Review: Hard Working Class Heroes 2010
With 101 bands playing over three nights in six venues, Hard Working Class Heroes is probably the best showcase for up-and-coming Irish music we have annually in Dublin. The weekend's festivities were carried off with a wonderfully laid-back vibe, while still running smoothly and to schedule 95% of the time.The range of venues was greatly improved this year, with new sites The Workman's Club and The Grand Social making a nice change for 2010. Though few of the performing acts would be recognizable names, even for those in the know, we're confident that some of them soon will be. | Words: Jenny Mulligan
Day 1: Thursday October 7th
Despite the fact that a large proportion of the gig going crowd seemed to be either press or musicians themselves, Day 1 of Hard Working Class Heroes 2010 proved successful once again. Beginning nice and early in The Button Factory, the Holy Innocents kicked off our festival experience with their low-key alt country stylings. The Belfast group's songs were easy going and inoffensive if not riveting, as they swapped lead vocals between their two frontmen Eamonn McNamee and Mark McCambridge, the latter in particular belting them out with character beyond his years. Despite the fact the most of their audience were toting big f**k off professional cameras, the Holy Innocents were pleased with the turn out for so early of a Thursday evening, and seemed genuinely delighted to be at HWCH, that is, apart from their large, hairy keyboard player, who couldn't have looked more bored if he tried. With a plug for their Tower instore performance on Saturday (1pm if you're interested), The Holy Innocents performed their final song, a slow builder that began with just acoustic guitar before bursting into a full and satisfying finale.
A complimentary bottle of Bulmer's Berry later (yep, give me a free drink I'll give you a plug. Nice to see a drinks sponsor loosen the purse strings. Guinness I'm scowling in your direction), Autumn Owls took to the same stage in the Button Factory. Their distortion heavy rock came across a tad morose and, leaving great gaping holes of awkward silence between songs, someone should probably give these Dublin boys a lesson in stage presence. That said, lead singer Gary McFarlane did attempt to make a joke about their music being "cardigan rock" so points for effort there. Despite all that and what appeared to be some minor problems with the electronics, Autumn Owls did have their moments, mostly when they let rip and allowed raucous noise to take over.
With The Button Factory running slightly late, Yeh Deadlies were already on stage when we arrived in The Grand Social. The bar formerly known as Pravda has been nicely renovated (the toilets are certainly an improvement), with the upstairs reconfigured as a live venue that saw more than one joke about weddings and function room parties. Yeh Deadlies' ramshackle punk rock has a rickety, makeshift quality that's reminiscent of New York anti-folk. Since they had guttural guitar hooks, catchy melodies and personality in spades, we'll assume that's the style they're going for, and it really does work for them. Annie's vocals may not be note perfect, but they're coy and cutesy in a most endearing way. Single 'Magazine' went down a treat but sadly Yeh Deadlies had to cut their set one song short as they got the nod from the back of the room.
Remember Hal? Back in 2005 they seemed on the cusp of big things with their self-titled debut album. That was until 2007 when they went their separate ways, and it appeared to be the end of them until they returned after two years with a host of new songs. It was mostly those new songs, presumably taken from their upcoming second album 'The Time, The Hour', that they played for the HWCH crowd. As ever, its Hal's vocal harmonies that were their strong point, led by brothers Dave and Paul Allen. Apparently, more than Dave's haircut was a tribute to the 70s as the band dedicated a song to the great John Lennon, who would have had his 70th birthday tomorrow. Among their user-friendly alt-pop, the recognisable 'What A Lovely Dance' was greeted favourably with much swaying, before Hal closed their set with old favourite 'Play The Hits'.
By the time Enemies came onstage, The Grand Social was running seriously behind time. The band admitted they had just gotten back from America and always take "about 40 minutes" to set up. Eventually opening with an enormous wall of noise and feedback they segued effortlessly into their debut album's title track 'We've Been Talking'. It was back and forth from sharp math rock riffs to hard-rock guitar distortion, and all as tight as could be. It was a shame that with their late start that was all I got to see, as I'm currently enraptured by Halves' new album 'It Goes, It Goes (Forever and Ever)', and didn't want to miss the start of their set at The Workman's Club.
I needn't have bothered. The new Wellington Quay venue was also almost half an hour behind. But when Halves finally took up their instruments it was well worth the wait. Halves are exceptional at creating dark, eerie atmospheres that creep up on you slowly as perfect post rock should, erupting into enormous, epic, reverb-laden climaxes with butterfly inducing results. 'Darling, You'll Meet Your Maker' was a particular highlight, its high pitched harmonies hair-raisingly creepy and wonderfully contrasted with popping electronics. On top of that, the boys appeared to be having a genuinely great time on stage, constantly swapping keyboard, guitar, melodic, drums and laptop duties between them. A gracious expression of thanks to Steve Reddy for stage managing was warmly applauded, as was a plug for their new album and its launch party at the same venue on October 30th. I'll be the first to admit, there's far too much ambient/instrumental/post-rock in this town, but Halves are streets ahead of the competition.
Day 2: Friday October 8th
Friday night started out in somewhat subdued manner with Conor Walsh performing his stark yet dramatic piano compositions to a small but enormously reverent group in The Mercantile. With arty visuals projected on the screen behind him, his sullen melodies creating a tranquil atmosphere that made it entirely acceptable to sit on the floor in the middle of the pub. Though Walsh is undoubtedly a talented composer, there was little variation from one piece to the next, and so his half hour set felt ever so slightly too long as the novelty wore off about half way through.
Staying put for Our Little Secrets, Rhob Cunningham and his cohorts soon appeared on the stage, packed tightly together on the tiny platform. Live, Cunningham's vocals were strangely reminiscent of David Gray, though OLS' songs conveyed far more charm and likeability than that Cheshire songwriter. With delectable harmonies sprinkled throughout, their flowing folk-imbued pop made for extremely easy listening, but it was the quality trumpeting that made this a most enjoyable set.
Following OLS onto the miniscule Mercantile Stage was Darragh Nolan AKA Sacred Animals. The Wexford native was joined only by a drummer to impart the backbone of beats to his soft electro-tinged tunes. It was the recently released and thoroughly excellent EP 'Welcome Home' that had made Sacred Animals one of the top acts to catch at this year's HWCH. Playing guitar while his laptop provided spine-tingling backing tracks, those tracks performed from it were given extra depth in a live setting, while those unknown songs were just as gripping and suspenseful. All in all, it was a winning set, brought to a thrilling finish as Nolan pounded on a mini drum kit to his right. We'll certainly be keeping a close eye on this one.
Back in the Workman's Club, Planet Parade were already belting out their clean, snappy indie pop tunes perfect for bopping if not full-blown dancing. Frontman Michael Hopkins enhanced his performance by pulling some painful faces, his voice as clear as the sharp guitar hooks that lead Planet Parade's hugely catchy tunes. Not forgetting to plug their new EP with the Afro beats of its title track 'Zulu Sound', these three Kildare boys performed with a finesse that defies their youthful look. Planet Parade have all the ingredients to go a long way.
The first noticeable thing about Talulah Does The Hula was, well, their legs. Fronted by four talented stunners, two of which used to front The Chalets, each Talulah had donned their own version of the mini for the occasion. At an event where probably 90% of performers, and about 70% of the clientele were male, it's a little disheartening to think that female bands are still so image-based. All ranting tangents aside, the shame is more that Talulah's image is their focus rather than their music. Talulah's synth-pop tunes are upbeat, frivolous and good for a boogie, but like The Chalets before them, they all sound a lot alike. Still, the girls performed with charisma and dynamism, showing off their skills by swapping instruments every five minutes, and making for a highly entertaining set. Also to their detriment were a few small sound issues, including occasional feedback. In general the sound at HWCH has been impressive, but as the girls often swap vocals between songs it was often frustrating difficult to hear whoever was performing lead at any particular time.
Always a compelling performer, Jeremy Hickey AKA RSAG was setting up his drum kit when we arrived at The Button Factory. Waiting for his visuals to be ready, he actually broke his snare drum warming up, a fine example of the force with which Hickey beats his instrument. Performing mostly from his new album 'Be It Right Or Wrong', and getting new single 'Movement' in there early, Hickey gave one of his reliably ferocious performance, clattering those drums with such astounding speed that he actually dropped one drumstick mid-song and was forced to continue without it. That's professionalism for you. With his "virtual band" providing all other instruments, Hickey's only other job was to yelp and holler into the microphone above his head. Though Hickey's new material was mesmeric, none has the live energy of 'Organic Sampler' track 'Stick To Your Line', which was the highlight of a fine set that brought Friday night at HWCH to a close.
Day 3: Saturday October 9th
The Holy Roman Army have come a long way since the last time I saw them, all the way back at HWCH 2008. Having swelled from their original brother/sister duo of Chris and Laura Coffey to a four-piece to include a drummer and trumpeter, their sound has expanded with them. Another pleasant surprise was that their new material seems much peppier than that on their debut 'How The Light Gets In'. It wouldn't have been hard, of course - that record was a dark and glowering slice of electro precision - but these more dance influenced tunes certainly made for a more engaging live performance, especially when combined with highly amusing visuals that were by far the best of the weekend.
Next onstage in the black box that is the Twisted Pepper were Bouts, a Dublin band formed from the ashes of the recently disbanded Lines Drawing Circles and Green Lights. Considering this was their first ever live gig together, the boys were tight and well composed, choosing to approach their audience interaction with a certain self-aware facetious humour. Their edgy guitar rock tune reeks of 90s grunge and punk, rounded off with some astonishing guitar solos and the hoarse, snowy quality of frontman Barry Bracken's vocals.
Staying put partly out of a desire to see LaFaro afterward and partly out of third night laziness, Awake Young Soldiers were next onto the stage. This Kildare-based band are bound to draw endless comparisons with Mumford and Sons for their energetic, bluegrass influenced country rock, but in a lot of ways they more closely approach The Saw Doctors, giving Americana their own distinctly Irish twang. So, though their alt-country rock tunes occasionally came across as trite, the six-piece easily held the stage with sheer enthusiasm, forceful harmonies and friendly, light-hearted banter.
It was always a given that HWCH gig goers would leave LaFaro with their ears ringing, and the Belfast boys did not disappoint, their blasting hard rock guitars interspersed with erratic riffs and crashing drums. Frontman Jonny Black is sure to do damage to his vocal chords with that rasping heavy metal roar, while a shirtless Alan Lynn dripped with sweat as he belted out those rolling rhythms. Highly amusing onstage conversationalists, LaFaro doled out politically incorrect jokes and urged the room to see The Cast of Cheers at the end of the night. Though they have one or two tracks that stand out miles above the rest, LaFaro's raucous, ear-splitting noise translates into phenomenal onstage might.
Arriving at the Workman's Club in time to see Trophy Boyfriend proved futile. In fact, the phrase dull as dishwater comes to mind. While Gregor Ruigrok's undulating synthpop is most entrancing on recordings, live it plodded with little zest or oomph. This was made worse by the fact that Ruigrok's voice had difficulty staying in tune, gradually grating on the ears. While the electronic end of things was taken care of by a new partner, Ruigrok chose to take up his guitar for what was a basic and almost inert performance. Hugely disappointing.
Perhaps it was because they were the final act of the festival, or perhaps it was the growing buzz around their fantastic debut album 'Chariot', whatever the reason, The Cast of Cheers drew an impressive crowd to The Workman's Club. Appearing with some 90s platform fighting game projected behind them (Was it Street Fighter? My gaming experience only extends as far as Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog), The Cast of Cheers brought an extra dimension to their jagged guitars and extensive loops, even inspiring sporadic bouts of mosh-dancing. Conor Adams's ripping, cracking vocals belied his cheeky good looks, and were complimented nicely by occasional backing from brother Neil. The swift restlessness of 'Tip The Can' was an undeniable highlight, as were the frenetic riffs and pounding rhythms of 'Derp'. An all-round fitting end to another great showcase of top Irish talent.
If you've yet to do so, go download 'Chariot' from http://www.myspace.com/thecastofcheers. It's free, so you won't regret it.
To see more photographs from HWCH 2010, visit Caught Out now.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Monday 11th October 2010 | Music
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