Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

HWCH 2010: let’s hear it for the optimists

Once more with feeling. The annual Hard Working Class Heroes beano meant that the weekend was spent on panel patrol during the day and binge-gigging around half-a-dozen city venues by night. Opinions were aired (see below), bands were seen (also …

Mon, Oct 11, 2010, 09:52


Once more with feeling. The annual Hard Working Class Heroes beano meant that the weekend was spent on panel patrol during the day and binge-gigging around half-a-dozen city venues by night. Opinions were aired (see below), bands were seen (also see below) and new and old friends were encountered.

What was the most striking aspect of the whole weekend for me was the sense of optimism in the air. Sure, there’s doom and gloom on all sides – both within and without the business, because external sources have as much bearing on the sector as self-inflicted wounds – but there was a strong feeling that people are shrugging their shoulders and getting on with things. Why bother going round and round in circles with the same old nonsense about piracy, file-sharing and RTE not playing enough new Irish music when you can expand all that fuming time and effort on stuff which actually helps you, your band and your business?

I had loads of conversations over the weekend with bands and activists who are pressing on with plans, schemes, madcap ideas, potential flights of fancy and far-fetched notions. Yes, sure, half of them will fall flat on their backs and another quarter will run out of steam and another fifth will never happen, but at least they’re having a go and there’s a potential five per cent which will actually come good. But all the dreamers and desperados realise that this time – a time when everything you know about the music business is about to be debunked – is probably the best time of all to be in this business. Everything is up for grabs. You just have to go for it.

When I was approached about moderating the HWCH panels this year, I wanted to see if we could host a couple of panels which could deal with future possibilities without dwelling on the mistakes and capitulations of the past. The various panelists who came onboard engaged enthusiastically with this notion and we had panels which concentrated on the potential future (or futures) under various headings. In fact, the panelists did their job so well that when 2fm’s Ian Wilson arrived on Saturday afternoon with a “bullshit bingo” list of jargon and cliches to avoid on the Futuregazing panel, I realised that I hadn’t heard one person over the weekend mention terms like “DRM”, “paradigm shift”, “value added offering” or “IRMA”. That’s the past and we’re not going back there. Not only can’t you go back, but who the hell wants to go back and re-run 10-15 years of failed battles and botched campaigns?

Interestingly, there was a huge turnout for the four panels, easily the most people I’ve seen at any HWCH panels over the last few years. There seems to be a renewed appetite for knowledge: people were prepared to come along, listen to the yakking, ask some questions and go away hopefully with some food for thought. I know from feedback already that the decision to leave “the same ol’ shite” as outlined above to one side was welcomed by the audience. They too realise that those debates and discussions are relics of the old order and don’t have any impact on what’s to come next. Time to move on. (By the way, as was the case in previous years, podcasts of the four panels will be available on the HWCH site later this week).

By night, the bands went into action. Yes, there will be complaints from many bands about the showcase aspect of HWCH. I read and hear an array of these grumbles every time and they’re always the same ones reheated from the previous year. Indeed, to keep with the mood of repetition, I’m just going to go back to last year’s review to cut-and-paste my views on this (they haven’t changed): “what the fuck do you expect, you numptie?”. An event like HWCH gets attention because 100 bands playing over the course of three nights in one place so, of course, there are going to be short changeovers between acts. If you’re going to take 20 minutes to get your act together, don’t be surprised if a stage-manager politely tells you that you’ve now only got 10 minutes to play. Get over it. And if it doesn’t suit you, don’t play. I’m sure there are plenty of acts on the waiting list.

“And advice for bands who didn’t get picked? Dudes, do your own festival! As simple as that. That’s what I’d do if I was so annoyed that I was exerting time and effort fuming about not getting picked. Sort out your own wee fringe event and jump on the HWCH bandwagon by having it the same weekend. Call it Harder Working Class Heroes or Hardy Working Class Heroes. Do your own thing. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds like hard work but – message to those at the back who might not have heard it the first, second or 53rd time – it really is all about hard work.” (Memo to self: pull that one out again next year – saves times and typing seeing as the excuses and grumbles will probably be the same).

As always, there were a bundle of acts who made it onto the OTR radar over the course of the three nights. Band of the weekend for me by a country mile were Cloud Castle Lake, an outfit who’ve hopped, skipped and jumped their way to the top of my rankings since first caught in action at The Destructors’ Manifesto. Now, the songs are sturdy, the musical chops are immense and the sense of ambition is gigantic. It takes time for a band to find their feet and for all that early promise which makes you excited in the first place to actually amount to something. One of the new tunes, the one which started out with a soundbed of simple, sweet guitar strums before the most evil drums on Middle Abbey Street kicked in like a jumbo jet taking off, summed up the gumption and brass on show here.

Planet Parade too have progressed in all the best ways since last seen. Their set smacks of 10,000 hours spent in a shed in Co Kildare, a time when hooks have been polished, riffs have been finessed and previously unsubtle kinks in songs have been worked out. Indeed, they’ve also progressed – onstage at any rate – far beyond the sonic kicks of their new EP. Another band ready to move from walking to running.

There was a lot of wowing going on after the Jennifer Evans’ show from some of the more musically sussed international industry delegates. After some early problems with the sound, Evans and her band slowly and surely began to kill ‘em subtly with those intricate, dangerous, intense songs of hers. Akin to Tim Buckley when he mainlining the freakiest sounds of the universe or Joni Mitchell when she was heading for the remotest hills, Evans’ songs pull you in, turn your around and push you out the other side gagging for more.

Other acts seen over the weekend who get a thunbs-up from me: Squarehead (slack-as-fuck ramshackle indie doo-wop gems from the Everly Brothers’ fans), The Danger Is (Niamh Farrell was caught off-the-HWCH grid launching a new EP and showing that her classic indie sound comes with some potentially dramatic flair), Escape Act (muscular, harmonic, swinging indie-pop from a Belfast band who recently swapped drummer for a drum-machine and are not showing any signs of missing him), Kill Krinkle Club (oodes and oodles of ideas from a duo whose stroppy electropop is already throwing the right shapes), Hired Hands (bespectacled pop operating happily on the right side of twee), Mrs Healy’s First Class Choir (a band who were far better, punchier and more enjoyable than what I was expecting – must get the album), Lost Chord (bohemian rhapsodies from the west coast glammers with oodles of classic riffs and stompers) and The Cast Of Cheers (there were queues round the block for the OTR vs Nialler9 night at the Workman’s Club and most people were trying to get in to see this act throw down big, brash, crunchy, sharp-as-a-pin shards of post-everything indie rock). Yes, I encountered some absolutely terrible and atrocious acts too but let’s expand the type on the good stuff. A damn fine weekend.