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Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 2 roundup (part 2)

By on Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 3:00 pm

Missed any of my coverage of Hard Working Class Heroes 2016? No problem! Follow this link for the entire archive on TGTF, and part 1 of my Friday at the Dublin festival is through here.

Damola (Dublin) @ Tengu Upstairs

Okay, so I fully admit that I didn’t spend too much time upstairs at Tengu Friday at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 because a hot, sweaty room full of people is not a fun place for someone who suffers from claustrophobia. And the place was like an oven, noted too by Damola as he yelled between songs to thank everyone for staying despite the oppressive heat. Of what I did hear, I was impressed with the Dublin-based Nigerian rapper’s command of the audience with his captivating beat-perfect vocals, the linchpin of this kind of music. Without it, you’ve lost the audience. In a world where Bob Dylan can win the Nobel Prize for literature on his basis of his body of work in the spoken and sung word, it stands to reason that one day in the future, a socially conscious rapper will do the same. And who better to do that than an artist who calls Ireland home?

Despite the discomfort, it was good experience, as the upstairs stage that night played host to acts part of the Word Up Collective. A Dublin-based group of musicians “like-minded souls working in hip-hop, spoken word, R&B, rap, pop and related genres”, it is inspiring to see a group like this coming together to support one another in what has become a dog-eat-dog industry. It’s very Irish. And it’s undeniable that the next great wave of new Irish artists will be the rappers and hip-hoppers only on the basis of seeing how many people bought tickets specifically to be in this room Friday night.

Touts (Derry) @ Hub

I walked into the Hub in the middle of a cover of ‘Louie, Louie’ by Derry hard-rocking Touts. Not exactly a compelling listen. Following the rousing indie success of Dublin locals Girl Band, it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination that the world is ready for another Irish punk band. Plenty of folks there were up for it in the place, though. However, it ended up sounding little more than a loud wash of sound and just wasn’t for me. I could be wrong though: come next year, they will be supporting Blossoms on their Irish and Northern Irish dates in March 2017. Could they be the Northern Irish answer to Slaves? Hmm…

Train Room (Ballas, County Mayo) @ Wigwam

In yesterday’s report of Exiles, I described stepping back into the ‘80s. Train Room from the small town of Balla in County Mayo, allows us to go back to the ‘90s. Not quite as introspective as shoegaze but with the feel good rock with a vague country bent like American band Gin Blossoms. They’ve just released a new EP, ‘Delicate Bones’, last Friday, which is worth checking out on Spotify.

While they’ve got several band members, it’s obvious Joe Monaghan on guitar is the master of ceremonies, leading his group with his evocative vocals. Sometimes his voice is paired with a female vocalist, who wears a flower in her hair on the same side of her head as I do. I’m sold!

Patrick Freeman (Dublin) @ Wigwam

In some of these reviews of my time at Hard Working Class Heroes, I’ve talked about things that seem to be unique to the Irish musician tradition. Like my first boyfriend who was born in County Cork, the Dublin-based Patrick Freeman spent much of his professional career as a session musician and touring performer. It wasn’t until 2014 when he struck out on his own and released his first EP; his debut album ‘Cherry Blossom’ followed in late 2015. With a full band backing him, his set at HWCH demonstrated his penchant for a smoky, throwback feel to his music. He even dressed the part with a patchwork denim shirt the Eagles would have loved in ‘70s California.

Oh Joy (Dublin) @ Tengu Downstairs (pictured at top)

In light of Ireland’s unique and engaging musical heritage, it is easy to forget Ireland’s connections to America, how many Irish emigrated during the Great Famine and thereafter to seek a better life. It’s only fair that the Irish took something from us, namely musical influences such as those heard through trio Oh Joy. Whether in the great tradition of anthemic rock via Springsteen or the pain filtered through grunge via Nirvana or Pearl Jam, this is Irish alt-rock with powerful guitars. The Dubliners made for a nice ending and a stark contrast to the two acts just before.


Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 2 roundup (part 1)

By on Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 1:00 pm

During my Friday at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016, I decided to take a more relaxed approach to the band discovery and actually enjoy the city of Dublin. Sort of. Stepping into part of the festival‘s convention activities at the Chocolate Factory for late in the afternoon, I was still able to catch two acts in the free In the City programming before taking in an assortment of Irish and Northern Irish acts in the evening.

Brian Casey (West Cork) @ Gutter Bookshop

Brian Casey HWCH 2016

From the south-west coast of Ireland, Brian Casey is a self-described failed journalism student turned musician who’s already set up his own studio, Waveform Recordings. With whip-equipped drummer Andrew O’Sullivan, he performed a brief set at the Gutter bookshop on Cow Lane. As my hosts in Galway insisted, there’s a slight but discernable difference in the Irish accent from the west country compared to Dublin’s, and even between Galway and Cork, which made for an interesting contrast to the other singer/songwriters on show this weekend.

True to form for a good musician able to improvise in any situation, he asked the audience for a topic to write a song about on the fly. My suggestion for food ended up not working out – hey, they were stood right next to the culinary books section of the shop! – so Casey wrote a song about sleep instead. I doubt he’s going to record that, so have a listen to his track ‘Believe’ instead below.

Callum Stewart (Belfast; now known as JC Stewart) @ Nine Crows –and- City Hall

Callum Stewart HWCH 2016 outside Nine Crows

Here’s another big tip for the major labels out there. As us music bloggers get older, some things never change. We know you labels want to keep the young music buyers of the world happy and spending their money on your artists and part of that is finding a young, fresh-faced talent. Singer/songwriter Callum Stewart will tick off all the boxes for you very nicely. The young Belfast artist has already been featured in Ireland magazine Hot Press as one to watch, filmed a video in far-flung Iceland of all places, and worked Nile Rodgers (yes, that Nile Rodgers) and Rudimental. What makes him a complete package: he’s cute as a button and if I were a lot younger, I’d have a Tiger Beat-style crush on him.

Callum Stewart HWCH 2016 2 at City Hall

As young artists these days do, he’s chosen an r&b pop bent for his music. Unlike the many others, he’s got a convincing soulfulness and I can’t wait to hear what he does next. Whether he’s playing on a street in Temple Bar with only his voice and his guitar or in a echoing, unusual venue like City Hall in front of a keyboard, he’s already mastered the professionalism of artists far older than himself. Despite the experience and fans he’s already amassed, he’s eager for the next steps of his career, yet still extremely humble. Is this because he’s Irish? Quite possibly.

Jealous of the Birds (Portadown, Northern Ireland) @ Tengu Downstairs

Jealous of the Birds HWCH 2016

Carrie covered Northern Irish singer/songwriter Naomi Hamilton at this year’s SXSW 2016 when she performed at the Output Belfast showcase on St. Patrick’s Day 2016 (of course). I have to admit that the only exposure I’ve truly had to her music is her single ‘Goji Berry Sunset’, an indie folk masterpiece that has already garnered the attention of BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 Music. Naturally, I was expecting more of the same chilled out atmosphere when she played the downstairs stage of Tengu Friday night.

Imagine my surprise and enjoyment when Hamilton rocked out! Much more my speed. You go, girl! If she plays her cards right, I think she could very well be the next Sheryl Crow: versatile in her song styles and musical choices, but with strong chops vocally and instrumentally.


Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 1 evening roundup (part 2)

By on Monday, 17th October 2016 at 3:00 pm

It’s a good thing that at this year’s Hard Working Class Heroes, the venues were relatively close together. Well, at least Tengu Yamamori and Wigwam were. It also helped that like the Chocolate Factory on King Inn’s Street, Tengu had two stages, which meant easy passing from upstairs to downstairs easily and catching more bands in an evening at the emerging music festival.

New Pope (Galway) @ Tengu Downstairs

New Pope Tengu HWCH 2016

Following the unintentionally humourous set by David Boland earlier at the Gutter bookshop after he’d run from the coach station (yes, so rock ‘n’ roll!), I was curious to see what he’d be like live and with a backing band. The gruff but strangely lovable Boland is the kind of guy you would expect would be laughing over traded shots of whiskey with Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.

I generally doesn’t like the sad, miserable singer plus acoustic guitar setup. Usually, I find this way too boring. Oddly, I actually preferred Boland’s stripped back session back in the bookshop. Maybe it was because the downstairs Tengu venue was full of alarming Japanese décor to match the food and drink on offer (for one, the huge, big-nosed wooden face of a demon came out of the back of the bar), or the continuous red lighting that shaded the artists performing there and made me think I was on the set of The Hunt for Red October? Just goes to show that sometimes simplest is best.

R.S.A.G. (France via Kilkenny) @ Chocolate Factory Stage 2


It was time for some electronic, even if it was for a short time. Damn you, Hard Working Class Heroes clashes! R.S.A.G. (“rarely seen above ground”, real name Jeremy Hickey) was playing the ground level stage 2 at the Chocolate Factory. Hickey is a celebrated drummer, and he wasted no time during his moment at HWCH to show off his frenetic drumming style. Of course, being a multi-instrumentalist, he had all kind of electronics running while he was stuck at his kit. Behind him projected on a screen were fast action videos of traffic in cities, matching perfectly to the sexy high energy of his beats. It was unfortunate I could not stay longer to absorb more of his set so I could go on to another venue, but my interest in his music is certainly piqued and should interest electronic fans.

Orchid Collective (all over Ireland) @ Wigwam

Orchid Collective Wigwam HWCH 2016

Wigwam is the new name of the refurbished former Twisted Pepper, where I attended a reggae night last year put on TGTF friends Meltybrains? Okay, so I’m going to put it out there, it’s a little weird coming into a Latin themed bar in Ireland. But the venue downstairs used during Hard Working Class Heroes provided a nice, intimate setting for folk acts during the festival. Like downstairs at Tengu, the only problem was the distracting red lighting focused on the acts that performed there.

Orchid Collective, who wowed coffee enthusiasts at Accents Lounge earlier in the day, closed out Wigwam’s performances for the night. Similar too to New Pope’s evening performance, the band’s set here didn’t wow me as much as I had expected it to. I think it’s testament to the power and tightness of their combined harmonies and the strength of the songwriting that the music can stand in a stripped back fashion.

They were the band on many folks’ lips the next day, especially people who had arrived late and missed the first day of programming. While I had to disappoint them and tell them they had already left for a show in Waterford Friday night, that word of mouth is proof that they’re ones to watch in the coming months.

Exiles (Carlow / Kilkenny) @ Tengu Upstairs

Exiles HWCH 2016

If I had a time machine and I could revisit a decade, I’d either go back to the ‘60s or the ‘80s. For my love of new wave and the birth of mainstream electronic pop, there’s no contest that the ‘80s were the place to be. As previously discussed, the stereotype I think most people have about Irish music involves sad songs, guitars and fiddles. However, Exiles, a three-piece comprised of producer/musicians Darragh O’Connor (guitar and synths), Johnny Smee (keyboards and electronic drums) and Jack O’Flaherty (lead vocals and guitar), do their part to turn that stereotype on its head.

I felt Exiles ‘won’ Tengu Thursday night with their catchy tunes, taking us back in time when every man was wearing a pastel suit ala Sonny Crockett or, I suppose, getting on the dance floor to New Order. While there are so many acts these days who have a token synth player onstage with them because it’s assumed you will have one if you’re ‘with it’ in terms of technology, this is a band who use electronics adeptly and smartly and in a way that is entirely accessible and has the potential to go mainstream. I recommend you checking out their ‘Red Lights’ EP that came out last month, especially the title track.

Tablets (County Waterford) @ Tengu Upstairs

Tablets HWCH 2016

Poor Tablets. The crunches and squealing of feedback while the duo were setting up sounded like some of their equipment might be suffering from a power surge. Hopefully not. After what seemed like an eternity of setting up and testing out and replacing their leads, the weird was about to begin.

What a stark contrast from Exiles just before them. This is an industrial, experimental electronic sound that proves challenging to people who run from electronic. There is a purposeful darkness to their music, too, that makes it sound like what you’d hear at an alien goth dance night.


Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 1 evening roundup (part 1)

By on Monday, 17th October 2016 at 1:00 pm

With my first afternoon at Hard Working Class Heroes out of the way – feel free to catch up with part 1 and part 2 – it was time for my first evening at the emerging Irish artist music festival. The Chocolate Factory was a good shout for all 3 days, as it was pretty much one-stop shopping: two stages of music, with acts taking turns to grab the crowd’s attention.

Yonen (Dublin) @ Chocolate Factory Stage 2

Yonen HWCH 2016

Interested in an instrumental rock onslaught reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai? Then locals Yonen will be your poison. They say on their Bandcamp “we want to tell you a story by making noise.” If we are to take them on their word, a book written by Yonen would be filled with both epic tales and considered, softer, slower numbers. I appreciated the latter, as it was proof that they’re not entirely about beating your brain into a bloody pulp. Thinkers are they.

aYIA (Reykjavik, Iceland) @ Chocolate Factory Stage 1

aYia HWCH 2016

2016 is the first year of a 3-year project Hard Working Class Heroes is working on to bridge the big physical distance between Ireland and Iceland by helping build audiences each other’s acts. aYia was one of two acts from the volcano-laden country to play at the Dublin festival, raring to go following the exit of Yonen. The stage was weirdly well above our heads, requiring punters to crane their necks upwards to watch.

This strange position of the stage caused their female leader singer to crouch down and as close to the ground of the stage as possible. In a breathy singing style like her famous countrywoman Bjork, she was the focal point of their performance. With a sinister electro edge full of buzzing and darkness, it’s a foreboding sound, especially considering the long evenings only lit by twilight from where this music was made. There’s a lot of competition in this genre, so only time will tell whether they’ll be able to break out of the pack.

Search Party Animal (Dublin) @ Workman’s Club

Search Party Animal HWCH 2016

Formerly known under the name Bagels, Search Party Animal have rechristened themselves after a song by Belfast band And So I Watch You From Afar to prevent any confusion with the New York food specialty. A band name with the word ‘animal’ in it is appropriate for this group: crazy, loud, raucous – all members banging on drums at one point – and a whole lot of fun. At home, they sounded tighter than I witnessed at CMW 2016, which suggests they’ll be a force to be reckoned with as they go forward and the day comes that they break out of Ireland.

Hawk (London via Ireland) @ Workman’s Club

Hawk HWCH 2016

Post punks Hawk have already made a name for themselves in their base of London, as well as in Dublin, if the fans assembled for their appearance at Hard Working Class Heroes Thursday night was any indication. Frontwoman Julie Hawk has a deceptively sweet voice than can turn into a wailing scream at a moment’s notice. Premiered recently on The Line of Best Fit, who describes them as a “gothic pop” group, she describes their newest single ‘Mirror Maze’ as their attempt to bring attention to female body image issues and destructive societal pressures.

Video Blue (London via Dublin and Dundalk) @ Tengu Upstairs

Video Blue HWCH 2016

Coming to Ireland, I think I had an entirely reasonable expectation that many of the acts I’d be faced with at Hard Working Class Heroes would be a single man or woman playing a guitar. Irish born and raised but now London transplant Jim O’Donoghue Martin went beyond that conventional mould. He played early at Tengu Yamamori, just north of the river, where the upstairs stage was used to host to a host of interesting electronic acts and Martin was no exception.

I feel like his music isn’t compelling enough to grab your attention in a dark club but you can hear it soundtracking a tv advert or film. Maybe it has to do with him having to be so busy on his various controllers while also singing and playing guitar, so maybe this would work better if he had a band behind him?


Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 1 afternoon roundup (part 2)

By on Friday, 14th October 2016 at 2:00 pm

For the first half of my coverage of Thursday afternoon at Hard Working Heroes 2016’s In the City, go here.

Orchid Collective (all over Ireland) @ Accents Café Lounge

Orchid Collective HWCH 2016

Are you ready for my first big tip? Orchid Collective, made up of Irish musicians north and south of the border, appear to be vying for the harmony-filled folk pop slot vacated by Fleet Foxes (or at least as long as Robin Pecknold holds off on releasing album #3). There is probably nothing greater than a collectively massive harmony from multiple voices coming at you, and these four guys know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not brothers but they might as well be (I think it’s an Irish thing?) because their harmonies are on point, which makes sense for a band who idolise Crosby, Stills and Nash. Check out their newest video for ‘Courage’, premiering last week on Hot Press, which exhibits the reverb not possible when playing a stripped-back set in a coffee shop. ‘Courage’ is the lead single from their upcoming EP out next Friday.

Black Wing Bird (Dublin) @ Pitt Bros

Black Wing Bird HWCH 2016

I guess it’s because I grew up with it and it seems normal and boring, but I don’t really understand the appeal of all these burger and barbecue joints popping up all over Dublin and London. Situated on Georges Street, Pitt Bros mentally threw me for a loop, especially since Black Wing Bird (real name James Walmsley) was sat on a chair with his guitar directly adjacent to the restaurant’s pass, where wait staff would pick up orders. It was further awkward when staff tried to get me to order food, and I had to gesture to my camera that I was only there for the music and not for the barbecue.

Walmsley’s voice has that gravelly edge that Bruce Springsteen has made his name with, and he looks like he could be Jon Bon Jovi’s twin. His was one of the stronger single male voices I heard during the festival. I was going to grab him for a chat after his brief performance, but one wonders if he had to run off to the dentist…

New Pope (Galway) @ Gutter Bookshop

New Pope HWCH 2016

David Boland, aka New Pope, arrived to the Gutter bookshop out of breath and just in time for his set following what I’m guessing is the 3-hour coach ride from Galway to Dublin. His observations on life through song are cynical (“I don’t care about refugees, I don’t care about China”) but like any good Irishman, he’s quick on the mark with self-deprecating humour. One of the highlights was ‘Amsterdam’, a sweet number appearing on his 2015 ‘Youth’ LP about a real trip he took with his mum (I think?) to the Dutch capital city. After his set, he was quick to point out to me that he’s not related to Kodaline’s Jason Boland, though I think it’s safe to say no one would mistake one act’s music for the other!

BARQ (Dublin) @ Dublin Ink

BARQ HWCH 2016 2

This is the kind of loud, raucous band that you would never imagine would work in an acoustic (or almost acoustic) setting. Even less so in the front portico of a tattoo shop with curious music fans peering over a wall to see the band. Not exactly ideal. Even under these challenging conditions where she said it felt uncomfortable for her to be sitting and not standing to perform, frontwoman Jess Kav showed off her admirable, soulful vocal chops, so even if you weren’t getting the whole band experience, you still could definitely feel their vibe.


Hard Working Class Heroes 2016: Day 1 afternoon roundup (part 1)

By on Thursday, 13th October 2016 at 3:00 pm

Funny how I wrote in my introduction to my coverage of Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 earlier that it’s the antithesis of SXSW, because how my first HWCH started was in a way that makes SXSW convenient for music journalists. ‘HWCH in the City’ is daytime programming that occurs in bars, cafes, tattoo parlours and shops around Dublin city centre. It’s entirely free, like SXSW’s daytime shows, and these appearances offer the opportunity to catch bands that you might miss due to evening showcase clashes. However, I’d say HWCH definitely chooses better, more unusual venues with charm, often of the Irish variety. While some of the bands I encountered along the way Thursday afternoon thought I was mental for covering this many bands, Carrie and I can tell you that you’re freshest on the first day of a festival, so you might as well strike while the iron’s hot!

Maria Kelly (Dublin) @ Winding Stair Bookshop

Maria Kelly HWCH 2016

My first act of the day on Thursday was, fortuitously, just steps away from my accommodation, making my appearance here a no-brainer. The Irish’s well-known love for craic is probably only rivalled by their consumption of books and their keenness for reading, and there are bookshops all over Dublin. The Winding Stair, across from the famous Ha’penny bridge, provided an adorable backdrop to the music of Maria Kelly. The raven-haired, doe-eyed guitar player has a voice of a songbird, with the kind of preciousness you associate with china dolls on a song of hers like ‘Pretend’. A softer, less subversive Daughter, if you will. The 405 recently premiered her new video ‘Stitches’, so I think we can expect her to make inroads into the UK with her soft-spoken, gentle style.

Eoin Dolan (Galway) @ Irish Design Shop

Eoin Dolan HWCH 2016

It was then over the river, through Temple Bar and down Drury Street for a visit to a cutesy little shop. Disappointedly, the Irish Design Shop was not awash with claddagh rings and Celtic crosses as I erroneously predicted but instead plenty of artwork and crafts made by Irish artists. Wearing a flat cap that made him look more like a Yorkshireman than a Irishman and less likely to sing the songs he did, the shop proved to be an ideal venue for the beardy Eoin Dolan and his thoughtful tunes. His sunglasses are a better indicator of his music: there’s a feel good, Beach Boys-ey, slightly lo-fi approach on songs like ‘Ocean Girl’, which I guess makes sense for a lad from Galway.

Whim (Portland / Galway) @ Urban Picnic

Whim HWCH 2016

For a young musician, Sarah DiMuzio (stage name Whim) is especially well-travelled, having spent time living in both Portland and in Ireland. There’s a tangible chilliness to the notes of her music, and not in a bad way but instead in a Fleet Foxes / country feel. You’re fully aware that she’s singing songs from her life and instead of it feeling like any other singer you’ve seen with a guitar before (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot who make me yawn), you want to pull up a chair and listen to these tales. DiMuzio’s sweet voice pulls you in, and now I’m wondering how quickly she will manage a tv advert song sync, because her voice is that good. Although she did not bring her beloved ukulele with her to Dublin, you can hear songs on her Bandcamp where you can it makes welcome appearances. She’ll be releasing her debut album soon on Galway label Citóg Records, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.

After her lovely performance, I had a brief chat with her about her music. I would highly recommend this laid-back place for reasonably priced, excellent food: I had probably the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life there (thank you Vinny for also finding my necklace!) before going on to my next gig.


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