The Feile Festival, or how it was affectionately known, the Trip to Tipp, was an annual musical happening that happened in Ireland from 1990 – 1997. From 1990 -1994, the festival was held at Semple Stadium in Thurles, county Tipperary while the ’95 edition was held in Cork and the ’96 edition was held in Dublin. A single day version returned to Thurles for one final bow back in ’97.
I was lucky enough to attend with my cousin back in 1993, treated to three days of music including Iggy Pop, Therapy?, Spiritualized, Stiff Little Fingers, Utah Saints, INXS, the Shamen, Chris deBurgh, Madness, Inner Circle and an early performance for the Cranberries. The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow was a sight for the eyes, a treat for some and a time to pass out and be sick for others. It’s too bad they weren’t part of this year’s festivities. Even Toronto’s own Barenaked Ladies appeared and we bumped into and had a quick chat with them.
Feile was my first three day festival experience, and nothing could prepare me for the anarchy and carnage of those three days. In the midst of this carnage were two wet-behind-the-ears boys, hungover and just off a stomach testing 8 hour bus ride from Omagh. The weekend turned out to be one of my life highlights – I don’t think I wiped the grin off my face, didn’t meet on person that I didn’t want to continue conversing with and enjoyed music of various styles for three days.
Fast forward to 2018 and apparently I’m not the only one with such fond thoughts. My cousin related me to a reunion type of event. The Return to Tipp or Feile Classical would feature performances by some of the Irish bands that appeared in the original series, accompanied by the Irish Chamber Orchestra. The event would be held at Semple Stadium again and feature all reserved seating, vegan food and a prosecco bar. I don’t remember eating at the 1993 editions and a lot of my drinks came out of a plastic 2L bottle, but my matured self was excited at the potential for all this civility.
Featuring the Frank & Walters, the 4 of Us, Something Happens, An Emotional Fish, The Stunning and Hothouse Flowers, the one day fest sold out almost immediately, dashing my hopes of reliving old times. Thankfully my cousin snapped up tickets to the added date which was on a Friday. I booked a flight and made my way over to my homeland for a visit that would culminate with who knows what after 25 years.
Six of us went down to Thurles, starting not too far from Omagh but not taking nearly as long, pulling two campers. As we pulled into quaint wee Thurles town, not much was I able to recall. The streets were walkable and the stiff fields of grass were missing the pale arses bouncing up and down like a whack a mole machine. Our campsite was across the road from where we pitched a tent 25 years ago. Within minutes of arriving, a stranger from Derry hands me a tin of Guinness and my excitement for the evening is raised even more.
Arriving at Semple Stadium, I’m impressed by how orderly everything and everyone is, and as promised there are prosecco bars AND gin bars! These all have the biggest lineups. The food I couldn’t vouch for as I denied myself the chance, but even before the event begin the first thing to catch my eye is the stage. Alone in a patch surrounded by green and not a soul in front of it, the sight is bewildering to me and I can only imagine what it is like to the performers. Us olds are comfortably seated in the stands downing our glasses of Liquid Memories, but the sea of space doesn’t seem to faze anyone.
Cork’s the Frank & Walters start the proceedings and are responsible for the first singalong of many. “After All”, lyrics immediately rush to my brain and I’m able to sing along. Aside from Hothouse Flowers, I’m not familiar with any of the bands on the bill. 3 of the 6 acts appearing at Feile Classical appeared at the festival I attended 25 years ago. But I sing like I’ve been there all along.
Hailing from Newry, County Down, the 4 of Us play 3 of their 4 songs from their debut which I had on trusty cassette. Their set ends with “Mary”, their Irish-ubiquitous hit and every person in that grandstand repeats that chorus until they are hoarse.
I’m not familiar with Dublin’s Something Happens at all but they put on a lively show for a lively bunch getting into their cups. While I don’t know any of these songs, it’s clear that the Irish Chamber Orchestra, who are playing behind everyone are not overbearing or forcing the re-write of all these songs. They are a nice compliment and go well with the prosecco.
Also from Dublin are An Emotional Fish, who in 1993 went over their allotted time and may have trashed the traffic light system on stage that kept bands on time. They play 5 songs, and possibly went over their allotted time but when you are closing out “Celebrate” you allow for extra time. Screaming “Celebrate! This party’s over. I’m going home!” for minutes jeopardizes my ability to speak for the rest of the night. I don’t want to go home. But it is time to celebrate.
Galway’s The Stunning were met by rock-lord like screams from the crowd, nicely lubricated from meeting fellow attendees and beverages. The civil sit-down atmosphere is up-ended by the need for the olds to rock out and rush the stage. Things look right again as the green disappears and is replaced by dots of grey. From the corridor I’m arm in arm with a stranger from Wicklow or Kildare hollering out “Linger” the first tribute to Dolores O’Riordan whose hometown is not too far from Thurles.
I remain out in the corridor meeting happy patron after happy patron. It’s the same vibe as back in ’93, just without our youthful inhibitions. For a bunch of hours I was transported back to a rite of passage in the best way possible. The Return to Tipp was like continuing where you left off, even though I hadn’t met any of these people before. They were all there for a love of music and a bit of craic. This year was to remind us all we didn’t turn out too badly and for some reason Feile, you are part of that.
Feile, you knew the audience you targeted and you targeted them perfectly. Audience, thank you for bringing your best self out there. You were all beautiful and I wish I got a chance to meet all of you. Bands, thank you for indulging us another blast from the past, a night to forget bills and life and recall a time when the world was just about to open up and Feile you were the soundtrack to that. I hope I can relive this experience again.