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Lisa Loughrey, Workman’s Club, Dublin

It’s Friday the 13th and the low evening sun is casting long shadows through the haze of gorse fire smoke that is blowing over the city. Regular readers may remember Lisa Loughrey from her work with The Mariannes,and last year’s single , ‘Coming Up’. Tonight she’s back in The Workman’s Club for the launch of her debut solo EP, Plans And Schemes. Backed by Lucie Azconaga on fiddle and accordion, John Linnane on banjo and guitar, and Damien McMahon on upright bass,  the sun streaming in the windows of the Vintage Room creates a perfect atmosphere for Loughrey’s tunes. Together with the faux retro décor, it gives the impression, as she accurately observes, of “being in someone’s front room”.

She calls the crowd to a hush and introduces herself with an old Mariannes tune, ‘Lost With All Hands’. Her voice is so rich that the slight touch of reverb makes her sound like a chorus. The full band joins her on stage for the first of the new songs. This time it’s a legit chorus as the quartet all contribute vocals to ‘Annabelle’. The aforementioned ‘Coming Up‘ follows.

‘When You’re Older’ is a song inspired by an incident in a petrol station when a man asked the girl behind the counter for her number. He was driving an ice cream van and brought her a 99. His proposition was fruitless but it inspired a beautiful work of art. It’s a slow, traditional style ballad, and it is followed by an actual traditional song: a slightly jazzy reinterpretation of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that appears on the new EP.

Lucie Azconaga’s accordion gives the Mariannes’ ‘God Fearing Woman’ a Jacques Brel feel. Loughrey picks up the bouzouki for ‘Dancing Plague’; a song inspired by the medieval dance of death contagion. A storming version of, folk hero, Maura Connell’s ‘Summer Fly’ feels particularly apt in the stifling twilight. It tastes like kisses, warm cider and midge bites down by the estuary. ‘Where Did September Go?’, “a song about letting time get away from you”, is strangely reminiscent of Nirvana’s Unplugged session. It’s probably a consequence of the accordion and the Leadbelly-ish rhythm of the tune.

A round of introductions and thanks for the band and crew is followed by the haunting ‘Sadhbh’ before the upbeat ‘Potters row’ closes the set. Loughrey has the rare power to make it seem, even in a crowded, sweaty room that she is singing directly to you.

Check out Plans And Schemes for yourself here

 

 

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Festival Preview: Y-Not Festival 2018

With last year’s festival leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many (and not just from the sea of mud they had to contend with) this year’s festival certainly seems to have a lot resting on it. In the organisers’ defence however, it seems already that no plight has fallen on deaf ears, and no complaint gone unacknowledged.

While Y-Not has grown substantially in recent year, shedding its tag line of ‘Small, Fresh and Loud’ in the process, the fact that the concerns and complaints of last year’s festival have seemingly been addressed suggest the festival still retains its original ethos as being entirely about the punters, rendering some last year’s backlash instantly moot. And though much of what was raised by attendees was certainly pertinent, the metaphorical deluge weathered by organisers following last year’s event was almost as bad that which forced the festival to be cancelled in the first place.

Of course, though change may be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we approach this year’s festival, it would be remiss not to mention the positives that surround Y-Not year after year, and the reason people return, year after year.

Aside from your usual big name bands that grace the Main and Quarry stages, which this year includes the likes of The Libertines, Manic Street Preachers and Catfish and the Bottlemen, Y-Not has always championed unsigned bands and local talent, regularly partnering with the likes of UK promoters This Feeling as well as BIMM, giving punters the chance to catch the next big thing, before they blow up.

This year is no exception. The aforementioned This Feeling will take over The Allotment Stage, bringing with them underground heroes in the form of No Hot Ashes, Proletariat, Vida and Bang Bang Romeo. And though many festivals these days offer up a taste of the ‘unsigned’, the intimate surroundings of Y-Not means there’s every chance you could be literally rubbing shoulders with the next big thing while watching the current!

While music obviously plays a huge part of the weekend, Y-Not’s always been touted as a family-friendly festival, with plenty to do for everyone across the course of the weekend. Not much seems too have changed in that respect, and if it has, it’s certainly for the better. With the Octopuses’ Garden area keeping young ‘uns occupied with workshops and games inside the arena itself as per usual, the main addition to this side of things is the activities taking place in the morning over in the Family Campsite. And though little has been revealed yet as to what this side of things entails, you can bet it will be more fun for kids than sitting around and waiting for the arena to open!

Easily one of best festivals of its size in the UK, and one with its heart in the right place, anyone stubborn enough to not give the festival another go after one bad year seriously needs to have a word with themselves. See you there!

You can find more information about the festival here.

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Future Islands, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

This is a gig that promises contrasts with the angry punk of IDLES supporting the romantic ‘80s synthesiser of Future Islands. This is also a gig that showcases two bands whose live performances are generating a buzz.

Tonight, outside the Usher Hall, Edinburgh is just finishing clearing the fallen trees from Storm Hector while inside, IDLES are setting up a sound that will make that feel like a sniffle compared to a hurricane. IDLES open with ‘Heel/Heal’ and from the start the feeling is one of a fight about to start. The anger seems aimed at many targets from materialism to oppressive politics to the writer himself. The drums thump and the guitars distort with feedback as frontman Joe Talbot pads slowly about the front of the stage. The clever play on words in the title which with the same sound evokes three meanings grabs the attention and suggests it's not just volume that these guys are bringing to the party.

The second song is ‘Faith In The City’ which mocks those who hold an uncritical faith in god and the third is ‘Mother’ which attacks the desperation of poverty, the Tories and misogyny. There could be a danger of descending into nihilism from this anger overload. However, the IDLES blast at you with details of ordinary life and an honesty that dispels any danger that this is poser-punk.

‘Mother’ is a key song in their set. As, by this point, the bouncing and fists-in-the-air are beginning to spread outwards from the front rows of the audience. The stage set-up is perfect with two guitarists dancing wildly on either side of Talbot as he stands in a cold fury at the centre of this chaos. The anger feels now not random but justified. The simplicity and honesty which delivers it is moving.

The set powers to a finish with ‘Rottweiler’ and a huge ovation for a fine performance. The break time between bands is welcome as a chance to rest and prepare for a very different sort of energy.

Future Islands open with the few synthesiser chords and a gentle bass-beat of ‘Give Us The Wind’. This is a romantic contrast with the IDLES. The other contrast, immediately apparent, is the visual performance. The instrumentalists are on a podium in the back stage and are very still. The main part of the stage is reserved for and dominated by front man Sam Herring. He prowls and stares at the audience, often going down on a knee to look at one person or another particularly. He punctuates his performance with guttural growls often followed by dramatic arm gestures. His performance is both intense and captivating.

The second song is ‘Beauty Of The Road’, which reflects the sad emotions often present in Future Islands lyrics. These are constantly accentuated by Herring’s chest touching and pointing to the audience. They conflict with the infectious dance beat of the songs creating an artistic ambiguity.

Herring’s gyrations roam from can-can dancing to body S’s accompanied by gestures that could look to be straight from a documentary on chimpanzee displays. These are offset by moments when he will hold a single pose for beats like a sculpture. All of this could seem ridiculous but what is astonishing is the seamless way it works with the music to create a complete artwork. He utterly commands attention.

The audience find the rhythms irresistible and vary from swaying in slower passages to wild dancing during the more upbeat and well-known tunes such as ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’. This dance-ability extends even into ‘Cave’, which Herring introduces as a sad political song.

The constant drive of the songs is emotional expression which is may be best expressed in the final moves of ‘Tin Man’, where Herring appears to be pulling his chest apart in search for a heart.

The gig is a triumph as it teeters on the brink of pastiche but succeeds through careful crafting on stage in order to express a range of emotions. If you want emotional songs, if you want a good chance to dance and if you want to see a charismatic front man performing at high energy then catch Future Islands.

Further gig images here.

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Ty Segall, The Boilershop, Newcastle

 

The first time you see someone perform live in their own right isn't always the best show you'll ever get from them but, in the case of Ty Segall and his Freedom Band bassist Mikal Cronin, those instances for me will be hard to top. Tonight's show is nevertheless one I've greatly anticipated, not least due to the good reports I've had about The Boilershop as a venue. 

Given the time of year and the number of windows the venue sports on its western wall there's little need for electric light in the body of the hall during the opening performance by local band Them Things or that by travelling support Mike Donovan. Thus the atmosphere's much like that at a festival and the goings on on stage provide just a backing track for a lot of people's conversations and drinking, ourselves included. Them Things therefore made little impression on me although the singer's white jacket stood out & Mike Donovan made plenty of noise for a one man outfit but I didn't feel inspired to then check out his work once back home.

Crewing for themselves meant that Ty Segall & the band wasted no time in getting into position and letting loose, with the minimum of chat (no need to appeal to stage divers this time round, although given UK Health & Safety that was probably never likely anyway). Ty turned 31 today so 'Happy Birthday' was duly sung to him a few times by the crowd & that was obviously appreciated.

Mikal Cronin seemed to be suffering from a cold to some degree & Charlie Mootheart (occupying the drum stool) looked like he'd caught too much sun but all five players kept it tight throughout, at one point even managing to inspire a circle pit at the front of the stage. 'Everyone's A Winner' received no special placing in the setlist, being run through round about three songs in or so. Maybe they're getting bored of it already but it still went down well with the crowd, meeting as it does the maxim of making cover versions your own.

Longer, and maybe closer to the band's heart, was their version of The Groundhogs' 'Cherry Red'. This bears no great difference from the original (or the one delivered by The Monkeywrench for that matter) but the younger members of the audience likely haven't seen such a number played authentically live before so there's a benefit in that.

Fault though was impossible to find with the show, despite 'She' not featuring in the set (I'd been looking forward to that riff), and the location proved itself to be as good as had been reported once the sun set. A performance fully up to scratch and, whilst not topping that of two years ago that has to be viewed in the light of an unmatchable experience I reckon so, as he supposedly plans to dial down on touring for a while after the current run of dates, this was an experience to savour as it could be a while before he's back (a tour which would hopefully feature a Scottish date). He's definitely had better t-shirt designs in the past though as the two tonight were weak. Even just the cliche of the album cover would have been better.  

Further images from the show here

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The Magic Numbers, Empire Music Hall, Belfast

 

Pic by Ruairi Conlon

We’re in sunny Belfast for The Magic Numbers in the beautifully appointed Empire Music Hall. Early comers get a sweetly harmonious appetiser in the form of Morrissey And Marshall. The London-based Dubliners have a simple set up, with two guitars and the duo's voices front and centre. They’re a fine complement to the headline act. Amid a punishing touring schedule, the pair have no backup equipment with them and when Greg Marshall breaks a string, he excuses himself from the stage to make a quick repair leaving Darren Morrissey to carry the song. He rejoins, to applause, at the perfect moment to add a lead flourish to the song in progress. Although they’re from Dublin, they sound like they’re from the North West of England. When they sing together, it’s like John Lennon sharing a stage with Cast’s John Power. Any fans of ‘60s and ‘70s folk and rock acts will enjoy them. There are noticeable overtones of The Beatles and The Small Faces as well as American acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Simon & Garfunkel.

After the shortest of intervals Ren Harvieu appears onstage without fanfare. So sudden is her appearance that there are double takes as her ululating voice rings out, accompanying a backing track. Her effortless, classically influenced voice is entrancing. Romeo Stodart from the main act then joins her with a warm sounding guitar. There’s a feeling of cabaret and old school musical theatre to her performance. Her short set is made up of songs with the connecting theme of “accepting yourself even when your brain tells you you’re useless”. It’s definitely something I can relate to, even if the music is not what I would otherwise listen to.

The Stodart and Gannon siblings take the stage and beckon the scattered crowd nearer to the front. I mainly know the band from their first album and have to own up to not following their career all the closely, despite meeting them in a Dublin hotel in 2006. What is most surprising is Michele’s performance with the bass on the new material. If Caitlin Moran were auditioning for a Dee Dee Ramone biopic, she could do worse than imitating the Stodart sister.

Meanwhile, the Stodart brother gets to work on ‘Love’s A Game’, working the audience and getting them to sing backing vocals. They open ‘Forever Lost’ like it’s an Iron Maiden tune; Michele raising her bass aloft with her foot on the monitor like Dave Murray. They play at a higher tempo than the studio version, matching their newer, more muscular material. Angela Gannon doubles up on guitar and keyboard duties while brother Sean, on drums, looks like he has been there and done it musically. You would imagine him being equally comfortable playing in AC/DC as he would be in this band.

New song ‘Runaways’ has, wait for it, three part harmonies. No surprise there, but it has a dark undercurrent and insistent bass line that brings to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. Mac are a big influence on the new album and even a solo song from Romeo Stodart sounds like Peter Green. ‘Shot In The Dark’ sees Romeo ripping through a couple of solos and squealing feedback during an extended jam. Subsequently, and very old fashionedly, they play a slow set. Romeo plays his Peter Green-esque solo tune before ‘Sing Me A Rebel Song’, during which Angela admonishes an obtrusively noisy group of audience members at the bar. They close out the main set with another Fleetwood Mac extended jam on ‘Sweet Divide’. One phoney baloney encore break later, and they are back with the crowd pleaser ‘Mornings Eleven’. The whole room is singing along, and soon it’s foot on the monitor time again for a stonking version of ‘Love Me Like You’. Those last two songs and ‘Forever Lost’ are bonafide pop classics and the new songs are satisfyingly groovy. Things are looking good for The Magic Numbers.

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Vantastival 2018 - Sunday Review

 

It’s another scorcher today; highly unusual for a Bank Holiday. After a number of technical problems, the Firestone stage is back in action with a group of fresh faced youngsters called The Skins. They compensate for their shortened set by lashing through a series of high octane, pop rock songs. They're the type of band who would play at the party in an American high school movie; not that there is anything wrong with that. A cover of The Raconteurs ‘Steady As She Goes’ fits the mood perfectly. Even more extraordinary than the weather is the call for an encore at two in the afternoon. It is the first time I have seen a band allowed to continue, outside of a headline slot, at a festival. Presumably the fact that they patiently handled the tech delays before their set is a significant factor.

Callous Crows on the main stage are a guitar and drums duo, heavily influenced by Nirvana. The quiet/loud song structures and harsh Cobain-esque screaming are unmistakable. There's some good interplay between the pair on stage but they sound unfinished and the screams become fainter over the course of the set. Their last song, a previous single called ‘Hurts So Good’, shows what they are capable of. We'll count that as a work in progress.

Next up on the main stage is a band we are very familiar with, our Blogtober headliners Makings. The early evening heat is building up in the main tent. The band have a guest onstage in the shape of Macon, Georgia’s Cairon420, who features on their new single ‘Blackhole’. As well as adding his hip hop touch to that song, he remains with the band for their whole set, which is drawn entirely from their forthcoming second album. There's a greater emphasis on the electronic side of their hybrid sound this time round. Everyone is dancing onstage as they perform. The new single follows ‘Algorithm’, with Cairon raising cheers from the audience. Adding him to the band takes their sound to another level. I’ve seen Makings dozens of times in the last four years and this is their best performance yet. The combination of Cairon’s Deep South delivery and Rick Burn’s falsetto gives the music a whole new dimension. This band continue to impress.

It appears we missed a colour fight while watching Makings. There's a large contingent outside covered in pink, orange and yellow powder. Back under cover, there's a change of pace and tone on the main stage when Varo come on. A trio of two fiddles and a bouzouki /mandolin, the French/Italian group play a stripped down acoustic set of traditional tunes. After the thumping bass of Makings that carried across the field, many outside assume that the music has stopped. The Dublin based instrumentalists put me in mind of Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny from Planxty.

I haven't seen Exiles before but I have heard an EP from a couple of years back and even though the songs didn't grab me at the time, their ‘80s sound and livery linger in my memory banks. Tapping the same vein as The Night Flight Orchestra, they play soulful, retro rock influenced by the likes of Hall and Oates, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. I am dubious about them replicating that sound when I first see them but when they don their shades and Miami Vice shirts, my fears are allayed. Synth player, Darragh O’Connor, doubling up with a Starsky And Hutch themed guitar helps in that department too. As soon as they start playing, it sounds like incidental music from the Michael Mann show. They have the details down pat. The vocal harmonies are spot-on ‘80s pastiche. Even the dreaded gated snare sounds fitting in the context of Exiles’ tunes. It's not what I would usually listen to but, because it's what I grew up with, it sounds great on a Sunday evening as the punishing sunshine starts to abate. They create a fantastic vibe. There's an impromptu dance-off in front of the stage and the lead singer, Jack O’Flaherty, joins in. Exiles have tapped in to something unexpectedly great.

As the sun finally sets on Vantastival, it's Thumper’s turn on the Woodland stage. I've seen these a number of times in Dublin but this is the first time I'll be sober for it. There's a comical opening as they are running late and we watch them soundcheck for 15 minutes. Then they all leave the stage and come back on, accompanied by a musical and lighting intro, shouting “Hello Vantastival!” It's a ludicrous beginning, so it's lucky that they are one of Dublin's most dynamic live acts. The two drummers and three guitars all contribute to the bombast. They are as melodic and catchy as they are raucous and noisy. It's a rocktastic end to the festival and a fitting send off to Vantastival 2018. The weather has helped but this is still a wonderfully friendly and eclectic gathering. The standard of the music is consistently high. Vantastival sets the high water mark for music at Irish festivals, and puts a lot of the more heavily promoted competition to shame. See you next year.

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