Festival Review: Clonakilty Guitar Festival, Co Cork


“We’re from outer space,” said Membranes frontman, John Robb, with obvious intent. And, with that, we had lift-off.

The Clonakilty Guitar Festival had been building up nicely, by the time the Membranes took the stage at De Barras on Friday night, but the reformed post-punkers escalated proceedings with style. Their dub-flecked space-rock made itself at home in this famous venue.

Robb, on bass and vocals, is a compelling frontman, a born raconteur whose buff appearance gives the lie to one of his lyrics, which describes how “my body is creaking”. You can see why My Bloody Valentine urged them to reform in 2009 — guitarist, Pete Bennett, must have a PhD in playing the tremolo bar, creating a fantastic, wiry racket; while drummer, Rob Haynes, held it all together immaculately.

Throughout the weekend, Clonakilty was alive to the sound of guitar strings being plucked, hit, and stroked, with venues along the session trail packed out.

On Sunday afternoon, one gig had a more unconventional setting, but, then, it wasn’t a conventional gig. The Spook of the 16th Lock and the 16 Electric Guitar Orchestra formed the Spook Orchestra for a piece based on events of 1913 and 1916, played in Kilgariffe Church of Ireland.

The venue has heard some good sermons over the years, but it’s surely been a while since the hymns were this loud. WB Yeats, Jim Larkin and the lockout, and Countess Markievicz were among those referenced over cresting guitars and rolling drums. This adventurous piece of musical theatre was made to stir old ghosts, and had them nodding appreciatively in the pews.

Later on Sunday, the de facto headline act, Redneck Manifesto, were back in Debarras for their only gig of the year. This sold-out show was a true love-in, the band obviously thrilled to be back playing live, the crowd positively giddy at having them back.

What an endlessly inventive group they are. Old favourites, like ‘Rubber Up’ and, in particular, an epic ‘I Am Brazil’, had the congregation in raptures, but the even better news is that the new songs sound just as thrilling.

One debutant moved from throbbing kraut rock to machine-gun riffing, while another was one of many showcasing the undeniable funk the band possesses: skittering poly rhythms meshed with glinting guitar notes and bass that smack you in the chest like a scaffolding pole. Music you can dance to; pure ear candy.

“In outer space, there is no time,” John Robb had assured us on Friday, but Clonakilty is still Earth-bound and Sunday night brought another guitar festival to an end. Yet, for a few moments, time did seem to stand still. Until next year.


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