Nearly 20,000 people last weekend witnessed a variety of music performed by ten acts over the newly extended two-day duration of the Macroom Festival rock event. Elvis Costello and The Attractions topped Saturday's bill which also yielded good showings by the Rhythm Kings and the Blues Band while the Undertones from Derry were Sunday's headliners and revelations that day included Q-Tips, Scullion and Paul Brady. Generally, the festival passed off peacefully, marred only slightly by some minor scuffles and can-throwing during Elvis Costello's performance. The drug squad was kept busy with the usual quota of arrests for possession of drugs, but what satisfied the gardai most was that they managed to apprehend at least seven drug dealers.
The weather was kind to Macroom Festival over the weekend. Even if it was somewhat overcast throughout, with only rare appearances by the sun, at least it stayed dry which was a bonus for the large number of campers who pitched tents in the adjacent camping site.
This was the first year at the new site near Coolcower House and bordered by the River Lee, consisting of three fields, one for camping, another containing food, refreshments and toilet facilities and the third being the concert site itself.
The Rhythm Kings got the proceedings under way pretty will on schedule on Saturday afternoon playing as..fine rhythm 'n' blues set which included their new single "Going Steady" and favourites of theirs like "John Wayne" and "When You're Dancing."
Being first on stage at a big event like this is not the easiest of tasks, but the Rhythm Kings did well with good performances " from their frontmun Rocky De Valera and, particularly, saxophone and harmonica player Eamonn Murray.
The Moondogs were the first of two Derry bands to appear in Macroom but their set didn't go down greatly, mainly — in fairness — due to problems with their sound. But the trio battled on gamely, despite the technical hitches and got a good response to nimbus like their recent hit "Who's Gonna Tell Mary?" which the crowd seemed to know.
Sniff 'n' the Tears didn't have a great outing either, but this was probably due to the fact that the audience wasn't all that familiar with their material. It didn't exactly lend itself to audience participation and, I Imagine, that they are more the type of band to enjoy on record than live on stage.
The proceedings were lifted to great heights by veteran rockers The Blues Band who were watched by guitarist Tom McGuinness' elderly aunt from near Clonakilty. Tom formerly played in Manfred Mann's Band, as did Blues Band lead singer Paul Jones. Indeed, Tom spent last Saturday night In the Clonakilty area before returning the following day to the band's London base. He told me that the Southern Star is sent over to him every week. So, hello Tom.
"29 Ways" was just one of the many Blues Band numbers which elicited a good response from the audience who also lent their participation to songs like "Maggie's Farm" and "Boom Boom" as the sun came out to really add to the festive atmosphere. And they even got Paul Brady in on the act.
As preparations got under way for the arrival of star attraction Elvis Costello, members of the press were banned from his presence. Costello and his three-piece backing band, The Attractions, came on stage and quickly launched into their set which wasn't great soundwise.
Naturally, being the star attraction, he had the crowd on his side no matter what he did, but it was only on his better known hits that he got the best response. Numbers like "Oliver's Army" and "Accidents Will Happen" were among these, but everybody had their own favourites which sums up the immense success which Costello has enjoyed over the past five years.
During his performance there were a number of scuffles in the vicinity of the stage by a small minority of punks whom security men told me had mostly Northern accents. They threw cans and spat profusely towards the stage and one of them tried to pull out one of the main wires of the sound system.
However, that incidents were quickly brought under control and after numerous encores, Costello brought the concert to an end around 10 p.m.
Sunday's show was half an hour late starting and, again, the opening act went down well. In this case it was Scullion who had an even more formidable task, in theory, seeing they were the only acoustic group on the programme. But some excellent guitar playing by Greg Boland, ably assisted by Sonny Condell and Philip King, had the audience on their side.
Highlights of Scullion's set included Sonny's classic "Down in the City." What a pity It is that this highly talented and unique group plans to split shortly so that the individual members can pursue solo careers. They play their final gig in Lisdoonvarna Festival next weekend.
One of the best revelations of the two days was the eight-piece British soul band Q-Tips who won over the crowd completely to their side. For all intents of purposes, they looked and behaved like a showband on stage, but the degree of audience participation which they generated set them a class above the other acts for entertainment value alone.
Q-Tips have an excellent front man in Paul Young and, indeed, the playing of the whole band was very tight, especially that of their brass section visually, as it was solid musically. I suspect that Q-Tips will be invited back to Macroom again in the future.
The Paul Brady Band came on stage to a huge ovation and gave a performance which justified. the acclaim which his debut rock album Hard Station has been greeted with. The crowd listened intently for most of the set and their acclaim grew louder as the music proceeded, peaking with his two singles "Crazy Dreams" and "Busted Loose." Brady fully deserved the calls for encores he received.
There was a considerably longer delay than usual before Wishbone Ash came on stage. This set was largely uninspiring, not being a shadow of their former selves. At best, it could only be described as adequate. Former North of England folk singer Claire Hamill joined Wishbone Ash on stage to do some backing vocals and shapely dance routines, but their presence didn't do much for them, musically. Nevertheless, they must have had some fans in the audience as they got a fairly good response.
The climax of Sunday evening was the appearance of the Undertones, augmented by a saxophone player, whose repertoire of well-known songs is a testimony to their achievements in a short few years. With a good frontman in the unassuming Feargal Sharkey, they entertained the crowd to a selection of material from their new album Positive Touch which sounds much raunchier on stage.
"It's Going to Happen" was the first of their encores vociferously called for by the audience. After that they went back to their earlier punk-style material such as "Teenage Kicks." Despite fears, there was no trouble during the Undertones' stint, bar a few beer cans being hurled. Security was strengthened for this part of the show and full credit must be given to the security men who handled potential trouble makers with words rather than blows.
The attendance at Saturday's show was in the region of 9,500 people and it looked slightly higher the following des. Also, there was a big crowd around Macroom town who seemed to have come more for the occasion than the concerts.
Local gardai afterwards summed up the weekend, as having passed off peacefully enough. They kept a low profile throughout and saw that everything ran as smoothly as possible.
Det. Garda Pat Carey of the drug squad at Union Quay told me that they had made many arrests for possession offences, but that their biggest satisfaction was derived from the fact that they had caught at least seven "pushers" offering drugs for sale.
The two day concert event served to put Macroom more firmly on the international festival map and everybody seemed to be happy with the new site especially because of the proximity of the facilities. But what counted most was the music and that, with few exceptions, was very good.