If you’re a regular reader if these pages, you won’t need us to tell you that the domestic music scene is in a particularly good place at the moment. Wherever you turn, an intriguing new artist seems to be waiting for you. The annual showcase that is Hard Working Class Heroes, therefore, is always a handy opportunity to catch some of them across three nights (and the fact that you can consider a hundred artists as a snapshot tells you a lot about what’s happening at the moment). As an event it’s not without its problems and also detractors, but it’s hard to argue with the basic idea and as such State is always happy to dive on in.
Right from the off on day one, there’s stuff to capture the imagination. Poppy hip-hop duo Stay Gold are making an impressive live debut in The Academy, while at the other end of the spectrum Elephant is melting hearts in the Grand Social. He’s followed by the ever-bright and honey-sweet Inni-K, who has always captivated audiences with her delicate tunes, cheery demeanour, vocal acrobatics and irreverent songs about house plants etc. Tonight is no different. Switching between her keyboard and uke, the demure multi-instrumentalist navigated her set with charm and aplomb. Having recently released her debut album, The King Has Two Horses, most of us are now familiar enough to sing along but something prevents that. Specifically, you want to hear her singing them and nobody else. A slight and unexpected departure into disco (nothing more than a keyboard malfunction, relax) couldn’t take the shine off the performance. Not much can, in fairness.
In fact, the festoon strewn venue is proving to be something of a highlight. Up next is the Cork-born and UK based Tiz McNamara, already a road-weary old soul. His songs display enough nous and grit to carry their own weight but somewhere in there is a vulnerability that gives them something more. Tonight, backed by a five piece band, Tiz is in fine form and the music sounds robust and fiery. Most at State.ie have been fans for sometime now and we generally get the feeling that bigger things are about to happen. ‘Hold On’has all the hallmarks of a stone-cold hit and watching the performance tonight we will bet that next time you see him you’ll be thankful for the days you got to see him this close in person.
A short hop across the river brings us to The Workman’s Club and Bad Sea, who have drawn us here thanks to their pleasantly dark Americana influenced tracks. Like many this weekend, they’re still work in progress on the live front but there’s clearly a rich musical vein running through their songs and we leave extremely impressed. As we are by the lower case phobic HAWK at Hangar (looking light they’ve stepped straight out of a Shane Meadows movie) PALE RIVERS at The Mercantile, who attack their 30 minute set from the off with a beguiling mixture of loud guitars and synths.
Back in the Grand Social, the room has filled noticeably for the arrival of Saint Sister. Coming off the back of the excellent ‘Madrid’ debut, they’re undoubtedly one of a few bands this weekend that a lot of people are keen to check out. It might be a little too soon for them though for, although there’s some undoubtedly lovely songs to be heard, they’re still a little too awkward on stage to really make a connection. No such problems for Mongoose, however, who are charm personified back in the Grand Social and create such a warm and welcoming experience that they’re one of our clear favourites of the night.
Dundrum quartet Bagels are young in age but years ahead of themselves in terms of style. Wonky, off-kilter and generally great craic at Bad Bobs. Lots of hooks and wig-out riffs which, admittedly, aren’t exactly ground breaking but so what? It’s unpretentious, unapologetic and without any bells and whistles. Great music played well, what more do you want? They’re probably having a better time than Everything Shook, who just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their intense, theatrical performance should be right in your face – not viewed in the generally atmosphere free Academy Green Room.
It doesn’t help that, just upstairs, Hare Squead are throwing an all mighty party. There’s no doubt that they’re an incredibly exciting proposition and we’re as swept up in the moment as much as anyone, especially the Motown revue feel of their synchronised dance moves, but you can’t help wish that they’d reign it all in a bit. Enthusiasm and unbridled joy is always to be applauded, yet we also know that they’ve got some serious songwriting talent that’s getting lost in the onstage exuberance. The potential to become serious pop stars is there, they just need to focus their ability.
Reporting: Steven Dunne & Phil Udell. Stay Gold photographed for State by Kieran Frost.