What a day! Vince Power certainly knows how to organise a festival. His Fleadhs and his Feis in London were great occasions for many years.
The bill was so full of the names of so many great musicians it would be impossible to mention them all especially those who played on the two secondary stages.
Early on in the day on the main stage Finbar Furey performed an over-long set including ballads such as The Galway Shawl, some of his own contemporary material and his signature Green Fields of France, which pleased the crowd.
But his set over ran and did not really ignite this audience who had travelled miles to enjoy the craic and were up for something much more energetic than this mainly slow offering.
Many probably wished it was his brothers and Davey Arthur on stage with him, bringing the raw energy with which that most popular of Irish folk bands is so lovingly associated.
The next band up did the job well. After 57 years playing festivals Paddy Moloney came on stage with his legendary Chieftains and showed how it should be done.
If the crowd were not already burning in the sun he set them alight with a first set of jigs and reels and to keep the atmosphere joyous and celebratory and the crowd entertained he brought on Irish dancers, a choir and then came one of the highlights of the day: to finish their brilliant set Paddy brought on a full kilted marching pipe band to perform the rousing track from his remarkable San Patricio album. It was sublime. The packed crowd just loved it as the stirring sound of the pipes and drums and Paddy’s penny whistle wafted down the River Mersey.+9
Fiachna Ó Braonáin of Hot House Flowers opened with the words “I can see clearly now/ The rain has gone” and the band created just the right mood for the of the day.
Foy Vance was up next, sporting his Hercule Poirot-style waxed moustache. Sitting at the keyboards he gave us a very bluesy rock set which was a change of mood from the Irish material and seemed to be appreciated by this crowd that clearly respected good well played music.
That’s what they got next when Van Morrison and his highly rehearsed virtuoso band took the stage.
He was, well just Van, no surprises, no small talk or chat just great, great music, with classic song after classic song. He and his jazzy influenced musicians are just faultless.
Highlights were when he went into Ray Charles mode and passionately sang I Can’t Stop Loving You or the timeless Moondance, with what seemed to be his original guitarist from Astral Weeks in the band.
Staying in the jazz groove he sang Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, an enduring song that audiences love it and sing along to, as this audience did.
He went into his Mose Allison mood with Baby Please Don’t Go and then he broke into Got My Mojo Working, sounding like Junior Wells on his harmonica.
The crowd were ‘shaking’ and jumping along to the groove as he increased the pace of his set, ending with the crowd-pleasing Brown Eyed Girl.
With a slot booked for his plane to take him home he was down the steps off the stage into the in car and gone.
With time running short and sets being cut, a transformed and highly energetic Imelda May came on and was astonishing as she left her rockabilly baggage and beehive hair-do far behind to be more like ‘60s rock legend Janis Joplin, showing us what a fine rock blues voice she has. And she is certainly much fitter than Janis Joplin ever was.
Her vitality and enthusiasm were reciprocated by the now 10,000 strong crowd as they joined her on the chorus of Johnny Got A Boom Boom.
After some delay we had the much-anticipated finale that included the massed ranks of almost everybody who had been on stage so far, with the exception of Van who was probably in the air by then.
There must have been twenty musicians in the band as Nathan Carter, on home turf, who had performed earlier on the second stage now took the rip-roaring lead here in a musical accordion duel with Sharon Shannon.
Mary Coughlan came on next and did a powerful version of Ride On, with the crowd joining in enthusiastically on that classic Jimmy McCarthy song.
Then the moment came that for which everybody had been waiting but wondered if it would actually – the arrival of Shane MacGowan.
Now confined to a wheelchair he was wheeled on with great sensitivity and a little table was set up for his bottle of wine. With much support from the band and with wild enthusiasm from the ecstatic crowd, who clearly loved him so much, he gave us Dirty Old Town and The Irish Rover in his own inimitable MacGowan style.
Imelda May came back on to take the pressure off by singing Fiesta, a song written by Shane for The Pogues, and he was wheeled off. It was one of those stage moments people long after will tell others they witnessed.
Next came the only dull moment in an otherwise faultless bill. For inexplicable reasons the American Albert Hammond came on to sing an unknown song he had presumably written himself, called Saint Patrick and the silent crowd took a well-earned breather, apparently wishing he had not bothered.
They were still silent when he finished, apart from a ripple of polite applause, and seemed relieved it was over.
Then thank heavens for Mundy. Oh, how we liked Mundy after what had just killed the atmosphere, the entire mood was now lifted back to where it had been for a raucous crescendo with the crowd now going crazy as he sang Galway Girl, that foot stomping hit he had with Sharon Shannon.
By now the curfew was fast approaching so even the normally shy Vince Power was on the stage urging the band to play faster and faster and the exhausted hot audience jumping up and down tried to keep up. He and Sharon took the song to breakneck speed to end to finish the day on such a high note.