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.