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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
A field which is forever Ireland
Neil Young
Neil Young: "The master who has been through it all"
As pint-sized rain drops fell and mud crept insidiously up trouser legs, there was nothing emerald about the annual Finsbury Park Fleadh Festival that celebrated music in all its Celtic glory, as BBC News Online's Brendan Cole reports.

It seems the Celtic element of the Fleadh has taken more of a backseat since the loftier cultural intentions of the inaugural event in 1990 when Van Morrison led the shamrock shindig in this corner of north London.

But that year being Irish was taking on a new chic in the UK.

Fans at Fleadh
The weather was more suited to Glastonbury
It was the year The Pogues recorded Jack's Heroes with The Dubliners to commemorate the Republic's success in the World Cup. Sinead O'Connor was number one, Irish comedians were hot.

As Ireland basks in the prosperity which followed its mid-1990s economic boom, the Fleadh has a more relaxed take on what is Celtic, with links a little tenuous at times having as it does ambassadors from Canada (Neil Young), working class England (Billy Bragg) and the United States (Evan Dando).

Still there was enough spirit amid the umbrellas, raincoats and bin liners here on Bloomsday - the day in 1904 in which novelist James Joyce set Ulysses - to make this a worthwhile event in a dirty old town.

On the Irish Post Stage, John Martyn impressed with his beautifully-slurred vocals which filled the tent as he performed songs from classic albums London Conversation, The Tumbler, before coming out with the euphoric Solid Air as an encore, his voice backed by the smooth bass of Danny Thompson.

Past the fast food joints and crowds queuing rather optimistically for a natural high from the herbal ecstasy tents, Aimee Mann held all in thrall on the main stage with her reflective songs, some from the acclaimed film Magnolia, including the Oscar-nominated Save Me.

The rain falling lustily was complemented by the cool breeze caused by mullets flapping as every closet air guitarist in Christendom crowded the front row for the appearance of Gary Moore.

The ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist has not lost any of his sharpness, as he played traditional blues standards topped by still Got The Blues which got a rousing reception.

Afro Celt Sound System
The Afro Celt Sound System played early
In the Mojo Marquee, the country hip-hop of Jason Downs with offerings from his new album White Boy With a Feather, preceded the day's indie representatives, Teenage Fanclub.

The Fannies packed them in tight, led by the formidably talented Norman Blake whose Big Star melodies from the albums Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain, among others, gave a musical hot toddy to the cold wet masses crawling over each other in the fight for tent space.

Back on the main stage, Mike Scott led out the reunited and reformed Waterboys, and there was not an item of knitwear in sight.

The dynamism of stalwart fiddler Steve Wickham powered the earthy tones of songs like The Power Within and All the Things She Gave Me.

Of course the classic Whole of the Moon got reminiscences, and also the earth underneath now transformed into bog, churning.

Top of the bill on the main stage, Canadian heartland rocker Neil Young was competing with Billy Bragg and The Blokes in the marquee but seemed to have got the better crowd.

Young's canon stretching four decades is vast but he plays songs from key albums like Harvest and Rust Never Sleeps.

With flannel shirt and Stetson, the rock patriarch makes the now outmoded grunge look about as tough as S Club 7 as he and Crazy Horse rollicked through Cortez The Killer, Hey Hey My My and Cinnamon Girl.

Here was the master who has been through it all and he was enjoying his work, stomping on stage with that buffalo dance of his, as the audience joined in the party.

Roll on the rest of the summer festivals.

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