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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.

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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.

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Oh Joy (Dublin) @ Tengu Downstairs

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) @ 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.


Album Review: Bell X1 – Arms

By on Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 12:00 pm

Bell X1 Arms coverFirst impressions can be deceptive. When Irish alt-rock trio Bell X1 released the first single from their new album ‘Arms’, a gentle, optimistic ballad called ‘The Upswing’, way back in March of this year, the song’s warm lyrical tone and organic sonic timbre seemed to refer even farther backward to the band’s 2013 album ‘Chop Chop’. Indeed, around the release of ‘Chop Chop’, Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan had toyed with the idea of creating a pair of mini-albums, so it seemed fair to assume that ‘Arms’ might be a delayed realisation of that concept.

However, the second single from ‘Arms’, a quirky and upbeat number called ‘Out of Love’, immediately turned that idea on its metaphorical head. Laden with strident synths and jarring percussion, the song is musically more experimental and thematically much more cynical, with lyrics like “there’s no D minor telling us how to feel” only adding to the contextual confusion. And as an introduction to the album proper, opening track ‘Fail Again, Fail Better’ makes a deliberately disarming (pun intended) initial statement, with choppy lyrics and fragmented melodies spliced together seemingly without pattern or purpose. But like the very first glimpse of the album, these second and third impressions of ‘Arms’ are gradually revealed to be a bit misleading as well.

The true character of ‘Arms’ is elusive, fluctuating constantly over the course of its tracklisting. Even the individual songs feel indecisive at times, as in ‘Bring Me a Fire King’. The song’s catchy chorus and groovy guitar riff are thrown off kilter by a piercing synth line and an oddly placed sax solo, and Noonan delivers his sarcastic political commentary (“let’s ask what the markets would do / ‘cos markets have feelings too”) in a mild vocal tone that belies the depth of his meaning.

On the flip side of the thematic coin, multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty contributes something of a more personal nature in ‘I Go Where You Go’. His quiet reflection on life away from home is brightened by a shuffling rhythm and a piano melody that shines through the arrangement like the “glint of fool’s gold” in his own opening lines. Nestled between verses, the song’s bridge section cuts to the heart of Geraghty’s internal conflict: “the engines roar / the ground slips away / our children stir in their beds / we leave it all in our wake”.

On every previous Bell X1 album, there has been one song in particular that is so exquisitely poignant that it moves me to tears. ‘Arms’ is no exception to that precedent, ticking off the box with ‘Take Your Sweet Time’. Inspired by a video of a profoundly deaf woman hearing speech for the first time, Noonan has composed an incredibly sensitive musical interpretation, with distortions in the sonic arrangement representing the synthetic quality of electric hearing via cochlear implants, while a lyrical and melodic reference to classic Glen Campbell track ‘Wichita Lineman’ suggests the breathless emotional anticipation of eventually being able to hear music. Have a handkerchief handy when you listen to this one.

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Late album tracks ‘Sons & Daughters’ and ‘Fake Memory’ return to a central thematic concern about Western culture and society, observed from a slight distance and framed within the familiarity of personal details. Noonan offers a kind of pre-emptive apology in ‘Sons & Daughters’, which situates his oddly astute pop-culture references (“there were too many distractions and too much good TV . . . there were too many cute pictures and too much in my feed”) in a call-and-response vocal pattern over a bright piano melody and tribal percussion. Recent single ‘Fake Memory’ reflects on our disingenuous tendency to use social media to portray ourselves in a positive light, asking pointedly “where’s me asleep on the table or her not kissing me back?” and warning that “if memory serves you badly, it’s right here on my phone”.

The title ‘Arms’ initially evoked the idea of emotional distance in my mind, especially after hearing the first several songs released discretely and out of context. But several considered listens to the album in its entirety brought me back around to Noonan’s observation from its press release: “As the world feels like it’s becoming a harsher place (maybe there’s just more damn noise?), we seek out the comfort of the familiar and familial . . . arms.” The album’s dual nature is about more than just the band experimenting with their own musical style. There are moments of noise and moments of comfort here, moments of awkward confusion and moments of crystalline clarity, but above all else, an always astonishing sense of musical and emotional authenticity.


Bell X1’s seventh studio album ‘Arms’ is available now via BellyUp Records. The Irish trio have a series of Irish and Northern Irish dates at the end of October into early November. They are also scheduled to play two shows at London’s Islington Assembly Hall on the 11th and 12th of November before heading down under for a tour of Australia in December. A full listing of Bell X1’s upcoming live shows can be found on their official Facebook.


Video of the Moment #2202: Blossoms

By on Monday, 17th October 2016 at 6:00 pm

Stockport band Blossoms are currently in America, playing at the Bardot in Hollywood tonight after a sold out show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn and another at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop. While they’ve been in America, the new promo video for ‘Blown Rose’ has been revealed to the world. It follows a different, shall we say more whimsical video for the song when it was released as a single last year.

In this new video version of ‘Blown Rose’, there’s loads of imagery – lit candles, Catholicism (?) – and I guess naturally for a group of lads, a vampy model-type woman. Is she a femme fatale or a woman scorned? Find out by watching the promo below. Blossoms’ self-titled debut album is out now on Virgin EMI, and you can read my review of it through here. While I was away in Ireland, the band announced a four-pack of shows on the Emerald Isle, stopping in Belfast, Galway, Limerick and Dublin in March 2017, which are on sale now. They’ll be supported by Derry’s Touts, who you can read about in my review of Friday night at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 tomorrow afternoon. To read more of TGTF’s coverage on the band from Stockport, go here.

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Live Gig Video: Gavin James performs acoustic cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’

By on Monday, 17th October 2016 at 4:00 pm

I’m still catching up on bits I missed while I was in Ireland, including this video that Gavin James (who’s Irish, remember) released while he was touring in England. Two Fridays ago on the 7th of October, he played to a sold-out Shepherds Bush Empire in London. He has a few dates in England and Scotland this week before he leaves for the Continent, and you can view his touring schedule here on his official Web site.

So what is today’s live gig video about? Well, the Dublin singer/songwriter took it upon himself to re-envision Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ in an acoustic form. You can watch the magic unfold in the recorded filming of the cover in the studio in the monochromatic video below. We’ve been following Gavin for a while now, having supported fellow Irishman Kodaline in DC last year, and his appearance alongside them 3 years ago at the Great Escape 2013.

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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.

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