Clap hands across the sea

Rock festivals are upon us. And the Fleadh shows how they became an international franchise. By Cole Moreton

Outside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco last Saturday a Californian was touting for business. "Hey mister, want tickets for the Fleed?" Inside the park there were 30,000 people enjoying a day-long festival of Irish music and culture headlined by Van Morrison and Elvis Costello - and almost as many opinions about how to pronounce the word Fleadh.

The Anglo-Irish dictionary suggests you say "flar" to rhyme with car, and that it means a festival of music. The word has its origins in county fairs and traditional music gatherings such as the huge annual session at Lisdoonvarna in Co Clare - but these days it also represents a transatlantic franchise.

Yesterday there was a Fleadh event in Chicago; on Saturday it will move to Boston, and the following week New York. A core group of like-minded performers is to play at every event with support from local acts, and Elvis and Van will return to headline the tenth London Fleadh on 10 July.

The man behind it all is Vince Power, organiser of the Leeds, Reading and Homelands Festivals, and owner of 15 venues. A decade ago most people thought he was mad to plan a huge Irish festival in Finsbury Park in north London: the police were scared of a riot, the council worried about drunks, and the music press wondered how he would find enough decent acts to fill a whole day.

The former furniture salesman from Co Waterford booked 26 bands, most of which had already appeared at his first venue, the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, north London. Fleadh 90 was just in time to catch the start of a huge cultural wave which Power has been surfing ever since. "It was practically cool to be Irish in Britain, something that hadn't always been the case," remembers the Northern Irish writer and broadcaster Stuart Bailie. Van Morrison was back in the charts, and a new generation of performers had been inspired to link traditional music with rock and roll. Meanwhile, Irish comedians such as Sean Hughes were making it on the comedy circuits; the breweries were planning to open Irish theme pubs across Europe; and a new band of emigrants had swelled the population of first- and second-generation Irish in Britain to two million.

"Many of the new arrivals were young and highly educated, in search of prestigious jobs," says Bailie. "On that day in 1990 it felt like most of them descended on Finsbury Park."

There were actually only 30,000 people but it was sold out. Then as now it was a family festival, with stalls run by Irish community groups. Fleadh 90 raised pounds 20,000 for the Migrant Training Scheme to help young employed people; last year it enabled the Dublin charity Cradle to rebuild a school in Mostar.

Brian Kennedy sang at the first event and thought it extraordinary. "Don't forget that 25 years ago there were still signs up outside lodging houses in London saying 'No Irish No Blacks No Dogs', and yet the first Fleadh was the sign that things were changing for us." Like many others Kennedy had moved from Belfast to London as a teenager, with the address of a squat and pounds 15. After five years touring with Van Morrison he has a new solo deal with Epic in America. "If someone said 'Irish music' to you back then, a scratchy record would probably have started up in your head going 'A-diddly, diddly, diddly-dee'. Now people know about Riverdance, but they also know about Sinead and Ash - the greatest thing about Irish music is its diversity."

The Fleadh became too diverse for some people. Vince Power admits that after a few years the supply of new headline acts dried up. Talent developed too slowly, or else went straight from Fleadh support-slot to stadium. Ireland's booming economy slowed the flow of emigrants. There was no option but to broaden the festival's appeal into something more widely Celtic. Scots such as Runrig were drafted in, but sometimes the idea seemed to be to invite anyone who had ever seen a pint of stout - including Sting, The Beautiful South, Suzanne Vega, and this year The Pretenders. The charitable put it down to the inclusive nature of Irish music. Others saw it differently.

"I remember playing the Fleadh with the Maori Choir and the Pacific Island Log Drummers," says the New Zealander Neil Finn, who headlined in 1994 with his old band Crowded House. "The atmosphere was magic as the sun set. Shane MacGowan was at the side of the stage saying to the guy next to him, 'What are Crowded House doing on the bill? They're not f***ing Irish'."

MacGowan has played every single Fleadh. He is on the bill again this year, along with identifiably Irish acts such as the Saw Doctors, Afro- Celt Sound System and Altan, and the more unlikely Lonnie Donegan and John Martyn. Novelist and Father Ted star Ardal O'Hanlon will compere the comedy stage, which feature Perrier winner Tommy Tiernan.

Whoever plays, many people just go for that illusive Irish cliche the craic. Mark Hamilton of Ulster band Ash, who made their first London appearance at the festival in 1994, remembers watching Shane MacGowan - but his words could equally describe the behaviour of many merry members of the audience down the years. "He was totally hammered and singing out of time, and out of tune. It was very entertaining."

GET DOWN AND DIRTY HERE

GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY PERFORMING ARTS

At 29, the grand-daddy of festivals is famous for its mud and sheer scale - three days of it which this year include Hole, Blondie, REM, Texas, The Corrs, Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers.

Dates: 25 to 27 June

Tickets: pounds 85

Information: 0906 708 0808; Credit card hotline 0115 912 9129

THE FLEADH

Began nine years ago as a celebration of Irish music. Now brings international stars to Finsbury Park, north London. This year sees Van Morrison, Shane MacGowan and The Saw Doctors, plus Fleadh debuts from The Pretenders and Elvis Costello.

Date: 10 July

Tickets: pounds 30.50

Information: Credit card booking: 0541 500 044, 0171 344 0044, information 0336 404909

T IN THE PARK

For its fifth year, Scotland's premier rock festival (at Balado, near Kinross), has Blur, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Massive Attack, Placebo, Gomez, Happy Mondays and Bjorn Again, while Fatboy Slim is joined in the slam tent by Basement Jaxx.

Dates: 10 and 11 July

Tickets: pounds 32.50 weekend: pounds 58 day

Information: 07000 113114; Credit card booking: 0141 339 8383

WOMAD

Tenth anniversary of the world-music festival at Rivermead, Reading, created by Peter Gabriel. Gospel from the Blind Boys of Alabama, jazz guitar from Ernest Ranglin, plus Asian breakbeat fusioneers Joi.

Dates: 23 to 25 July

Tickets: Weekend: pounds 65, Day: pounds 17 (Friday), pounds 30 (Sat/Sun)

Information: 0118 939 0930 (pounds 3.50 booking fee)

VIRGIN FESTIVAL V99

The best organised event of the summer: twin festivals in Hylands Park, Chelmsford and Weston Park, Staffordshire. Headliners include the Manics, Suede, Massive Attack and James Brown. The Happy Mondays, Supergrass, The Cardigans, plus Super Furry Animals, Orbital and Sly and Robbie are among the support.

Dates: 21 and 22 August

Tickets: weekend pounds 60; weekend with camping pounds 70; or pounds 35 per day

Information: Credit card booking: Chelmsford: 0171 287 0932, 0171 344 4444, Staffordshire: 0115 912 9199, 01902 552121

READING 99

Sixties Jazz and Blues festival that has emerged from a hard-rock rut. This year the ongoing re-birth of Reading includes a sister festival in Leeds. Expect performances from Catatonia, The Charlatans, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Elastica. Plus Terrorvision, Beth Orton, Reef and The Divine Comedy.

Dates: Reading 27 to 29 August; Leeds 28 to 30 August.

Tickets: pounds 78, three days; pounds 33, one

Information: 09003 404 905 (Reading); 09003 404 906 (Leeds). Credit cards: 0541 500 044, 0171 344 0044

THE BIG CHILL - ENCHANTED GARDEN

Dance-meltdown and multi-media collaboration in the Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire. Festival-goers can take refuge in the tea rooms, before exploring a line-up including Squarepusher, Mixmaster Morris and Coldcut's Matt Black.

Dates: 6 to 8 August

Tickets: Adults pounds 55, Children pounds 15

Information: 0181 372 9735

THE LIZARD

Inaugural festival, at Goonhilly Downs on the Lizard Peninsula, to coincide with the eclipse. More a holiday, with five days of bands and a club night on 10 August. Artists include Kula Shaker, Sasha, Urban Species, Femi Kuti, Bjorn Again and the Drummers of Burundi.

Dates: 7 to 14 August

Tickets: pounds 125

Information: Box Office 0870 125 2959, Ticketmaster 08700 744447

Compiled by Anna Melville-James

Joining the Somerset: Sharleen Spiteri of Texas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing