IndieWeek Ireland 2014 kicked off on Wednesday April 23rd and for the first time it was held in Limerick (moving from Dublin). Limerick is staking a claim as ‘the place to be’ at the moment having secured the prestigious European Capital of Culture award.
The Aurovine delegation travelled over on Thursday morning and so we missed the opening ceremony held at the wonderful Dolan’s Bar on the banks of the Shannon River. We missed the first performances by the excellent Sean’s Walk, Fallings and 2013 IndieWeek Canada winners Sumo Cyco.
The flight to Dublin and Train to Limerick were painless enough and when we arrived at our final destination the very stylish George Boutique Hotel on O’Connell Street we were both warmly welcomed and impressed with a place so handily located at the heart of all the action.
After unpacking we headed to the festival hub venue Dolan’s for our passes and the famous pre-gig menu. We met festival co-organiser Kat who was running around efficiently but assuredly making sure preparations for the night were on track. I made the mistake of ordering a pint of Bitter. The barmaid looked at me strangely and said “Wrong country brother” – I settled on Kilkenny. As we’d be back in Dolan’s on finals night we decided to enjoy the culinary fayre only and head elsewhere to check out all the venues.
So after a hearty home cooked meal we headed off in search of The Blind Pig. Note to self: Using the mobile satnav on your phone is great but next time take a spare battery. Having not really heard any of the bands apart from Sumo Cyco and Dearly Beloved we decided to try and catch as many of the venues and bands as we could.
The Blind Pig was back into the centre of Limerick about 5-10 mins walk from Dolan’s. It turned out to be an intimate acoustic venue in a room above the main bar. Darryl Hurs the IndieWeek supremo arrived to check on logistics and looked as laid back as a festival organiser could be under the circumstances.
1st off were Sean’s Walk a local band whom I thought had a great sound. The songwriting was both humourous and quirky delivered in a cracked but perfectly in tune vocal. The 3 piece were confident, well rehearsed and set a high standard for the evening. Mumford & Sons have spawned a new sub genre but bands are finding sufficiently interesting tangents to pay homage at the same time as forging their own style.
The bands play around 30 minutes each at 4 venues over 2 nights. They are judged by 3 industry experts on several key criteria including songwriting, image, performance, audience reaction, professionalism etc and one band from each night goes through to finals night.
We stayed at the Blind Pig for band no.2 who were CUA from Portlaoise, Ireland. A slightly more traditional feel with incredible fiddle from John Davidson who’s played as a session musician in Nashville for such luminaries as The Mavericks and The Space Cowboys. The band sounded at their best during the fiddle solos and also reached a couple of real high spots when all 3 sung in harmony.
It was time to go and we left for Cobblestone Joe’s before Gretchen Pleuss from Ohio, USA took to the stage (our loss – more of which later). We thought we’d made a good choice going to the Blind Pig and surely the quality of music couldn’t be as high at the other venues – could it?
Cobblestone Joe’s was impressive with a purpose built stage/venue area and top quality stage rig, sound and lights. We walked in on Stephanie Rainey’s set. My immediate thought was ‘here we have the winner’. Again a superb vocal style with immediately engaging songs and that certain star quality that’s hard to replicate. The band looked a little incongruous but were very competent. Stephanie is from Cork, Ireland but her style is quite North American. She has an interesting electric/acoustic blend and has a clever song which combines Lorde’s The Royals with Massive Attacks Teardrop. Listen to Stephanie at her website.
I looked at Dave and he looked at me and we said something along the lines of ‘surely it can’t get much better?’.
It was time for Mojo Go Go. The name of the band didn’t inspire me but within 30 seconds of the set starting I was completely captivated with the sound, the performance and the sheer professionalism of a band putting 100% into nailing their set.
Thin Lizzy, Bruce Springsteen, The Who were all bands that came to mind and if ever you needed a definition of what constitutes a ‘blistering performance’ this was it!.
The Lead and Bass guitarists have a strangely synonymous wild head shaking routine going on whilst the drummer looks as though he’s scouring the audience for someone to punch. Mojo aren’t a band you can stand round and ignore – they’ll have your attention if you like it or not. You get the feeling they’ve put so much into their songwriting, rehearsals and show that they simply must have your attention.
The crowd reaction was fantastic and so suitably impressed (understatement) we headed off for the final venue of the night The Crafty Fox just around the corner. Dave is a bit of an 80’s new wave/electro aficionado and so final showcasing band Silent Noise Parade had been earmarked as one not to miss and this would be our only chance.
The Crafty Fox was a bit of a let down after Cobblestone’s. The band were hidden behind the PA in the very low ceilinged venue and the lighting also left a lot to be desired. In spite of the difficulties The Silent Noise Parade suggested influences ranging from Tubeway Army, Depeche Mode and Placebo.
It was certainly the electro sound that Dave was expecting and along with the reasonably sized crowd we were treated to 30 minutes of nostalgia with a certain contemporary feel. Let’s face it you can’t beat a couple of synths to get the head nodding.
We left for the hotel bar after a hugely enjoyable evening – rueing the fact that we’d had to miss so many bands. That I suppose is both the beauty and the dilemma of a well programmed festival. Day 3 and we’d both be acting as judges – that was beginning to look more difficult than it first appeared….
By Ken Foster