At the end of the night, the success of the 2012 State Midnight Mass comes down to one thing – the €300 raised for Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm prevention centre that was our chosen charity for this third end of year outing. Equally gratifying is the fact that we got there by bringing you a night of quality Irish music, another celebration of what we spend the previous twelve months banging on about. Ironically, though, we begin with a name from pre-State days, albeit one making long overdue solo steps. In truth there’s not a huge amount of difference between Cat Dowling’s latest work and her Alphastates past but it’s certainly good to have her back. The key, as ever, is her glorious voice, an instrument with a rare quality. Backed by a tight three piece band, she brings a performing experience that transforms the intimate surroundings of The Mercantile into what feels like an expansive venue. Next year’s debut album can’t come soon enough.
Deaf Joe too is an old hand by this stage but his live persona is far more downbeat, even to the point of fading slightly into the background. His music is mellow and unprepossessing, although imbued with a genuinely smokey air. Driven by double bass and stripped down drums, he rings every ounce of emotion from ‘God Only Knows’ and then leaves us. This time last year, we were preparing to make The Notas one of our Faces of 2012 and, twelve months later, we can’t help beaming with pride. Every time the Ballbriggin six piece cross our paths they just get better and better and tonight, they bob and weave around the small stage like graceful boxers. Everything just feels right about this band, even the fact that they’re still a little rough around the edges but – watching them here tonight – you just know that they have one hell of a record in them.
Being rough round the edges is a major part of what makes Skelocrats tick and, although they have a great deal of collective experience, they still sound as if they could fall apart at any second. It’s part of what makes them so exciting to watch of course, coupled with their neat line in speedy punk pop songs that fizz with energy and humour. To call them a Popical Island supergroup is a little lazy but they do personify everything that we’ve come to love about the cheery collective. Ghost Estates are almost the polar opposite, treating the Mercantile to the same ambition of any other gig, but they too represent a part of the Irish music scene that demands to be heard. Their desire is clearly to make a mark on a major level and they already seem to have the attitude and the tunes to back it up, as demonstrated by their debut album. This brief outing only goes to hammer home the point and brings to a close what has been the perfect Midnight Mass experience.