Words: Lauren Murphy & Jenny Mulligan
It was an extra-special Hard Working Class Heroes festival for us this year - sponsoring the Download Chart meant that Entertainment.ie got extra-close to the acts playing this year, and it didn't disappoint.
Moving back to Temple Bar after last year's detour to the POD complex was a good decision - dashing from venue to venue only added to the atmosphere, and although the constant dodging of crowds of tourists gathered around dreadful buskers was a bit of a pain, it was worth it (most of the time) to catch a decent act.
And there were certainly a few decent acts amongst the 100+ that played the festival, even though we missed several due to the bringing-forward of time slots and changing of the schedule, which was extremely frustrating, and meant that our carefully-laid plans for the evening were thrown completely into disarray. The good thing, though, is that there's always something else on offer in a venue two minutes' walk away.
Another cool addition to this year's festival was the MUZU videos that were screened at most venues, while the Scottish bands brought over by Sons & Daughters was the most successful 'invasion' yet.
FRIDAY (Lauren Murphy)
Limerick band Supermodel Twins really impressed with their downloadable track 'Footprints', so I decided to open my HWCH 2008 account by catching their set in The Button Factory. Unfortunately, I was engulfed by fairly standard pop-rock, although I'm certain that there's potential there.
After another quick dash around Temple Bar, it was back to The Button Factory for what I thought would be the beginning of Belfast band Panama Kings' set. Unfortunately I only caught the last two songs of their set due to aforementioned time mess-ups, but they certainly impressed - very distinctive vocals over a Rapture/Franz Ferdinand-esque indie beat. I look forward to seeing them again.
The Last Tycoons followed in the same venue. It seems like ages since the artists formerly known as Porn Trauma played our short-lived 'Reservoir' gig series, yet if they've since undergone a name-change, their style remains the same. Technically, the Dublin alt-country/rock 'n' roll band are impressive, but there's just no 'magic' there, for want of a better word.
In search of that elusive magic, I darted across Temple Bar Square to Eamonn Doran's, where one of the 'Scottish Invasion' bands had just begun their set. De Salvo are one of the most mental bands I've seen in a long time. Their Rage Against the Machine/Slipknot-style screamo is not to my particular taste, but their frontman, who goes by the enigmatic moniker 'P6', is visual superglue. A rotund, slightly camp, half-naked gentleman dressed in a long executioner's apron, rubber gloves and a fake pig's nose prowling the venue and literally screaming into people's faces is not something you see every day - although I was assured by (the pocket-sized) Scott Paterson of Sons & Daughters that he's a 'sweetheart', really. I'm sure.
Back across to Meeting House Square for the tail-end of We Were Promised Jetpacks, another Scottish band whose solid, frantic indie-rock would have been brilliant in an indoor venue. Indeed, a lot of the bands who played Meeting House Square suffered from the poor sound quality of the venue, and lost out on the sound-limiting restrictions that were in place.
A prime example of this is Super Extra Bonus Party, who needed to play in an enclosed, small, club-style venue to really have the same impact as their album does. In MHS - especially a half-full MHS - they seemed frustrated at the lack of atmosphere and animation that their set generated.
Back across to Eamonn Doran's for Belfast power-pop trio Cutaways, whose meagre audience wasn't indicative of their likeable, energetic sound. Another dash across the river to Class of 1984 followed - a band with their roots in Cork band Revere. It seems like they've ditched the confirmation suits, discovered skinny jeans, backcombing, The Libertines and the Sex Pistols' 'Never Mind the Bollocks' - but nothing approaching originality, unfortunately.
FRIDAY (Jenny Mulligan)
Corkonian five piece Fred started with a bit of a judder, but went on to play their usual spot-on harmonies and dance-along pop tunes. They've recently replaced keyboardist Eibhlin with a very attractive and as-yet-unnamed lady in a brightly coloured frock, who we would later learn through the medium of song was only playing her second gig with the band. With a small, unfamiliar crowd and a new line-up, the five-piece didn't quite evoke their usual contagious enthusiasm - but still, one of the most fun half hours of the festival.
Despite the fact that it was now raining at HWCH's only outdoor venue, the three Dublin boys, their French lady drummer and German lady keyboardist known collectively as Lines Drawing Circles held a decent-sized crowd for their angst-ridden set. As they played their sharp, shallow guitar music, a frontman with crazy hair and a black and white outfit resembled a skinny, stretched Robert Smith of The Cure among the steam that rose off the stage.
John Lambert AKA Chequerboard proved his obvious talent and skill with his reverberating pedal-looped classical sounds on Spanish guitar at Andrew's Lane. When a couple of boys decided that this was really more 'sitting down' music, this soon became a relaxed, fully floor-seated gig. Without the artwork and backgrounds that Chequerboard is also known for, this was a simple performance that dragged a little in places, but still garnered serious praise from the audience.
Friday night lacked a headliner of the same calibre as Saturday and Sunday, so on the basis that there would be a late club afterwards Andrew's Lane seemed like as good an option as any. Pocket Promise gave a bland, lacklustre standard rock performance, though, which wasn't helped by the consistently poor sound quality of the venue. There was also no sign of the traditional instruments that their profile photo suggested, which might have made this a more interesting show.
SATURDAY (Lauren Murphy)
Saturday's antics began in the newest venue on the HWCH route, Andrew's Lane Theatre - a really nice space, but with sound that left a lot to be desired at some points over the weekend. However, the brilliant Grand Pocket Orchestra didn't let that stand in their way. They're one of the most likeable, original bands in Ireland at the moment, and their offbeat, uncontrived indie-pop zaniness was the perfect way to kick off Saturday night's entertainment. Frontman Paddy is an absolute delight to watch, too.
More sombre proceedings followed with the vastly-underrated A Lazarus Soul in The Button Factory. Brooding, epic indie with affecting lyrics and heavy basslines that touch upon Interpol at times, they were quite enjoyable.
Belfast's purveyors of zippy indie-rock Sparks Fly provided a sufficient stopgap on the way to Andrew's Lane, where Glasgow band Foxface were about to start their set. Handing out cardboard fox faces (geddit?) to the audience before their set was a nice move, but a strong start to their folk-based, sometimes-minimal-rock set soon became slightly dreary - although they did manage to pick up the pace again before they finished.
Local heroes Crayonsmith followed in ALT, and disappointingly suffered from the worst sound problems of the whole weekend (for me, at least). It meant that songs from the excellent 'White Wonder' were rendered a muffled mush of overbearing drum and bass, which was a real shame - because it's the uplifting synth and subtle nuances of songs like 'All the Elders' and 'Lost In the Forest' that really make them great.
Back across to Temple Bar, then, for a couple of Sickboy songs (fine, but nothing special) en route to Meeting House Square for one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, Fight Like Apes. I was apprehensive about the quartet's ability to pull off their set in such a dreadful venue, but I needn't have worried - their tight, synth-tastic, powerful set packed an immediate punch. It's a pity the crowd weren't as up for it as the band were - but nonetheless, it was wonderful to see them so enthused, to the point of semi-thrashing the stage/throwing instruments at each other by their set's end. A great way to end a Saturday night.
SATURDAY (Jenny Mulligan)
Early starts all 'round, as The Holy Roman Army kicked off in Andrew's lane at 7.30pm on Saturday evening. The brothersister duo played a downbeat set, with Laura Coffey on guitar and keyboard and Chris Coffey controlling the electronic end of things. Laura had a mild look of discomfort on stage, but her vocals hugely outperformed her brother. A pleasant set of ambient songs, including an almost unrecognisable cover of The Pixies' 'Waves of Mutilation', left the impression that the pair are strong musicians in their genre - if not the most experienced or charismatic of stage performers.
The Dagger Lees looked fantastic on the stage of the basement room that housed the HWCH gigs in The Academy. A foxy frontwoman in red, and a bassist who magnificently pulled off a leather skirt and red heels stood beside a shirtless drummer and a lead guitarist who looked like the lovechild of Adrian Brody and Win Butler. And they didn't sound half bad, either. Donna McCabe's commanding vocals were a stark reminder of the difference it makes to a performance to really be able to sing. Though the stage was mostly obscured by black pillars and tall men, with great electric blues guitar and attitude pouring off the stage in streams, The Dagger Lees turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival, even if the crowd were the sort of people who were too busy holding their drinks to bother with applause.
The Button Factory provided a fantastic backdrop for charismatic Waterford band Deaf Animal Orchestra. An unconventional set-up placed their rather American-looking bearded frontman at the left of the stage while a confident, curly-haired bassist took centre. Their first few uptempo, boot-tapping, guitar-driven indie pop tunes fought off the impulse for hungover heads to go to sleepy town, but it was a sneaky, sneaky trick as they soon mellowed out, moving from guitar songs to piano, happily also to reasonably good effect.
Halves' performance confirmed their place as top-notch purveyors of instrumental, ambient and experimental music. With a cellist and violinist tucked in the right hand corner, as well as a brigade of instrument-swapping boys (accordion, keyboards, synths and drums among them) Halves thoroughly impressed with enough different things going on to keep all eyes occupied, despite the subdued nature of their music. These guys are a little special.
The poor sound in Andrew's Lane didn't do justice to the driving rhythms and thrilling backing vocals from Frightened Rabbit's magnificent 'Midnight Organ Fight', as technical difficulties and several minutes of feedback plagued the set. Fair play to them though - frontman Scott Hutchinson put his fingers in his ears and worked straight through it, a true professional. Despite these flaws, the boys from Selkirk still impressed as their hairy intense drummer blew us away, particularly with his fantastic solo.
SUNDAY (Jenny Mulligan)
A miserable night for Meeting House Square started understandably late, as the atrocious weather meant that very few people bothered to show up to see first band of the night, Scottish invaders Larmousse. The misery was further compounded when the acoustic guitarelectric guitardrum combo proceeded to play a series of drab and dreary alt-country twinged rock pieces, proficiently but with little charisma or showmanship.
Armoured Bear, a lovely bunch of lads from South Cork, cheered up the dreary wet surrounds of Meeting House Square in spirit if not in actuality with their upbeat Caribbean and reggae-influenced summer pop tunes. They got a small crowd foot-tapping and head-bobbing even if they did fail in an overly-ambitious attempt to get a bunch of miserable wet people to clap and sing along.
The last few minutes of Valerie Francis's folk stylings at The Button Factory were truly captivating, as she plucked away at her guitar with cello on her right and trumpet on her left. A vague familiarity to the sweet and subtle sounds of The Kings of Convenience aroused a genuine disappointment at not having seen more.
Singer and guitarist Jamie Clark and drummer Marc Gallagher - aka The Ambience Affair - did some great things with pedal looping over in Andrew's Lane. Where on Friday, Chequerboard looped classical guitar to enchanting effect, these boys combined some driving rhythms with angst-filled vocals and guitar to create hypnotising rock music. Obviously influenced by Final Fantasy, a very ambitious, fast and angry cover of his 'The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead' eventually evolved into Feist's 'My Moon My Man'. They didn't quite do either of these magnificent artists justice, but for a band that only formed three months ago, the set showed an enormous amount of promise for this young songwriter.
Young singer/songwriter Carly Sings arrived on stage in a large checked shirt and denim skirt claiming "a clothes issue," in that she had left all her clothes at home. The beauty and elegance of Carly's voice cannot be denied but her delicate acoustic ditties with uninspired lyrics (even in French) failed to hold interest for more than a few numbers.
Autamata pleasantly surprised by rocking out far more than one would expect from their recorded material. Four stylish boys with their respective quirky hats and scruffy hair opened with an extended instrumental, before frontwoman Sarah Verdon appeared. With her sharp yet powerful voice, she gave it proverbial socks for the entire performance, nowhere more than on the quirky Jellyman, the highlight of the performance along with a rocking cover of The Cure's 'A Forest'
SUNDAY (Lauren Murphy)
It wouldn't be an Irish festival if it didn't rain at least once - and Sunday evening saw the heavens open in style. It meant that the streets around Temple Bar seemed a lot more desolate, the umbrella-wielding crowds a lot more miserable, and surely, if the line-up for Sunday wasn't so strong, it probably would have meant that the venues would have been a lot less thronged, too.
But Mackerel the Cat weren't too concerned. For starters, their lead singer was armed with a woolly hat for protection, and secondly, their music is perfectly suited to a wet, miserable Sunday evening. In other words - it's fine every six months, but sometimes you need something to cheer you up.
So it was promptly off to Robotnik in The Academy 2 for a proper dose of cheeriness - but not before a stop-off in Eamonn Doran's for a quick peek at Headgear, whose energetic, quirky indie provided intermittent relief from the crap weather.
Robotnik is a thoroughly likeable chap, and that's even without the backing of his brilliant album 'Pleasant Square'. For starters, he had employed an accomplice to sit on a chair beside the stage wearing a fake horse's head and wielding an oversized umbrella. Perhaps it was having the umbrella up indoors that caused his consequent bad luck, though; only managing to play four songs before his set was cut due to time constraints, they were nonetheless four of the best songs heard all evening.
And it could've been worse - he could have had to make way for a dreary, sub-standard band, but instead it was super-talented 18-year-old twins Heathers that followed his set. Simple, effective folk-pop songs supplemented by some of the best harmonies I've heard in a long time, the duo's voices carried across the low-ceilinged venue wonderfully. Definitely ones to watch.
Back across to Andrew's Lane Theatre for Hooray for Humans, then - and if you didn't know who they were before, you would have been under no illusions after frontman Alan's 'We're Hooray for Humans from Cork' mantra (repeated at least seven times during their set). Despite his endearing chattiness, though, his band - who have recently undergone a major line-up change - were one of the best of the weekend. Assured, synth-based indie-rock, they were a breath of fresh air, even if their set had to be cut short.
The reason for the shearing was due to the organisers' (thankful) good foresight to move We Are the Physics and Sons & Daughters from the rain-battered Meeting House Square to ALT. Not only did it mean that we could be spared a potential pneumonia-causing soaking, the sound quality would also be (slightly) better and it would provide a much more intimate setting for S&D.
Before that, Glasgow's We Are the Physics warmed up the frozen crowd with their spiky, tighy post-rock bounciness, which was entertaining, if a little contrived (and certainly unoriginal). Their solicitations for crowd members to start a moshpit were ignored, too - there's only so much energy you can dispense at the tail-end of a weekend of gigging.
By the time Sons & Daughters eventually took to the stage, the venue was nicely full and finally generating some sort of buzz. The quartet (a male bassist stood in for Ailidh Lennon) are always brilliant to watch, and they didn't disappoint last night, either. Wonderful, dark and passionate renditions of 'Johnny Cash', 'Rama Lama' and 'Gilt Complex' were really well received, before the crowd were turfed out into the (thankfully rain-free) night at the shameful hour of 12.30am on a school night.
So, then - HWCH 2008 was the usual mixed bag. On one hand, some of the highlights came from our Scottish neighbours. On the other, it demonstrated that several of our own bands are very much capable of showing the rest of the world how it's done, which is all we can ask. Same time, same place next year?