With the biggest home game of Ireland’s current qualifying campaign getting underway down the road at the Aviva around the same time as the first bands are tuning up at day two of HWCH, allegiances are questioned and friendships torn apart. Me, I’ve got my Ireland jersey on and intend to view as much of both as possible. Luckily for me, The Mercantile is showing the match in the bar. Unfortunately for Conor Walsh, he’s playing his set just the other side of a flimsy door from the flat screen displaying the flat Irish performance. Walsh has a simple but effective set-up with his keyboard placed front and centre with some arty visuals of rain-soaked streets, religious iconography and out-of-focus headlights. Though his delicate classically trained skills are worthy of great respect, perhaps the most impressive thing is the sizeable and attentive audience he has gathered in very difficult circumstances. He could have been a fish out of water at this festival, at this time, but Walsh stuck to his guns and it paid off magnificently. One act down and Ireland now a goal down, I cross to the Button Factory to catch The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra playing to a typically distant crowd. If there was any justice, or if this was ‘Glee’, the crowd would have spontaneously began synchronized ballroom dancing in outfits as nice as the band’s. These guys are like something out of a family movie from the ’90s. They are the underdogs, the seemingly uncool kids who somehow get everyone dancing to their beat during the finale. Songs like “December” and “Soon!” may sound too cheesy at first, but there are layers worth loving in there. Give them a chance and you’ll soon be the one instigating a slow clap in their honour. Back in The Mercantile, Rhob Cunningham has brought friends along to bulk up Our Little Secrets. They’ve been on tour supporting Cathy Davey around the country and surely, his sweetly affecting acoustics and yelping choruses will be as appreciated by those audiences as they are here. “Good Or Bad Thing” is still clearly their stand-out, but as they’re still making their name, it’s a fine calling card. I intend heading to The Twisted Pepper, but the second half of the match kicks off and Ireland do something that resembles forward passing, so I’m having second thoughts.
Five minutes and one woeful example of defending later, I’m on my way to Middle Abbey Street to see Cloud Castle Lake. Given all the talk about these guys lately, I would have expected more people to be here, but the band aren’t bothered. This is most likely because they’re playing on some far away planet and can’t be bothered to consider tiny humans. Their sound isn’t as pristine as I would have hoped but their purpose and ear-piercing high notes come through loud and clear. There’s no escaping the comparisons to Sigur Rós in their Agaetis Byrjun and () days, but they mine their way through more recent influences on their way to the gold buried there. It’s huge, expansive and often sinister stuff and it all points towards a bright future for their dark music. Assuming the match was over by now, I wondered what the roaring was about in The Gin Palace as I walked by. For 5 whole minutes, I was sucked back into that traditional Irish nightmare of hoping against hope that for once a last-minute surprise might go our way. No chance. Now thoroughly dejected once again, I make it into The Grand Social where John Shelley and the Creatures don’t look anything like I imagined they would. As I found out later though, some sort of circumstances forced them to cancel and Zealots filled in for them. Good for them! Only they didn’t exactly grab the opportunity by the balls. With no audible introduction and a generally disinterested attitude towards the crowd, they didn’t do much to promote themselves while the music meandered between murky and vaguely interesting. Opportunity lost here. Into Sweeney’s for the first time (ever) and I’m surprised by the pleasant little stage they’ve got tucked away upstairs. Soon the stage holds a few shy-looking bodies that arrange themselves into a line, all shuffling feet and arms crossed behind their backs. Mrs Healy’s First Class Choir seem to be in character. Once they begin their set though, they combine the slowly swooping, angelic harmonies of their namesake with the kind of DIY melodic pop that will surely bring allegations of being “twee”. But for those who aren’t bothered by such labels, there’s a band on stage ready to sweep you off your feet and take you to a melancholy playground. I’ll definitely be joining them on the swings again. If there was one band at the festival that were secretly doubling as superheroes in their spare time, my money would be on Talulah Does The Hula. By the time I get to the Workman’s Club, there’s a healthy crowd enjoying their set. Despite knowing some of their songs quite well after hearing them here and there over the past few years, this is my first time catching them live. Their well-documented 60’s girl-pop vocals are matched with spikey, early-90s guitar riffs and ice-cool attitudes, not to mention the consistently stylish outfits. Actually, better not mention that. Some people seem to think that they can’t consider the visual style of the band without sacrificing their muso credentials. Nothing was shabby in this performance. The songs were delivered with slick expertise.
After another brief rest, Futures Apart are ready to take to the same stage. They have a distinctly less coordinated fashion sense through this band, but they immediately start belting out relentless dance beats and furious guitar lines while their singer paces all over the stage area looking for new places to cut loose and scream. Things are going well for these lads and they’ll play to more receptive audiences in the near future, so even though they didn’t induce the kind of wild, limb-flailing mayhem their music craves they surely did enough to convince those present that they’ll find themselves in such a position eventually. They’re fast becoming one of Ireland’s better electro-rock bands. It seems almost everyone is at R.S.A.G. in the Button Factory. He’s one of a handful of acts that don’t really need the promotion of the festival at the moment. He can’t stand to gain that much given the high praise he’s already received in most quarters. For me, it was a selfish visit to get a taste of the new album which I haven’t had a chance to feast on properly yet. His live show is very similar to last year, but absence makes the beat grow stronger. I was converted all over again watching him demonstrate his terrifying multi-tasking abilities in smooth, slinky new numbers full of delicate little flourishes and a catalogue of different vocal styles. I give over a good portion of my evening to Dark Room Notes‘ set at The Workman’s Club. Even still the jury inside my ears is still deliberating about whether or not I like them. Most of the jurors agree that they’re a fine band, with some quality songs and a distinctive sound. But there’s one juror who keeps thumping his fist on the table and shouting about how the frontman is some sort of changeling that is morphing into Bryan Ferry before my eyes. I’m neither pro or anti Ferry for the record, but the thought unsettles me. Plenty of the songs are thoroughly danceable but I’m not sure if that’s what they want. Do they know what they want? Will I be judged for dancing like that other guy? I rest my weary head and eventually visit Sweeney’s again later in the night to catch The Crayon Set, who cram nine people including a double bass player onto that little stage. They’ve no problem bringing the indie joy to the equally crowded room though with sunshine riffs, jaunty trumpet blasts and vocals popping out of everywhere. Obviously, there’s minor difficulties with the sound, which is understandable, but the sheer optimistic fervour with which it’s all delivered is more than enough to keep toes tapping and grins widening. It sets me off to enjoy a night at the Button Factory where my first taste of the Glider club is a total bullseye with a great selection of tunes, ridiculously energetic crowd and generally delightful people left, right, centre but not behind, no, that’s a bouncer pushing me out the door with increasing anger. Is it that late?
Full set of Friday photos are here.