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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th October 2016 at 3:00 pm
To read the first half of my Saturday evening at Hard Working Class Heroes, follow this link. To have at your fingertips the entire HWCH 2016 archive here on TGTF, go here.
Tiz McNamara (Dublin via Cork) @ Tengu Downstairs
Joined by his bandmates from his hometown of Cork, Tiz McNamara built on the strength of his relaxed afternoon show at Urban Picnic with his evening performance. Dressed in a flowy white shirt (channeling Jesus, a higher power or Sting, perhaps?), he looked like he could have been performing in the Caribbean. But the subject matter of his songs are on a more everyman level. Admittedly, some of his songs were of the more melancholic, sad variety. But they’re a joy to hear in McNamara’s voice, in the way that sometimes you want to hear a song that will break your heart, because your heart’s been broken before and yet somehow, you’ve survived.
Despite the two being probably around the same age, McNamara strikes me as a more grown-up version of Lewis Watson: clearly lovely, lovable and writing songs that are entirely relatable. ‘I Hope You Know’ was a standout of both his acoustic afternoon and with band evening sets and showed great potential as a breakout singer/songwriter.
Elm (Dublin) @ Workman’s Club
Following their stripped-back performance at the HWCH box office at Filmbase Saturday afternoon, I was excited to see the contrast to Elm’s full five-piece band show that night at the Workman’s Club. They didn’t disappoint me, or anyone else at the club for that matter. They have a loud and large following already built up in Dublin; I felt squished like a sardine down the front for the band to start. Cat-calling for specific members of the band even before they took the stage and then while they were actually on the stage indicated without a doubt that their fans already have strongly associated each of their band members’ individual personalities, as if they were the Beatles or One Direction. I was floored. It feels like Elm have already outgrown an emerging music festival like this and whenever they’re ready to release a debut album, they’ve got legions of fans in Ireland chomping at the bit to buy it.
As for their performance, the band were tight, feeding off the energy of their excited fans. Their self-described “alternative baroque pop”, the instrumentation full of pomp, yet not overwhelming to frontman Dylan Walsh’s powerful vocal delivery, is a winner. Their unique sound is definitely something different to offer the often boring mainstream and I can see both UK and U.S. audiences warming up to their tunes.
Participant (Dublin) @ Tengu Downstairs
Steven Tiernan and his ambient project Participant ended my Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 on a rather unusual note. Tiernan himself commented after the festival that no live set he’s done as Participant is ever repeated, as he likes to experiment with what he’s playing with onstage, the songs he’ll play, the loops and samples used, even the song arrangements. He was creating his live sound with a friend performing with him, and to go with a voiceover of a mindfulness seminar. Not exactly what you might expect or want at a Saturday night show, but it seems rather appropriate for my state of mind and what I took from this music festival as a whole.
You’re never going to be able to predict what gems you’ll uncover at Hard Working Class Heroes, but there’s so much to discover here over the 3 days, whether you want to dance, to be touched emotionally, to be challenged, to feel blissfully chill. Open your ears, heart and mind, and you’re sure to find an act (or three) to fall in love with.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 20th October 2016 at 1:00 pm
One more evening left to go in my Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 experience, and I was going to grab this opportunity with both hands. With a mix of pop, electronic and even some avant-garde on the docket for the first half of the night, I was ready to take in the artists on my schedule. Catch up on all my HWCH 2016 coverage through this link.
Saramai (County Meath) @ Wigwam
The trio Saramai from County Meath are named after their frontwoman and keyboardist Saramai Leech, who also happens to be the sister of the ginger-headed Oisin of The Lost Brothers. Regardless of origin, family connections in music enthrall me. I really should not be so surprised about talent running through families, especially Irish ones: consider Mary Black, her daughter Róisín O and her son Danny in The Coronas.
However, I was pleasantly surprised that Saramai and her band have a more pop, less folk, yet as polished a presence compared to her brother’s act, effortlessly moving between ballads and more upbeat numbers. It is something special when siblings have their own talents, and at Hard Working Class Heroes, Saramai the band has made clear that their chosen way forward is one expressed through sweeping emotion. They just celebrated the release of a new EP at a launch party last night at Dublin Whelan’s. Check out their new track and new accompanying animated video for ‘Trees’ below.
Swords (Dublin) @ Wigwam
From a less widely known band, we go on to a band who have been around the block. One wonders if like the Crookes, Swords named themselves after a part of the city most important to them: Swords is a commuter town north of Dublin most famous these days for having spawned Kodaline. Having formed 6 years ago makes them one of the granddaddy bands of this year’s Hard Working Class Heroes, they released their debut EP in 2012 and their debut album ‘Lions & Gold’ in 2013.
Despite only having three band members, it took awhile for them to set up, because they had a lot of gear, including wow, a full xylophone. Sadly, I only got to hear two songs, both sans xylophone, but enough to fully comprehend Diane Anglim’s voice, full of yearning ala Paula Cole, before I had to leave for another venue. Their newest album ‘Tidal Waves’ is scheduled to be out next Friday, the 28th of October.
Le Boom (Dublin / Brooklyn) @ Tengu Upstairs
Interestingly, drummer Aimie of Saramai’s band is one-half of Le Boom. They are a Dublin electronic duo who have also spent some time in the creative musical hub that is Brooklyn. Already garnering loads of attention and hype on both sides of the Atlantic, Le Boom are a no-brainer: clap your hands, move your body to the beat, and give yourself over to the music. Happily, the upstairs at Tengu wasn’t as gross and sweaty as it had been the night before, which meant you could actually enjoy and dance to their infectious beats.
Hiva Oa (Belfast) @ Tengu Downstairs
It was then a quick run downstairs to catch the last few precious minutes of Northern Irish band Hiva Oa. I had listened to them on YouTube and been impressed with their confrontational sound that isn’t simply punk. Live, they were loud, drum beats and guitar chords loud. Like Swords’ show earlier, I didn’t a big taste of Hiva Oa, but it was plenty enough to demonstrate to me that this is a band that follows their own (loud) drummer and no-one else. Check out their ‘Mk 2, Pt. 1’ EP released last week.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th October 2016 at 3:00 pm
For the first half of my coverage of Saturday afternoon at Hard Working Heroes 2016’s In the City, go here. For the entire HWCH 2016 archive, use this link instead.
Dammy Ari (Carlow) @ Mary’s Bar
I think the proprietors of Mary’s Bar on Wicklow Street must enjoy a bit of hip-hop. While I missed AikJ there on Friday afternoon owing to convention activities, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to visit a bar with my name on it. I wasn’t disappointed. This will have clearly been the only time I’ve ever watched a rapper perform in a bar slash hardware store, so thank you, Hard Working Class Heroes!
I’m not going to pretend that I know all the nuances of hip-hop, so I’m going to review Dammy Ari on his charisma as it came through his words. He describes his artistry like this: “each song is a blank canvas for a new story, with my thousand words painting a vivid picture”. On the particularly arresting ‘Mama’, he summons the strength of his mother to propel him forward (“mama didn’t raise no fool” / “mama taught me to go for the win”). It is difficult not to sound patronising when you don’t mean to be, but as a fellow person of colour who has had to fight tooth and nail for certain opportunities in this life, the subject matter hit home.
While an acoustic setting with nothing but a guitarist accompanying him, the rhyme shone through as one of Dammy Ari’s strengths. The music listed and streaming on his Breaking Tunes page suggests that with further backup, he’s more than capable for a more pop sound, which should interest more than a few labels snooping about.
Elm (Dublin) @ HWCH Box Office (Filmbase)
This could have been very odd (the band were literally feet away from the sometimes bustling ticket check-in desk) but somehow it worked. In a three-member configuration from their usual five, the stripped back version of Elm played for an attentive crowd, some of whom including myself watched from the vantage point of a comfy couch directly opposite. They’re quite a compelling presence live, as I witnessed firsthand at their CMW 2016 appearance at the Rivoli at the Music from Ireland showcase there in May.
Okay, so here we had singer Dylan, guitarist Aidan and cellist Gary. Pretty standard line-up for a rock band, right? Er, wrong! After Gary fretted about digging a hole in Filmbase’s floor with the pointed end of his cello but was then waved off by Hard Working Class Heroes’ staff, Elm finally began. Dylan Walsh is the kind of frontman you can’t take your eyes off of. The guy just exudes charisma. ‘Concentrate’, whose promo video we featured this summer, is looking likely to be the showpiece of this band’s live performance for many years to come, as it combines Walsh’s powerful vocals that are elegantly accompanied by a maelstrom of instrumentation. In the stripped back form, the vocals become even prominent, showing a different dramatic side to the group. Stay tuned for my review of their full live band performance from Saturday night.
Galants (Dublin) @ Wigwam
I think I missed something in translation when I saw Galants close out my Hard Working Class Heroes In the City experience. Watching their promo video for ‘Evergreen’, I think I made a major mistake missing them at the Workman’s Club Saturday night in favour of catching them in the afternoon. Too bad. I wasn’t feeling their sit-down performance in the basement of Wigwam. I wonder now if they were limited in how loud they could be, or maybe they’d just decided they wanted to challenge themselves to do two entirely different shows?
Either way, focus on their usual, harder noise pop ethos when their debut EP is released in November. I just have this feeling a lot of important people will be listening to that EP when it sees the light of day.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 19th October 2016 at 1:00 pm
I have no idea how I woke up with no hangover whatsoever Saturday morning at Hard Working Class Heroes. Guess I ordered quality booze? By the way, many thanks to the fine folks at the Woollen Mills for a raspberry whiskey sour. With what else but Jameson’s?
Ella Naseeb (Dublin) @ Winding Stair Bookshop
Maybe this emerging music festival in Dublin was just the ticket to help me distinguish and indeed, appreciate better the solo singer/songwriter and in a way that Carrie’s ear already can do. It was back in the saddle again for me on the third and final day of Hard Working Class Heroes In the City, this time starting at the Winding Stair bookshop to watch BIMM Dublin student Ella Naseeb. Naseeb’s voice has the advantage of avoiding the usual too sweet-sounding pitch of female voices, instead bridging the distance between those singers and, say, a Stevie Nicks or Natalie Merchant. Singing about ‘Real Life’ might be too serious for major labels but such a song coming from someone so young shows surprising maturity.
Paul Creane (Wexford) @ Irish Design Shop
Then it was off to the Irish Design Shop for a brief peek and listen to Paul Creane’s set. Reminding me of our former head photographer Martin and Steve Mason too somewhat with his facial hair, the self-described alt-country artist looked at home stood with his guitar, his voice reverberating off the walls of the small shop. With vocals gruff yet powerful, it isn’t too hard to imagine Creane writing a mainstream anthem one day. As the frontman of Paul Creane and the Changing Band, he’s released two albums over the last 5 years to much acclaim. A solo album ‘One Trick Blue’ is purported on the way, which should perk up ears not just in Ireland but to country and folk fans beyond.
Tiz McNamara (Dublin via Cork) @ Urban Picnic
If there was someone at Hard Working Class Heroes with the most compelling life story (at least of those I managed to hear), Tiz McNamara’s would be it. Originally from Cork but now living in Dublin to truly make a go of the music business. Prior to this move, McNamara studied at LIPA with the intention of becoming a professional drummer, but following an accident with a keyboard (long story short: the keyboard won), he almost got his foot amputated after the fateful incident. As he described it with a sigh at his evening show later that night at Tengu Downstairs, it was his Irish mammy who convinced the doctors in Liverpool to try and save his foot instead of completely writing it off.
Unable to use a kick drum anymore, he was given an ultimatum by LIPA: either withdraw from his studies or take up a new instrument. So McNamara took up guitar. While I realise this isn’t like having cancer or something life-threatening, it has obviously affected the way he approaches life and his songwriting, adding a tinge of the fatalistic and melancholy to his music.
By Mary Chang
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
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.
By Mary Chang
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
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
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.
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
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.