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Live Review: RTÉ Choice Music Prize – The Shortlist Sessions

 
By on Monday, 6th February 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Last Wednesday evening saw performances from nominees of the RTÉ Choice Music Prize in the candle-lit venue the Workman’s Club in Dublin city centre. Hosted by Irish musician and radio presenter/producer Cormac Battle, the evening started with two nominees for the RTÉ Choice Music Prize for Irish Song of the Year, followed by two of the acts shortlisted for Irish Album of the Year.

Ten acts have been shortlisted for the Irish Song of the Year, including James Vincent McMorrow and ex-One Direction-er Niall Horan. On Wednesday we saw performances from Heroes in Hiding and Raglans, both based in Dublin and the only two acts nominated for this award who have self-released their singles. Up first were folk-rock quartet Heroes in Hiding, who revealed during a brief pre-performance interview with Battle that they had never won or been nominated for an award.

However, within 30 seconds or so of the band playing their nominated track ‘Hospital’, it became pretty clear why they are now getting this kind of recognition conferred by the Choice Music Prize. ‘Hospital’ is a catchy track, featuring seemingly medical-inspired percussive sounds and upbeat guitars and drums. It’s little less folky than some of the band’s other stuff but is definitely a track you can dance or bob your head along to. The chorus, featuring vocalist Joe Carroll crowing “next thing I knew / I was in the hospital”, recalls a real near death experience of Carroll’s in which he remembers very little of the incident, but after which he woke up in a hospital bed.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZlyiiVJffg[/youtube]

The band followed this up with ‘Beer’, for which Carroll donned an acoustic guitar. Bassist Liam McCabe took the lead vocals on this track, which started out much more mellow and laid back than ‘Hospital’ before building to an early Mumford and Sons-esque climax (sans banjo) that literally made the room shake.

Next up was Raglans, who thanked their manager and revealed that it was their second time playing The Workman’s Club. Lead singer Stephen Kelly’s stage presence was everything you could want from a ballsy lead singer. He has a swagger and laid back confidence, joking “if you feel like voting for us: thank you. If you don’t… f**k you”. They started with ‘House Where I Was Born’, which isn’t the track that is up for nomination but is a solid track nonetheless; it features on their ‘Again & Again EP’. With edgy guitars and intense drums aplenty, this is as authentic rock ‘n’ roll as you’ve ever heard. Kelly’s Irish accent doesn’t come across when he singing and at times, the band actually reminded me of early Arctic Monkeys, in the rough and ready, yet great sound of their music. Nominated track ‘Who Knows’ came next: high in energy, it engaged the crowd most out of all the acts we saw that evening. Commanding the stage with growing indie guitar hooks and a hammering drumbeat, the band looked to be in their element and enjoying their moment in the spotlight being nominated for the Choice Music Prize.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9P2As4JCu4[/youtube]

Following a break, it was time for a pair of the Irish Album of the Year nominees to take to the stage. Bantum is an electronic act originally from Cork who appeared onstage armed only with a guitar and a laptop. He jokingly commented that he would get himself a new guitar if he won the prize money. Pretty different in style to previous two acts, Bantum is synth heavy, and track ‘Take It’ features ghostly vocals from Loah, whose voice is reminiscent of the xx’s Romy Madley-Croft. [Loah appeared at Hard Working Class Heroes 2016 last October and is scheduled to appear at SXSW 2017. – Ed.] It’s the kind of chilled out dance track that would be fitting at a festival as the sun is beginning to set and people are in between the highs of the morning and getting their second wind just in time for the evening acts. didn’t catch the name of the second track, but it carried an equally atmospheric and laid-back essence. Whilst I really enjoyed Bantum, The Workman’s Club didn’t seem like the best setting for the performance, and his sound didn’t quite seem to engage the crowd as well as other acts. Maybe this was because the event was on a mid-week evening? However, Bantum definitely has an easy-going ambient sound that would work better in a club at the weekend, or a summer festival.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky1xy600BKc[/youtube]

The final act of the evening was indie duo We Cut Corners. Both members are teachers and they stood together onstage with their acoustic guitars. Both John Duignan and Conall Ó Breacháin have high, clear and bright singing voices, one complimenting the other. They started with ‘Reluctant Recluse’, a smoky, soft acoustic track, featuring some nimble wordplay (“I was a reckless child / now I’m a childless wreck”), and a wholly passionate performance. This track appears on ‘The Cadences of Others’, the album for which the band is nominated. Even while simply performed with just a pair of melancholic acoustic guitars, the delivery of ‘Reluctant Recluse’ on this night conveyed a whole melting pot of emotions, making the track a standout.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4wGroj4sck[/youtube]

The second and final song from We Cut Corners was ‘Of Whatever’. Despite the quiet nature of the track, the pair were able to keep the rapt attention of the crowd, the crystalline vocals and emotive lyrics mesmerising. Lyrics like “but young love is reckless / leaves you gasping and breathless” and “a wave of whatever / is sweeping the nation” cemented this for me as being a genuinely beautiful track, making me think of the act as an Irish male First Aid Kit.

All in all, it was a fantastic night and I was glad to have seen all four acts perform, each bringing something different to the table. Votes can now be cast by the public for both the RTÉ Choice Music Prize Irish Song of the Year and of the Irish Album of the Year. The winners will be announced at a live event on Thursday, the 9th of March, at Dublin Vicar Street.

 

Deer Shed Festival 2014: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Monday, 11th August 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Camping with kids at festivals is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. Despite running around all day, playing swingball in fits of glee, they rarely fall asleep anywhere near normal bedtime yet paradoxically wake at the crack of dawn, as the first glow of sunlight forces its way through increasingly stuffy canvas. Which would explain the weary expressions on the faces of parents in the queues for coffee and bacon sandwiches early Saturday morning at Deer Shed festival. Plenty simply hadn’t bothered to get dressed, waiting in line in pyjamas and Crocs for the calories and caffeine which would finally drag them into the realm of the waking.

As good a place as any to eat breakfast was the Big Top tent, with Paul Cookson and Stan Cullimore for company. Stan used to be in The Housemartins, so he can play the ukulele and now sings songs for kids rather than blather on about how good Hull is. Paul Cookson used to be a teacher, so knows how to handle a crowd of over-excited children, and trades in performance poetry when not accompanying Cullimore on the ukulele. He has one particularly memorable routine in which he impersonates his teenage daughter’s head-shaking, hand-waving putdowns: “Wha-eva, major loser!” Elsewhere, the Stan sings a song about the virtues or otherwise of his musical partner’s digestive system, which of course brings the house down. A great way to banish the cobwebs.

Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls do a good job of convincing people to buy their début album ‘Pink Fur’. Its scuzzy, incessant grooves infected with gothic despair are ironically just the ticket to really launch into Saturday PM. The shadow of Nick Cave hangs heavy over them; indeed, the male-female interplay recalls Cave and Minogue at their most lugubrious. After all that, how bad can one’s life be in comparison? Dublin’s Raglans do exactly what you might expect of a few likely lads equipped with guitars from Ireland’s party city. Upbeat, jolly ditties, delivered with irrepressible enthusiasm. Their song entitled ‘White Lightning’ might raise queasy memories of last night’s cider-induced hangover, but apart from that, they deserve full marks for kicking the Main Stage into life.

With nothing of interest to follow on the Main Stage, it’s to the comedy tent to witness Wes Zaharuk (yet another name misspelled in the programme). His brand of shambolic, power tool-assisted slapstick comedy has the power to have an audience in tears of laughter in short order, and gives any manner of ideas for mayhem to errant toddlers. A whole toilet roll is unravelled in someone’s face using some sort of power blower, and a lucky lady gets to feed Wes a banana. From behind. Without looking. It’s unclear how he gets away with it, but give praise to the god of slapstick that he does.

Happyness are the perfect mid-afternoon tent band. Their chilled-out obscurantist rock proves how effective the power trio lineup can still be. Their songs have a deceptive superficial simplicity in which hides all manner of clever guitar work and surrealist lyrical content. ‘Refrigerate Her’, anyone? The irony of their name versus their faux-glum onstage banter doesn’t go unnoticed, either. With their début album now released, Happyness deserve increasing recognition for their West-Coast-by-way-of-South-London vibes – and they’re certainly headed in the right direction.

Unfortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are indisposed, so Bleech play for the second time in 2 days. Which means that We Were Evergreen’s upcoming claim to Deer Shed fame – that they’d be the first act to play the main stage twice – is cruelly usurped by fate at the last possible moment. Which makes it even more inexplicable when the compere introduces “We Are Evergreen [sic], the first band ever to play the Main Stage twice!” just after Bleech had finished playing their second Main Stage set. Evergreen’s name had been misspelled throughout the catalogue and lanyard – one would imagine that a band that had played before would have better name recognition than the others, but apparently not. Anyway, a bit of a low point, credibility-wise.

What wasn’t a low point was We Were Evergreen’s actual set. Fortunately, the Parisian three-piece multi-instrumentalists can remember their own name and what to play. They’ve taken their time releasing their début album ‘Towards’, but the wait has been worth it. They’re complete antithesis of a guitar band: yes, they have a Telecaster and a ukulele, but they work in deference to the song, instead of the song being an incidental excuse for six-stringed excess. It’s impossible to overstate the songwriting efficiency that goes into a song like ‘False Start’: its funkiness is off the scale, there’s hooks galore, and the whole thing hangs in the air with a citric freshness of style for which merely being Gallic isn’t sufficient explanation. The closer ‘Belong’ has a climax of such theatrical intensity that it leaves the crowd in raptures of applause. There isn’t enough time in universe to get bored with it. We Were Evergreen deserve widespread acclaim, as do Deer Shed for hosting them twice – let’s hope they get their name right third time around.

Summer Camp play the “In the Dock” stage, which is a tent, but they surely would have worked just as well on the main stage, such is the power of their funkily intense pop music. Indeed, Summer Camp are perhaps the perfect intelligent pop band, with just the right blend of sugary melodies, acerbic observational lyrics, and a decent slug of wig-out when they’re really powering on. There’s some cuts from their recent ‘Beyond Clueless’ semi-soundtrack album, but the greatest acclaim is reserved for their back-catalogue classics – ‘Better Off Without You’ from ‘Welcome To Condale’ is received like an old friend. Elizabeth Sankey is a woodland diva, her tremulous soprano lending an air of dignity to the acerbic lyrics, whilst Jeremy Walmsley’s ’80s retro grooves ensure that any joints that may have become stiff in the evening breeze are well-loosened in anticipation of our headliner.

And so we come to Johnny Marr. In part 1 it was already established that Mr Marr is the most successful Deer Shed headliner ever, and outlined the reasons for it. Suffice to say that to these ears, seeing Marr live is actually superior to seeing the Smiths in their pomp: Marr’s voice is adequate but nothing spectacular, which leaves the music and songs space to breathe – the whole isn’t dominated by a preening diva flouncing around. Having said that, Marr is a surprisingly good mimic, his tone and inflection an impressive imitation of Morrissey’s, and indeed Neil Tennant’s for that matter. He played a decent mixture of solo songs, Smiths classics, one or two from Electronic, and a fine rendition of ‘I Fought The Law’. The enormous crowd gave a rapturous welcome, and even though this was surely a modest crowd by Marr standards, it was perhaps one of the most appreciative. It turns out an elder statesman headliner is perfect for the of-a-certain-age Deer Shed demographic. The mind boggles as to where this could lead – there’s no dearth of ex-singers or guitarists from respected bands which were active over the last two or three decades, any of which would be a perfect fit for Baldersby Park. More on this topic in part 3…

Keep it here on TGTF for the conclusion of Martin’s time at Deer Shed Festival 2014 coming soon.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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