their generous and inclusive friendship. How amazing it is to find such a welcome in another country.

It was also so good to see gain, Marty Mulligan, who runs many spoken word projects but largely, the Leviathan poetry tent in the Electric Picnic's Mindfield. Marty seems to have endless energy for keeping the tent/stage/random poets/audience/sometimes strange audience members in the right place at the right time. I don't know how he manages it; and he performs his poems from memory (I still carry my little black book everywhere like a security blanket) and sings in a band at the end of the day, AND manages to look relatively mud-free and suave in a black suit and shades. Laid back, mellow, yet on the ball, Marty Mulligan is honourable, and cool. He has just inspired that line to rhyme too.


Dennis and I did a show together at the EP last year: The Race for the Write-house: with Bollock O'Barmy and Hilarious Clingon. Alluding to USA politics of that time, our sham-slam politically based poetry set ended with us encouraging our audience to 'vote poetry'.

This year, Den and I had nothing new to share, but both having written new poems that went in slightly different literary directions, we performed separate sets.
I ended up doing two: one on Saturday one on Sunday.
I felt ill during my first one. Nothing thwarts a performance more than needing a chair on stage because you have a headache and dizziness, and the fect that you might throw up any minute. Luckily, a quiet and appreciative audience responded well and I recovered from what was probably exhaustion and a bit of hypothermia.
The rain was intermittent but the cold wind whipped. There were no fires around which I could get warm.
Paella, hot chocolate, and a medical heat-pack I had bought 'for emergencies' made me feel much better. Later that evening, I sat round the fire in the 'body and soul' area, recovered, told poems impromptu in 'The Big Chair', drank a lot, enjoyed music.
Next day, my short set worked better as my inner rhythms did their thing in harmony with the words as they came out of my mouth. Applause. Phew.

I loved hearing the Poetry Chicks again. Their combination of feisty politics and erudite grace let loose by tongues that hark back to the mysteries rhyming powers of the Greek Chorus, Pamela Brown and Abby Oliveira are something else. Impressed by eloquent Belfast poets Chelley McClear and friends' polished show. Kate Tempest (who will one day be a name known worldwide, and who leaves me open-mouthed in awe, and who is also a sweet, wild, good-hearted woman) and Salena Godden jamming together with music and madness of the Book Club Boutique. Dennis Just Dennis commanding a storm of applause again, getting offered bookings to other shows. Ophelia rocking rhythms in the Irish tongue. Marty Mulligan's rhyming and timing and Irish heart. Raven being entirely brilliant, tender, powerful.
I love the poetry tent.
I missed it when I went anywhere else - but everywhere else up in the Body & Soul area was also a great place to be.

Back to my griping. I have seen better organisation at 1980's anarchist free-festivals where there was no organisation other than a sense of common humanity; greater 'duty of care' at impromptu roadside raves and more common sense at a Village Idiots Gathering (Chanctonbury 1987, in fact.)
The severe lack of toilets at this festival led to obscenely blocked loos and several sewage leaks -gallons of it..Toilet queues were the worst of any festival I have been to since a particularly vile WOMAD some years back; shit piled high, no handwashing facilities, gel run out after half an hour not refilled til next day. Good thing it was cooler weather, or we'd have all got dysentery. Caged in our camping field by locked metal fences and a security guard (with no spanner) at the narrow exit to the field (thank god someone vandalised the fence at a couple of points) no fire buckets or exits, deep wide mud-flats, crap all over the woods...it was a nightmare, comparable to a hedonists' refugee camp. Security people and site crew overworked, worse camping facilities than ours, and many of them furious with their tosspot boss ( the one with the headphones.) The recycling facilities, held together by devoted and hard-working individuals, was ultimately unworkable chaos.

The organisers let down the entire festival; the outstanding arts, top bands and impromtu small stages, endless innovative sounds, the spirit of the Electric Picnic and the beautiful Irish people, and festivalgoers of all ages: ripped-off by a bunch of posturing gobshites.