Fleadh Festival : London Finsbury Park

Neil Young headlines, while Starsailor prove the hype's justified...

There is some loose application of Jack Charlton’s grandparent rule here.

While some of those appearing at London’s one day Irish festival have made a career out of actually being Irish or at least appearing so – The Waterboys, Andy White, The Dubiners’ Ronnie Drew – other invitees to the party tread a thin line.

There’s Neil Young – he’s fond of farming so he gets in. Jason Downs, being part Cherokee proves that the Irish always did have a fondness for anyone who could sock it to John Wayne. As for Starsailor – well, with a name like James Walsh, the frontman can claim some ancestry.

Starsailor look nervous. Their position as heirs to Travis and Coldplay’s big selling worthy rock crown should have been secured this summer, but they have been denied a Glastonbury in which to shine. Though a sodden London park is no real substitute (torrential rain is a constant today), it at least would welcome a coming of age moment.

That moment doesn’t come. But it can’t be far away. Walsh’s voice soars, ‘Fever’ and ‘Alcoholic’ are torch-songs that demand the biggest stage and Walsh’s Ash-baiting remark before ‘Good Souls’ – “This is to teach Tim Wheeler some fucking humility” – suggests the seeds of a decent feud.

Jason Downs, the White Boy With a Feather, is shocking. While it is obvious he wants to be some sort of countrified Beck jived-up with a Wu Tang wannabe MC, he lays his mark closer to Garth Brooks – he even has the hat and that strange little wraparound mic. The quality of sound here in the Mojo Marquee doesn’t help his assault, but if it was perfect the reed-thin vocals, the overloud DAT and the bad, bad tunes would take some masking.

As an act seemingly assembled by a label to cater to a certain demographic, you wonder why Downs and band were allowed on the road so unfinished. You also wonder why, when the demographic can be reached better by slick videos and finessed studio production, he is jammed in here before Teenage Fanclub and Billy Bragg. Second to last he covers Kenny Rodgers’ ‘The Gambler’. Like his entire act, it doesn’t pay off.

It takes Neil Young some time to warm up. In the gathering gloom, he rambles and meanders through several tracks lacking direction and looking as bemused as the crowd. This, of course, matters little because seeing Neil Young And Crazy Horse on such a bill, in fact seeing Neil Young And Crazy Horse at all, is an EVENT for most of those gathered. Still, there is a growing feeling of anti-climax.

Following an acoustic solo break (featuring a plaintive ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’) that feeling is wiped. Without saying a word he kicks into ‘Hey Hey My My’ and it immediately makes perfect sense to have Young headline this, or indeed any, festival. It rumbles and bites and as will happen again and again this evening, it’s obvious that Young still cares. In fact, he is obsessed. He wrestles out every note as if it were his last – he even cuts short one track because his guitar is out of tune. Unlike many of his peers, Young remains one of the greats, not on three decades of reputation, but because he can still cut it. That said, he throws in standards from his rich canon – ‘Cortez The Killer’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’ – to please the hardcore devotees.

He closes with ‘Like A Hurricane’ and, of course, the clouds clear and the stars come out.

Paul McNamee