Féile 95: Did Cork festival have Ireland's greatest ever line-up?

Twenty-five years on from a festival that lays claim to Ireland's greatest ever line-up, we look at the highs and lows of an event that almost didn't happen 
Féile 95: Did Cork festival have Ireland's greatest ever line-up?
Fans enjoying the Féile Festival in Páirc Ui Chaoimh, Cork in August 1995. Picture: Independent News and Media/Getty Images

TRIP TO TIPP 

Féile had begun life in 1990 as a three-day event at Semple Stadium in Thurles. The reported £40,000 rental fee for the venue and a share of the profits were a welcome boost to the local GAA coffers, and the influx of thousands would put further huge sums into the local shops, pubs, etc during a fairly stagnant time for the Irish economy. 

The 'Trip to Tipp' ushered in the age of the modern festival in this country, and soon became a rite of passage for a generation.

Not everybody was on board, however. As Colm O'Callaghan writes in his Blackpool Sentinel piece on the festival, GAA patron and Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, was among the nay-sayers. 

“In the name of all that is good and holy,” he warned, “be careful with rock concerts. By staging them, you are going off the main road and down a rocky road from which you may not be able to come back.” 

For people living in Thurles, that rocky road soon became a urine-soaked street, littered with beer cans and drunken youths. Objections mounted through the years and by the time the initial arrangement with promoters MCD came to an end in 1994, the town had had enough.

ROCKY ROAD TO CORK

For promoters MCD, the plan B was to move the event to Mondello Park, the motor racing centre that was barely an hour from Dublin. Mindful of the horror stories from Thurles, Co Kildare locals soon mounted a vigorous campaign against it. 

In June 1995, as part of a landmark ruling that still has implications for gigs and festivals today, the High Court decided that the Féile at Mondello would require planning permission. Bands were booked, tickets had been sold, and suddenly the promoters had to find a new venue. 

An aerial view of Féile at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in 1995 Picture: Irish Examiner Archive
An aerial view of Féile at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in 1995 Picture: Irish Examiner Archive

And so, the gaze of MCD head Dennis Desmond fell to his hometown of Cork, where he found a welcome embrace from the GAA county board and their Páirc Uí Chaoimh. An attempted injunction by Ballintemple residents failed, and Féile '95 finally had the green light. 

The Lineup 

MCD had been assembling decent line-ups at previous events, but 1995 was probably the best ever seen in Ireland up to that point. 

Indeed, it's arguable whether it has been matched since. Blur, the Stone Roses, Kylie, Paul Weller and Moby were among the headliners on the main stage on the stadium pitch. Nearby, a marquee had been set up and branded as the 'Groove Stage', hosting the likes of Massive, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Andrew Weatherall. 

And all for £45 plus a £1.50 booking fee.

THE EXPERIENCE 

Whatever about the planning authorities, the weather gods did smile on Féile '95. Brilliant sunshine and a fantastic music lineup combined to ramp up the feelgood factor. 

This was particularly the case for local attendees who could retire each night to the comfort of their own beds, and begin the day with a hot shower and a breakfast served up by Mammy.

Ian Brown of the Stone Roses at Féile at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in 1995 Picture: Irish Examiner Archive desgigs
Ian Brown of the Stone Roses at Féile at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in 1995 Picture: Irish Examiner Archive desgigs

Those who were staying in the hastily-arranged campsite in Mahon weren't so lucky. Facilities were limited and the long walk meant it wasn't exactly convenient. Stewarding in the stadium itself was more robust than the more enlightened Electric Picnic era, but overall, the Páirc again proved itself a fine venue.

THE AFTERMATH

While Féile '95 got a massive thumbs-up from the punters, for the organisers, it didn't go as well. The pre-event legal wranglings had affected ticket sales, and reports suggested MCD had taken a financial hit on what had been a nightmare of an event to get over the line.

Businesses in the city had also not done as well as expected, as a lot of attendees were either local, or had stayed in the southern suburbs near the stadium.

The Féile 95 lineup.
The Féile 95 lineup.

On the upside, the young people who had been demonised in the lead-up to the event showed how perhaps they weren't so bad after all. As one reporter for this newspaper wrote, “The festival did not degenerate into a drugs-and-sex orgy”. 

As an event, ongoing licensing issues meant Féile trundled on to an indoor incarnation at the Point Depot the following year, followed by a one-day revival in Thurles in 1997, before it was finally abandoned.

In truth, Cork in 1995 wasn't a 'typical' Féile, and stands apart from the events that preceded it. For many who were there, however, it still remains one of the highlights of their gig-going lives.

MAIN STAGE ACTS 

Blur

Damon Albarn and co made their first appearance in Cork near the end of the Britpop era that was such a huge force in popular music on this side of the Atlantic. 

The Parklife album had been released a year beforehand, and its title-track provided the highlight of the set as the crowd belted out its best mockney accent for the “Parklife” refrain, egged on by a sweat-soaked Albarn. 

A look at some of the YouTube footage of the set, with its locked-in, fully engaged crowd, also shows why veterans of that era are so prone to griping about the buzz-killing effect of mobile phones at modern gigs.

The Stone Roses 

“The Stone Roses were shit” became the Féile phrase that has most been repeated over the past 25 years. 

Possibly the band who arrived in Cork with the biggest buzz, this was going to be their first gig in Ireland or the UK since 1990, and some fans had even crossed the Irish Sea to see it. (Cork had become even more significant when a planned Glastonbury appearance in June had been cancelled when guitarist John Squire broke his collarbone in a mountainbike accident.)

Second Coming had been released at the end of 1994, but on stage in Cork, they looked more like a spent force. 

The era-defining tracks of the first album now sat alongside the average blues-rock of its successor, and the strife within the band that had led to the departure of drummer Reni a few months beforehand possibly added to the insipid nature of the performance. 

Worst of all was vocalist Ian Brown who sounded like a guy down the pub who'd grabbed the microphone for a drunken singalong. Yes, the Stone Roses really were shit.

Kylie Minogue

By 1995, Kylie had been working hard to leave behind the image of a Stock Aiken Waterman clone, and her uptempo set underlined how she also possessed proper pop quality. 

Kylie Minogue on stage at the Féile Festival in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, on August 4, 1995. Picture: Independent News and Media/Getty Images
Kylie Minogue on stage at the Féile Festival in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, on August 4, 1995. Picture: Independent News and Media/Getty Images

Among the more serious music fans, her credibility factor was turned up to 11 when she was joined on stage by Nick Cave. 

Her lanky fellow-Australian towered over Kylie on a duet of 'Where the Wild Roses Grow'. Unconfirmed rumours swirled at the time about whether or not they were in a relationship. but the duo were at least seen hanging out together in Jury's Hotel on the Western Road, where they both stayed.

Prodigy  

Many dance music acts hadn't quite figured out how to do it in a live setting yet, but by 1995 Prodigy were already blazing a trail for stadium rave. 

The 'pulsating rhythmical remedy' involved main man Liam Howlett unleashing his monster beats from behind a bank of keyboards, while Maxim provided some live MC-ing, and Leeroy joined the yellow-haired Keith Flint for their demented dancing bit. 

The crowd lapped it up and the four-piece provided a magnificent highlight of the first night, despite their set being interrupted by two PA failures.

GROOVE STAGE

Cork had long fancied itself as the nation's dance-music capital, and the marquee near the main stadium provided a worthy setting for those who wanted to strut their stuff. 

Dark, loud, and steamy, it was also just the right size for the likes of Massive Attack, an act who arguably didn't fare as well in larger arenas as their success grew.

Later in the weekend, highlights included Underworld, arguably at the peak of their powers, and the Chemical Brothers, a duo who had just released their debut, Exit Planet Dust. 

As well as the live acts, a decent DJ roster included Carl Cox, Laurent Garnier, David Holmes and Andrew Weatherall. It was an exciting time for electronic music, and the Féile crowd were blessed with an offering of some of its finest exponents.

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