Willy Mason is a poet. His simple lyrics addressing honest realities come over like John Steinbeck put to music. His humble charm and timeless songwriting is a gulp of restorative air.
Mason plays much of his third album, 'Carry On', and the audience maintains a complete silence to hear his unmistakeable, somehow soothing voice. The whiskey we're imbibing is the perfect accompaniment to Mason’s warming tones.
Resting slightly booze-weary legs by perching on the corpulent form of the shiny old copper distiller is the perfect way to see how Jake Bugg has developed playing live. His once reticent, almost surly silence has now evolved into at least a spattering of between-song chat and banter.
The acoustics in the room, that once churned out gallons and gallons of the finest Bushmills firewater, are well suited to Bugg’s piercing vocals, and the audience loves it.
Iain Archer, who co-wrote and produced Bugg’s debut album, including the hits ‘Trouble Town’, ‘Lightning Bolt’, ‘Taste It’, ‘Two Fingers’ and ‘Seen It All’, is another standout performer at this intimate two-day festival.
Being a local lad from Bangor, plus an accomplished solo artist and former member of Snow Patrol, Tired Pony and The Reindeer Section, Archer is made deafeningly welcome. When he gets into his stride the room goes up like a chip pan, the bulging crowd soaking up each and every song.
Another Bangor native who gives a blistering performance is Foy Vance. Fronting a tight seven-piece band that just builds and builds in intensity, Vance creates a compelling form of musical alchemy, fusing E Street era Bruce Springsteen with soulful Stevie Wonder.
Judging by the response he gets from the newer material he plays, Vance’s forthcoming new album ‘Joy Of Nothing’ – due in August – will be a big seller.
The festival is attended by just 500 music and whiskey fans from around the world. We rub shoulders and down Bushmills with folk from Bulgaria to Portugal, Russia and the US.
It isn’t just the attendees who fly in from far-away corners, one of the most popular acts of the festival hails from Iceland. Of Monsters And Men have amassed some extraordinary global acclaim: their debut album ‘My Head Is An Animal’ sold over a million copies, making it officially certified as a worldwide platinum hit.
They play most of that album and go down a storm, the single ‘Little Talks’ being a high point, their catchy brand of folk-pop wrapped up in a four-minute smash.
Londoners Bear’s Den also play a well-received alt-country set and Sons And Lovers give a good account of themselves. David C Clements also gives some more substance to back up the buzz around his hauntingly emotive voice.
All in all it's a resounding second instalment of this festival, which Clash will most definitely be adding to the calendar.
Words and photo: Nick Rice
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