On the eve of a big weekend of Heineken Cup action, the Leinster-Munster rugby rivalry is being firmly put to one side in the Dublin live music institution of Whelan’s as it hosts Limerick’s current darlings of rhythm and reel, Hermitage Green. Bassist Barry Murphy was even a Munster squad member before rucking gave way to rocking and his physique succeeds in shaming every man in the room tonight. Cheers, Barry.
The cut of Murphy and lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist brother Dan has possibly been picked up on by the sizeable contingent of female fans who’ve bullied their way to the front of the stage. They duly let slip a howl or two of appreciation when the quintet march on, but you hope they can see past the designer stubble and bulging biceps because Hermitage Green can really play. They dish out complex acoustic guitar fretting and flamenco flourishes, fast and tight tempo turns and vocal harmonies that sit snugly together.
What follows is a sturdy and surprisingly dynamic set of originals and cover versions, all imbued with a rustic and highly percussive flavour. Most of this is down to diminutive bodhran wunderkind Dermot Sheedy and djembe slapper Darragh Graham. Both provide the thump and snap (see ‘Florida Blues’ and ‘Golden Rule’’s mighty ho-down) that have drawn Hermitage Green out of the bar dens and on to the headline circuit. They also help to kill the chatter that is marring tonight’s more subtle moments, such as the band’s sparse ode to a fallen friend ‘Paul’s Song’. Their tribal-tinged cover of Florence Welch’s ‘Cosmic Love’ gets a hearty response and rightly so, but their four-part harmonies on an acapella version of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ struggle to fully take flight, you feel.
By the time they take their final bows, sweats have broken, didgeridoos and banjos have been wielded and gym memberships have been booked. After this, Hermitage Green set off for dates in Australia, South Africa, the US and the UAE. By the time the wind back in the Leinster capital for another headline show in March, they may be met with a scrum of their own.