Mercury Falling
London, GBFinsbury Park

A Sting in the tail...

To the festival veteran the names Hog Roast, Potato Moon and Metal Morphosis Body Piercing quicken the pulse in the same way that the names of top bands do. All three are stalls that pop up at every outdoor show, including the one that opened the festival season in North London's Finsbury Park on Saturday. The great British rock-fest just wouldn't be festive without Hog Roast's delicately porcine aroma, or the queues for Metal Morphosis's trendy tortures.

Fleadh fans appreciate a Guinness with their plainspoken Irish music. And you needed a Guinness to ward off the chill on Saturday, as rain gaily tinkled down on sets by Lloyd Cole and 10,000 Maniacs. Serves them right, the non-Celtic interlopers. By the same token, Technicolour sunset lingered over Mary Black and Christy Moore, who are both as Irish as can be and prone to stressing the fact (''Now we're going to go to Donegal with a song called Donegal Breeze'').

Black - Eire's biggest traditional female singer, by virtue of her exceptionally lucid and haunting voice - was third on the bill, only the second time a woman had been so honoured in Fleadh's seven-year history. However, celebrity has brought a penchant for orchestral soppiness that made her set a fine time to go put the kettle on.

Moore, by contrast, was completely arresting. His 30-year-old ''act'' consists only of dusty vocals embellished by guitar and hand-held drum, but such was his presence that it felt as if he was the first person ever to do it.

The second stage, over in a barren corner near the toilets, had been jammed for the wonderful cigarettes-and-bad-whiskey chanteuse, Mary Coughlan. It magically emptied as soon as Gavin Friday came on, forcing the festival's most interesting act to play to two men and a hot dog seller. Friday prowled and minced, cawing his cabaret songs through a sequinned megaphone. He had more in common with Parisian discos than with the rest of the Fleadh, and the same could be said, from a sartorial viewpoint anyway, of The Corrs, a young band from Dundalk. The eminently stylish sisters who front the group looked like a tin-whistle-wielding trio of Kate Mosses.

Surprisingly, it was left to the Anglo-outsider headliner, Sting, to turn in the best gig of the day. Surprisingly, because the languid jazz niche into which he has lately wedged himself doesn't auger well for live performance. But there he was, engaging and - gasp - sexy in a way one wouldn't have believed he could muster up any more. Backed by the East London Gospel Choir, he was in best husky voice and bouncy fettle.

While mainly concentrating on the 'Mercury Falling' album, he wasn't averse to pleasing the people with old ones like 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' (cue frantic hurrahs). It was a shame about the plastic look vest, but this was as close as he's come to perfection in years.

(c) The Guardian by Caroline Sullivan