Culture That Made Me: Avril Stanley, founder of the Body & Soul festival 

The festival pioneer recalls formative memories of Kate Bush, Nick Cave and Burning Man 
Culture That Made Me: Avril Stanley, founder of the Body & Soul festival 

Avril Stanley of the Body & Soul festival. 

Avril Stanley, 48, grew up between Galway and Ontario, Canada. In 1998, she organised the Body & Soul section at the UK’s Big Chill Festival. In 2004, Body & Soul formed part of the inaugural Electric Picnic Festival. In 2010, it became at a standalone independent arts and music festival and a summer solstice fixture in Ireland’s cultural calendar. This year’s Body & Soul Festival is at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath, 17-19 June. See: www.bodyandsoul.ie

Elvis in pink 

As a child, we had one of those old record players at home. When you lifted the lid, on the left-hand side, there was a little slot for records. The one that caught my attention was Elvis because it was pink. It was a double vinyl of greatest hits. I absolutely loved it. I knew all the words of his songs. He was an incredible singer and performer. He’d such charisma and rebel energy about him. He captured my heart in that kind of provincial, rural Ireland way.

Sinéad O'Connor 

Growing up, Sinéad O'Connor was this incredible female Irish voice. She challenged the norm, the status quo, the papacy, but also she had this exceptional voice and presence who would shave her head and paint herself gold. She was a revolutionary artist.

Moloko 

Moloko emerged when dance music started coming through in the 1990s. It was a female-led duo with Róisín Murphy and Mark Brydon. They were a dancefloor filler. To this day, when Sing it Back comes on your arms immediately shoot up in the air and you remember your first club night in, say, Sir Henry's where somebody did a remix of it.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

 The most epic gig of my life was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Body & Soul. We were a 5,000 capacity festival. It was amazing to have an artist of that calibre perform on our artist-commissioned wooden stage. It was such a tiny stage. He just took it on. He didn't do that whole artist diva thing. He grabbed that stage and he owned that audience. He’s a modern-day shaman – he not only conjured the audience but also the weather. It was pouring rain till he came on. The rain stopped and then this ginormous full moon came up behind his head. It’s a goosepimples moment thinking about it.

The late Michael Hutchence of INXS.
The late Michael Hutchence of INXS.

Seeing INXS

 When I was about 12, I was brought by my cousin to see Michael Hutchence and INXS in Canada. Seeing someone like him at such a young age, he was like pure sex on stage, this star-studded god strutting around. I'll never forget him singing Never Tear Us Apart. He had red roses woven into his hair. It was a moment that made me think, 'Mmmh, I like this world'.

Kate Bush’s comeback gig

 Seeing Kate Bush at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in 2014 blew my mind. It was the first series of live shows she had done since 1979. It was this three-hour multimedia performance that fused music – her and her band performing – but also dancers, puppets, conceptual staging, 3D animation, theatrical stage scenes that would change all the time. I've never seen theatre, performance, art, music and dance woven together with that level of cohesion. That’s Kate Bush – she’s an artist and perfectionist of the highest degree. She continues to be my favourite artist.

Woodford Folk Festival 

 The Woodford Folk Festival in Australia is much about art, creativity and beauty. It has spectacle and parade and ceremony that is integral to it. It has so much diversity: Polynesian culture mixed in with Aboriginal culture mixed with Asian culture. Something inclusive, for everybody. It has a huge emphasis around audience participation. People would be there for five days and five nights. The festivals that represent a more alternative culture where they set the scene for something that's an immersive cultural experience, and that isn't always line-up driven, have always been the festivals that spur me on to do something at that ilk in Ireland.

Burning Man Festival 

The Burning Man Festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is amazing in terms of the art, the creativity, the culture, the ethos, the way in which people invite you into their world, the bartering – there is no money. The opportunity to tell tales and weave cultures and swap stories and then be in the middle of these oddities like “the fat slags’ camp” – these amazing group of large women, lounging around with their sombreros and cocktails and the amazing theatre pieces they would do. People bouncing naked on a trampoline at sunset. No holds barred. “Only be here if you want to participate.” 

The Burning Man festival in Reno, Nevada. 
The Burning Man festival in Reno, Nevada. 

 Protect the pearl 

John Reynolds [founder of Electric Picnic] really believed in me. He got behind me. He gave me free reign to do my own thing. Knew that I wasn't one to be controlled. He also encouraged me. He used to tell me “protect the pearl”. I understand what he meant by that: protect the thing that you've built, protect the thing that you've given your life worth to. Be careful and mindful of the choices you make along the way, which in the music industry can be a tricky thing to do.

Advice for difficult times

 When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times is a book by Chödron Pema, a Buddhist nun and meditation teacher. I've gone on to become a psychotherapist. I'm inspired by Buddhist teachers and especially female teachers and the ones that have taken quite complex teachings and simplified them into really bite-sized pieces for ordinary folks like me. Sometimes you need something to lean into that gives you tips and skills and practices so that you can manage these hugely transitional and challenging times that we're all living through.

The Last Bohemians

 A journalist called Kate Hutchinson has a podcast called The Last Bohemians. It’s cool and avant-garde – she interviews female, controversial outsiders in art and culture. Her guests are potent, powerful and dynamic women. She's interviewed all sorts from Judy Collins to Cosey Fanni Tutti to Molly Parkin.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

 A favourite film, which broke my heart, is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Louise Fletcher. It’s an incredible story, which challenges the practice of institutionalising patients in a mental institute. Jack Nicholson is one of the patients. He is such an amazing actor. He’s got that twinkle in his eye. In the film, he brings out the other characters’ stories and finds their humanity. It's sad and beautiful and provocative and painful. All the things that a film can be.

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