#MusicPhotography | Blog 063 | Stendhal19

September 13, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Let's talk about one of the best festivals in Northern Ireland, Stendhal. This gem of a gathering draws crowds from across the island of Ireland, as well as bringing home a whole host of people who have for one reason or another moved away, but use this event as a reason to come home, catch up, and basically have a great (and this year) muddy time.

Stendhal19 - Crowds - 004 - 20190817Stendhal19 - Crowds - 004 - 20190817 I live no more than 20 minutes away from its epicentre, and I have to say, having attended 4 of the last 9 festivals, I'm still amazed by how many people still don't know about it. Admittedly, I'm a little late to the party myself having moved to Greysteel some 9 years ago. Once I had been to my first one, having experienced the carrying of my oversized tent across three fields in the pouring rain with my then-girlfriend and her two kids, I wasn't initially hooked, I'll be honest!

To be fair, this was my first ever festival. I've been to outdoor events in the past but never had I ever had to trundle back to a tent, in the rain afterwards. It was a truly horrific first experience initially, one I felt at the time I wouldn't ever want to repeat. As the days rolled on and you adjust to the reality that you're shitting in a plastic Tardis, washing with a baby wipe or three and you're trying to cook breakfast on a bloody BBQ tray cause you're not allowed to bring any gas to the site, you sort of warm to it. For the life of me, I couldn't work out why I couldn't bring camping gas, till I got there. You're pitched alongside thousands of other people all in the same predicament, and if, heaven forbid, someone had a gas cooker accident, what with that amount of watertight nylon in such a condensed area, the flames would be seen from space within minutes.

I know I'm not selling it right now, but as I said, it was my first festival - I'd led a very sheltered (and comfy) life up until that point. After the first full day and night, you come to terms with it. You're here, with a slight whiff of alcohol, piss and baby wipes, but you'll be surprised at just how quickly you adapt. Once you do, you'll start to notice what an unmitigated triumph of organisation, management and absolute belters the acts this country has to offer (as well as some blow-ins from further afield).

That baptism four years ago was just what I needed. It rained, and it rained. The team provided bales of hay for people to take as much as their arms could carry, to make dryish areas in the front of their tents to take off their wellies and boots before diving into their tents. The same thing happened this year too, the rain came and didn't really leave.

The early release tickets went on sale for this year's event in 2018, the acts hadn't even been announced and I simply didn't care. Sure, there were bands and singers who I have formed great relationships with who I hoped I would see, but it didn't matter, we were going and that was that.

I want to be honest with you here, there are loads and loads of things for the children to do, and it grows in scope each year, but we didn't bring ours back. My wife and I have made Stendhal 'our thing', and the kids are not invited anymore. For them (early to mid-teens), they're just not interested. They'll come back around it, of that, I have no doubt, our two would prefer to be in their rooms, light off, SnapChat on till their skin tone turns translucent, it's a phase they're in and there's no point in fighting it. Besides, it means me and the wife can just let rip and have a great time without a care in the world (we're already getting a taste of the life we hope to live once they've moved out lol).

To me, the event has two agendas.

  1. Have a fantastic time with my wife, wandering around the multiple stages, bumping into friends and relatives and watching some amazing talent perform from the afternoon to the early hours.
  2. Photograph as much as I possibly can (whilst still sober) and at the same time, try and keep in touch with the wife, as I skip from one stage to another and she anchors to whatever act she's enthralled by.

Neil Moore of Magic Bean FilmsNeil Moore - Magic Bean FilmsWeathering the storm, Neil deciding on making a run for it to the next stage... Ciara McMullanCiara McMullanCiara McMullan on the Basement Jaxx stage getting that unique shot.

The Stendhal Team have been fantastic in providing me with Press Access and there are a number of other great professionals who cover the event on their behalfs, such as Neil Moore from Magic Bean Films, and my absolute fave Ciara McMullan, tour photographer and an all-round good egg. Having a mid-set natter with these two keeps me sane, though, as the night wears on, I do tend to try and avoid them, as I'm under no pressure to produce the goods, so tend to end up a little, er... Tipsy.

After our first two festivals spent in pretty large tent, we decided to upgrade and bring the motorhome. I didn't even know it was an option until I saw more information on the social networks about the tickets to bring your motorhome being a little low, so last year, having convinced my wife it was the 'sensible' option, we brought the van. She didn't want to, she actually thought we were cheating the whole experience by not camping, and last year was a splendid year in terms of weather, but, I wanted to edit pictures seated at a table, with the option of a shower (as I've mentioned earlier, I like my comforts) and a cold beer in the fridge). What I loved most was that once last years festival was over, we simply drove away! No rolling up an airbed, sleeping bags and a wet tent. I'd even invested in a big-wheeled trolly cart so I could pull it like an auld shire horse across freshly cut cornfields. I loved being able to drive up, park up, get to the gigs/bar in under 10 minutes.

This year was our first Thursday night onsite. Most people would tend to take the Friday off to get on-site and sorted, and the Stendhal team picked up on that and added Thursday night to the mix, and we weren't disappointed in coming in early. Tucked away in the new Air Stage was a band neither of us had heard of - Blackbird & Crow. A mixture of country and bluegrass with a hardcore powerhouse of a singer in Maighread Ni Ghrasta, we were blown away. So much so, that the following day when they performed again we bought their 'Shock, Shatter, Convince' album. They're one of those bands that actually sound even better live!

Blackbird & Crow - 027 - 20190816Blackbird & Crow - 027 - 20190816Blackbird and Crow come from the farthest northern corner of Co Donegal, Ireland. The band formed four years ago and are comprised of Maighread Ni Ghrasta (Vocals) and Stephen Doohan (Guitar/Bouzouki /Stomp Box). Pictures by Darron Mark Photography | DMfotoNI

I didn't intend for this blog to be about a particular act as such, but it would be a wasted opportunity not to tell you about this band, so here's a video from their album.

If you're lucky enough to get to attend a gig of theirs, get there. They're simply amazing. We'll be both trying to organise a night to see them again in the next few months and hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to bring the video camera along too, for my YouTube Channel.

Anyway, back to Stendhal 2019. Thursday night, the sun is still pretty much still visible, it's been raining in the last few days, but nothing too concerning, and the ground is still fairly solid. We mooch about, grab a bite to each from one of the onsite vendors and start making our way to the few stages that are open at this point. The bottom half of the site is sealed off, only the top part is open, which is where we discovered the new Air Stage, and the new Big Tents. I recall the Saturday night last year we had torrential rain and there weren't that many places to hide from it, this was resolved this year with many covered areas being made available near some of the stages. 

Festival Top Tip: Buy the program, get a notepad and do a little bit of research on who is on and where, and more importantly, WHEN. I'd confused myself this year with mixing up my days, and the Smartphone App for some reason wasn't updated this year. I'm on O2 and tend not to get a great signal, which is why I was savvy enough to bring my new walkie-talkies. I'd had to buy them for my new PfCO (well, I say 'had to' but I really just wanted them and used that as an excuse (don't tell the wife)) but they were amazing in terms of range and I was easily able to keep in touch with the wife, even while she was still in the motorhome and me wandering about the main area.

I think what I'm going to do at this point, break down some of the acts I saw in future posts, but what I want you to take away from this, you have to come to Stendhal10 - The 10 is part of their new marketing for the 10th Anniversary. I promise you, it's going to be amazing. Who knows, I might even bring the kids next year (I doubt it)! My parting memory of this year (apart from the stinking hangover on Sunday) was being towed out of a muddy field by a volunteer tractor driver, of which there were 18 of them helping people get home. Again, a testimony of how well thought out this event is. A fleet of tractors working the fields, only this time, they are harvesting cars and motorhomes instead of crops. 

As a music photographer, Stendhal provides me with an opportunity to make a few notes on new acts I want to get to know further, build relationships with and get on my YouTube Channel

Where you there this year? Who was your favourite band/artist? Would you go next year? Let me know in the comments below.


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