The absence of the Fleadh in London last year went by pretty unnoticed amid an all-conquering Glastonbury and the successful V and Carling Weekend festivals. Mean Fiddler MD Melvinn Benn had cited a lack of top headline acts to justify a sun kissed day of fun and folk at Finsbury Park. To the delight of 25,000 or so people it was back.
A passenger accident on the tube had delayed OMH and we arrived just as The Stands were wrapping up their opening slot with a bubbly folk-rock medley. The hotly tipped Scousers left with a pat on the back from the punters, and slightly more credibility than “Noel Gallagher’s favourite new band”.
The first Irishman is up next in Paddy Casey. Dublin’s David Gray is the perfect catalyst to get things really going and smuggled cans of Guinness flowing (3 a pint of Carlsberg, and Carlsberg only), with Look In Your Face the highlight of a solid set.
Meanwhile the site atmosphere is brewing along warmly. Irish rugby tops and Gaelic shirts stand shoulder to shoulder with Iron Maiden fans and strangely, lots of Italians.
Fleadh regular “Mr Sexuality” AKA Billy Bragg is the first big hitter onstage. Surprisingly the crowd remains sedated and Bragg knows it. In between his pub-punk-folk Bragg keeps us on his side with cracking jokes and a hilarious history lesson on Vikings. The political rantings were inescapable, but we had to give Bragg have his soap box moment. Woody Guthrie’s She Came Along got some of the biggest cheers, while Dylan-inspired Wolf On The Tracks was captivating.
Four Top Man models are now on the main stage. Sorry, it’s the Delays. Nearer To Heaven I have to give a thirteen gun salute to, as Greg Gilbert virtually blows a hole in the muggy clouds, and gives a polite middle finger to the rain. Indeed Gilbert’s vocals are on top form. Last year’s single Hey Girl shows a harder side to the scarf wearing pretty boys, which comes off pretty well, though the clump of people in deck chairs reading their Sunday Times didn’t really seem to take much notice. Once the singles are out of the way, the rest of an uninspiring set peppers out. That my friends, is Faded Seaside Glamour.
Irish folk hero Christie Moore follows next, but within a minute of him grinding out “Doneeegaal” another monsoon ensues. OMH gladly joins the sprint to the Borderline Tent.
The Charlatans‘ late afternoon appearance was always going to be a guaranteed winner. It was pissing it down horribly as Tim Burgess bounced across the main stage cheekily with a bright blue and white brolly. Within a minute, Up At The Lake had everyone going for it, followed by an uplifting trio of Feel The Pressure, The Only One and Tellin’ Stories. But the best was yet to come. The last fifteen minutes approached and Burgess introduced one of his idols onstage. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ronnie Wood“.
The Rolling Stone shuffled onstage with a big grin and even bigger cheers. Clad in a navy trench coat, Wood took the lead as the band preceded to rip through The Faces‘ Stay With Me and The Charlatans’ Just Looking. Definitely one of the performances of the day.
The same cannot be said for Counting Crows. Heaven knows how their bland Baywatch soundtrack material propelled them into a multi-million selling outfit. Thousands at the front begged to disagree so we left ’em to it and explored The Fleadh’s stalls.
Wearing a black cowboy hat and a sharp black number Bob Dylan looked trim and in good health as he took to the stage. His dyed hair certainly made him look younger from a distance, and Dylan seemed keen to prove it, standing the entire set – something Ronnie Wood couldn’t. Yes you read it correctly, Ronnie Wood onstage with Bob Dylan.
The following hour and three quarters was a cracking blues jam. Though it was tedious at times, with Dylan croaking and groaned his way through many songs. Maggie’s Farm and a jubilant encore of Like A Rolling Stone proved to be the most popular. Dylan notoriously never plays the same set twice. It was but a fool’s hope to expect Rainy Day Women or Hurricane. Disappointingly, Dylan didn’t bother picking up a guitar, choosing to stand at a side profile angle on the far left of the stage. Audience interaction was zero until the encore, and Dylan never crossed beyond the halfway point of the stage, instead sharing jokes and conversation with Wood who was always in the vicinity on lead.
Dylan clearly grew tired of centre stage spotlight and legend status long ago. Bob Dylan isn’t Bob Dylan without his band, and there was nothing better than Bob Dylan and his band jamming. Aside from dodgy tonsil work, it was fantastic to see Dylan still rocking like he did.
It was odd seeing the London skyline form the backdrop to the main stage. A few miles west, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and James Brown Hyde Park show was no doubt peaking too. Music legends were in the dewy air, as were thousands upon thousands of voices in unison. It was unique to be part of that festival karma, especially in London. With its freaks, friendly folk and acts, Fleadh 2004 was a good comeback and a worthwhile experience. Roll on Glastonbury…