A BELATED post that’s been stirring in my head for a while. The annual Hard Working Class Heroes festival took place last month and as ever, it proved a mixed bag of talent.
It’s a great event and a festival every music fan should dip into, but it is hit-and-miss in terms of acts. There’s been some great records released in Ireland this year and some great acts out there, and I don’t think HWCH is quite representative of the talent that is out there. It is, by its inception, a festival for new artists but in a country as small as Ireland that inevitability breeds quality control problems.
I’d much prefer a mish-mash of old and new and an annual celebration of the best of Irish each year. I think punters would too and that in turn would lead to more of a spotlight on Irish talent. A lot of the “well-established” acts here are only just operating above the bread line. Hopefully the Irish invasion at this year’s Great Escape festival will prove representative of the talent in the country. I have my doubts though.
Herm @ The Mercantile
All disparate song styles taking in folk, rock and melodic indie-pop, Kevin Connolly’s Herm have been operating under the radar since first emerging in 2004. Last year’s fine debut album Monsters bulged with ideas and tonight they showcase their ability to flirt between styles. An acoustic opener makes way for the catchy indie-pop of recent single ‘Heads’ (think The Walls), ‘Sandcastles’ evokes Bright Eyes while the heavy rock of ‘Snake Oil’, with it’s triple layer of vocals shows comfort in moving out of their comfort zone. Forced to end their set early because of time constraints, they finish on the delicate duet ‘Year Of The Horse’ with the fragile vocals of Bennie Reilly (Little Xs For Eyes) standing in for Nina Hynes.
Yeh Deadlies @ The Grand Social
Led by ex-Chicks star Annie Tierney, Yeh Deadlies’ set proves to be ropey but what they lack in finesse of execution, they make up for in the quality in their song canon. Lemonheads, Daniel Johnston, New York anti-folk, Sesame Street, Teenage Fanclub and The Pixies are just some of the bouncing-off points for their off-beat, chirpy indie-pop. Recent single ‘Magazine’ is a notable highlight as is not the bouncy folk of second song in, which may be titled ‘Why Is Everyone Pickin’ On Me’. This is a band so full of fun and charm, it’s hard not to full in love with them.
Hal @ The Grand Social
Remember Hal? Having released their excellent self-titled debut five years ago, there was a notable air of expectancy in The Grand Social for the Killiney trio’s much awaited return. Having scrapped various sessions, 2011 will finally see the release of their second album, The Time, The Hour and tonight is all about airing those tracks. It’s a disappointment then that they lack the fizz and immediacy of their previous output. The strong harmonies remain but ‘Half A Chance’ and ‘Lonely, Lost’ pale in comparison to oldies aired tonight such as ‘What A Lovely Dance’ and ‘Play The Hits’. It is early days however for these tunes and if hope is to be found in the newbies, then it’s there in abundance in the upbeat ‘Hey There Hannah’, which proves their set highlight.
Enemies @The Grand Social
Opening with a huge wall of noise, Wicklow’s Enemies set their stall out early on with album title track ‘We’ve Been Talking’. Arguably the best of the current crop of instrumental bands threading the Irish circuit, their off-beat loops, distorted melodies, sharp, heavy riffs and clever over-lapping riffs come in sharp shots reeling you in before shifting off. Moving around instruments is all good on the eye for the live fan but Enemies genius lies in their favouring of subtly and mood rather than blowing their sizeable audience by turning it up to 11.
Halves @ The Workman’s Club
The one many have been waiting for. Like Enemies, Halves thrive at creating moods and atmosphere that worm their way into your brain. Within minutes of arriving on stage, the packed Workman’s Club is transformed into a dark and dingy hub ringing at once with the post-rock four piece’s enormous eruptions of sound and at another with the beautiful, dreamy atmospherics of tracks such as current single ‘Darling, You’ll Meet Your Maker’. Fans will know it as being as creepy and hypnotic a track as its title suggests with Tim Czerniak’s high-pitched vocals and the haunting sounds brush stroking evocative images. This is a band that use sound to make cinema, each track imprinting as much on your imagination as your ears. The album, out in two weeks, can’t come soon enough.
Friend? @ The Grand Social
Day two and yet another instrumental outfit. Friend?’s main addition to the genre is to set guitars to kill and lump in a fiddle to augment the sound. And to be fair, it works in part. Think The Frames on ‘Santa Maria’ or ‘Fitzcaraldo’ with Glen Hansard on a tea break. Certainly, when the fiddle leaves the mix there’s little here to distinguish the outfit from the raft of instrumental post-rock outfits out there doing much the same thing — which is to mostly power their tunes with chugging guitars and leave little in the way of subtle progressions. That said, there’s something there in the sound ploughed by Friend? More space within it, or even the odd vocal, might make them that bit more engaging.
The Lost Brothers @ Twisted Pepper
Currently polishing off their second album with Richard Hawley’s band, the Losties are certainly finding the right collaborators for their lush, pitch-perfect torch songs. Tonight Babyshambles and Fionn Regan bassist Drew McConnell is manning the double bass in Twisted Pepper for the duo of Omagh’s Mark Mccausland and Navan’s Oisin Leech. ‘Angry At The Sun’, ‘Ribbons and Bows’ and ‘City Of The Rose’ from their 2008 debut make up much of the short set. This is music straight out of the back bars of ’50s America and reminiscent of Norway’s Kings Of Convenience. Like Hawley however, it begins to sound a bit samey and the melodies, though rich in beauty, allow little in the way of emotion to seep through. Definitely an act to watch but there’s a lingering feeling that there’s an ingredient missing here.
Futures Apart @ The Workman’s Club
Arriving at The Workman’s Club, it’s initially hard to get past the get-up sported by this Wexford four-piece. They’re far and away the most ridiculously dressed band of the festival sporting scarves, wife beaters, Hoxton haircuts and generally looking like they’re each trying to outdo each other for the London look-of-the-season. Most importantly though they don’t sound half bad, matching their “futuromatic” description of themselves with a promising electro-pop-punk infused sound aimed somewhere between Friendly Fires and Editors. Lyrically though there’s work to be done on meaningless repeated refrains of “we form this time”. The sort of band Noel Gallagher would give a ridiculously good quote about.
Colenso Parade @ Sweeneys
’60s pop is certainly where it’s at for this Omagh four-piece who are all about call and repeat backing vocals, punctured by little do-whoops evoking Grease, high school and the Jersey Shore. It’s all sweet and catchy in parts but with lyrics such as “have you seen her style” it’s hard not to think of the fictional band from Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do. The four-piece’s set in Sweeney’s simply isn’t fun enough to capture the attention of the small crowd, though kudos to catchy recent single ‘Find Your Mother’.
Electric Penguins @ Sweeneys
The Penguins were reportedly involved in a ruckus with an ex-member at their Tower Records in-store the day after this gig but one would hope the two incidents were unrelated. All droning synths and ambient sounds and minimal vocals, the core duo are backed tonight by a couple of other players but struggle to be heard amid the chitter-chatter. Hushed, intricate tracks like ‘Highgate Hill’ don’t quite cut it live, but you can certainly hear the cleverness in their kraut-club inspired melodic electronica.
Blasterbra @ The Mercantile
Like the name might suggest, this riot-grrl led outfit arrive at The Mercantile with plans for a full-on aural assault afoot but leave making little impression but noise. Hailing from Galway, frenzied frontwoman Anna Mc prowls around The Mercantile stage with a bone to pick as her three male cohorts lay down some fairly uninspired heavy rock behind her. However, aside from the menace of her marches around the stage and some angry vocals over crunching punk guitars, there’s nothing here to get overly excited about.
The Holy Roman Army @ Twisted Pepper
Having, by their own admission, made a hash of last year’s HWCH set, this brother and sister duo of Chris and Laura Coffey arrive on stage feeling that they’ve something to prove. Having excited audiences with last year’s fine (if somewhat dark) debut How The Light Gets In, tonight they reveal an expanded set up to compliment the blips and bleeps of their atmospheric electronica. Former Borndays drummer Dennis Cassidy joins the duo, as does a trumpet player for a set that includes a warped cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ as well as the unveiling of a more energetic batch of new tracks, such as ‘Lady Of Electricity’ while some fine visuals show a sense of humour some might have missed on their debut.
Eleventyfour @ The Grand Social
It would be a hard heart that couldn’t be charmed by this solo female’s acoustic vignettes that are as comedic as they are brimming with melody. Songs like ‘Forklife’, about nicking a forklift, stem from the same family as Christy Moore’s ‘Don’t Forget Your Shovel’, albeit with a Kimya Dawson slant. Yes there’s a huge novelty aspect to tunes such as the cutesy ‘Small Wonders’, but it’s easy to be taken in by Eleventy’s short, snappy, primary school teacher pop songs straight from her kooky personality.
Jennifer Evans and The Ripe Intent @ The Workman’s Club
The find of the festival for this reviewer, Evans set at The Workman’s Club was at times majestic and always soulful. Her minimal sound is routed in folk, jazz and blues (without ever overtly placing its foot in either of those genres) and comes wrapped in her striking high-pitched vocal that brings to mind St. Vincent or even Tim Buckley. At The Workman’s Club she had all in the palm of her hand while a sublime duet with Dubliner Caoimhe Hogarty on a particularly folky number proved a post-festival talking point. With two EPs now under her belt, she might expect a boost in ticket sales for her next live outing.
Le Galaxie @ The Button Factory
If Evans was all about soulful subtlety, than Le Galaxie explode from the other end of the spectrum at The Button Factory. Huge, crazy, pumping live electro with pulsating guitars make for a set that lifts HWCH out off the showcase arena and into a proper festival set. Everything from techno to rock to simmering synths fizzes out in tunes like ‘You Feel The Fire’, while the Dublin four-pieces energy breaks-out off the stage at one point and into an audience who are just as excitable. One of the standout acts of HWCH.