Spirit of Electric Picnic

The Body & Soul village, built around a stone and wood music stage, will be at the heart of the festival this weekend, says Richard Fitzpatrick

ELECTRIC Picnic is not about the headline acts. It’s about the setting and the ambience, particularly in the Body & Soul village, which opened in 2006, two years after Electric Picnic began. Body & Soul, with its amphitheatre and art installations, its hand-carved stages, leaves, vines and corners of calm, represents what is great about the main event.

Body & Soul is the brainchild of Avril Stanley. “I really wanted to build a permanent stage within the Body & Soul village at the Electric Picnic festival,” says Ms Stanley, “because a big part of what inspires Body & Soul is that we build our own stages and infrastructure, as much as possible, so that you’re watching a band on a beautifully bespoke main stage as opposed to a big, ugly metal orbit.

“We’re in nature. We’ve taken everyone on an adventure into the countryside. Therefore, why not have our stage be reflective of the beauty of where we are, and to build it with found materials and fallen trees from that area? I was on a hunt to find who the person was that could create that for us. My excavations led me to Christy Collard.”

Mr Collard, an artist-cum-builder, was born in West Cork a few years after his parents moved there from the UK to replicate the lifestyle of aging, local farmers. His dad, Mike, set up a tree nursery, Future Forests, in the Caha foothills near Bantry, in 1984.

Mr Collard was 10 when he built his first tree house, graduating to garden sheds and tables. He left school at 16 years of age, because it was “a frustrating experience”. His nature is to learn on the fly. “I came across this particular design of a reciprocal roof — where the structure had a circular, spiralling roof — in Wales,” he says. “Someone had built it in an oak forest and I kind of got inspired by that idea, and I came home and I built one and I seem to have built quite a few of them since.”

Mr Collard’s work includes a gold medal-winning garden at the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show, while a project in Ethiopia proved formative. He was cycling there in 2001 when he met Kaori, a Japanese woman who heads up the Futaro Forest Fund. The serendipitous encounter led to Mr Collard being commissioned to build a community recreation park at Lalibela, a spot considered “the second Jerusalem”.

The garden opened in 2004 — or ‘1996’ in the local calendar, which records 13-month years — but the birth of his daughter means Mr Collard hasn’t been back to Ethiopia in six years, although its spirit lingers in him.

“Daily decisions are based on the necessity of survival in Ethiopia,” he says. “In a way, I found the people to be much more light-hearted and spontaneous, and in-the-moment, than when I’d come back to the Western world, where people are bogged down with worries of fairly abstract stuff.

“Once you have a meal in your stomach and you know where your bed is, that is a successful day; whereas, in the West, the aspirations and dreams and complexity of life, and the stresses that come with that, mean you have very little time to enjoy what you have.”

It took Mr Collard, and two or three workmates, two months to build the Body & Soul stage, which punters will enjoy at next weekend’s Electric Picnic. It sits between two spectacular oak trees and remains in-situ year-round. They built it by hand, using local stone, fixings, and wood salvaged from the grounds around Stradbally Hall. Each year, items have been added, creating a veritable hamlet: items like seating areas; tree houses to accommodate DJs; and the ‘peace pagoda’ in the healing area, a favourite of Mr Collard’s from his body of work.

“I just went a bit mad with that structure,” he says. “I like the concept and idea behind it — peace pagodas have been built throughout the world in beautiful gardens to represent man’s commitment to peace. It’s also something from the Buddhist faith. They’re built for their aesthetic beauty. There’s a sign on it at Electric Picnic, saying what its name is, but there’s not a big, long explanation or anything. It’s more of a subtle, subconscious thing. As a space you come upon, it makes you just want to relax there.”

It’s the attention to detail that catches the eye for those who roam around the Body & Soul area, but its main stage’s solidity perhaps gets forgotten. It is, after all, set in the middle of a forest. It must be safe and structurally sound for bands that leap around; it has to have a roof that doesn’t leak, given that it shelters electrical equipment, and it has to be ‘right’ for every kind of performer, from electronic and reggae to rock’n’roll acts and full-blown orchestras.

Memorable performances over the years include experimental folk group Tunng, in 2009, as well as Villagers and Caribou (a favourite of Ms Stanley’s) the following year.

“There are certain acts, when we get them over the line I’m so excited to be putting them on a stage like that,” says Ms Stanley, “because it’s exactly what we want to be doing at this festival and to be able to put a band in that kind of environment, that really suits them and almost embellishes them, is wonderful — when the lighting’s right, when the band sits so comfortably on a beautiful, wooden stage. There’s something about that. It’s where the festival comes into its own. It fits. It’s like that stage has always been there, like it’s just come up outta the ground.”

* The Electric Picnic is at Stradbally Hall, Co Laois, Friday, Aug 31 — Sunday, Sept 2. Further information: www.electricpicnic.ie


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