HWCH 2015: notes from the weekend
Notions, ideas, thoughts and comments from a weekend of live music and talking about music in Dublin
You learn a lot out on those Dublin streets during the annual Hard Working Class Heroes. You learn, for instance, that you’re not the only one who favours excessive binge-gigging of an October weekend. You nod to those other lunatics running or cycling from venue to venue in search of the next possible great act or you join them in front of the stage as another band starts to play. And you probably wonder along the way where the hell will this act be in two or three years’ time?
After all, the band who wow you and seduce you and thrill you on a pleasant autumn night in Dublin may well become an act who’ll be hanging around making headlines for years to come. Two autumns ago, Hozier was the big draw at HWCH and we all know what happened to him. I remember that gig for many reasons: the amount of record label and publishing reps in attendance, the fact that the show was actually not any great shakes, the uneven nature of his band and the sheer slap-in-the-face that came when he played “Take Me To Church”. Sometimes all it takes is one great song and Hozier has bossed that one like a pro.
But it also takes more than just one great song. Many bands who have one great song never got off their bar-stools or toured for any great length of time beyond their homeland. It takes a lot of hard work, sweat, endeavour, luck and a great team around the act to give that moment of pure talent, that moment when you write a song which has the potential to rule, the result it deserves. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the delicate, essential, dastardly balance between the art of creating and crafting a song and the business of selling that song to the world. You need a team around you because you just cannot do it on your own. No way, Jose. No can do. Not possible.
The role of a festival like HWCH and other such showcase festivals is to bring those sides together so they can take a look at each other. It begins with the artist because it has to begin with the artist. But you also need the producers, engineers, agents, managers, record labels, publishers, synch specialists, pluggers, journalists, editors, DJs, broadcasters, touring crew, funders and a whole lot of other folks too. HWCH is a bit like an old-fashioned matchmaking session in Lisdoonvarna in that regard.
There’s another element to the mix too and that’s an element which is often taken for granted. We talk about the fans, the people in the audience who buy the tickets and the merchandise and the double-albums with coloured vinyl and gatefold sleeves. They’re a vital part of the mix yet you rarely get to hear their opinions. At this year’s HWCH Convention (DOI: I’m involved in programming and hosting this event), we put together a public focus group with three fans – Síomha O’Leary, Dermot Ferguson and Ronan Kearney – talking about how they found out about music, where they went to hear new bands, the festivals they liked, the radio stations they listened to and their views on everything from bands on social media to ticket prices and where the money goes.
It was an enthralling hour because we never hear from the fans. Oh sure, you get online chatter and giving out and street teams, but this was public, not anonymous, untainted by associations and completely candid. It’s definitely a theme we’ll be returning to in the future. It’s also a theme more conventions should take onboard. Give the customer and audience a voice. How many times have you been a conference hearing people going on about what the audience thinks or what the audience wants? Well, how about actually hearing from that same audience?
There were other things which stood out at the Conventon too. For the third year in a row, the artists’ panel was a hit. Again, a simple idea: you rarely hear from artists at music conferences so we decided to bring a few of them together, hand them a microphone, give a few prompts and let them away with it. Each year, it works and this year’s quartet – Enemies’ Lewis Jackson, HamsandwicH’s Ollie Murphy, Sleep Thieves’ Sorcha Brennan and Le Galaxie’s Michael Pope – were very generous and open with their thoughts, opinions and insights (and bodybuilding analogies).
It was great to hear from Robomagic’s Rob Hallett too. A man with a long and chequered career in the live music industry which began when he persuaded Malcolm McLaren to let the then teenage would-be agent from Brighton book out the Sex Pistols, Hallett has been all around the houses and is still eager for more. He talked about the corporate side of the business – he worked with Mean Fiddler before they went down the PLC route and then with AEG for a decade – what he’s out to do with Robomagic and mentioned in passing that Nile Rodgers will be bringing FOLD to Dublin next summer. He also gave out to the 99 bands on the HWCH bill who never bothered to contact him abour their music and plans once they knew he was coming. When you’ve someone like Hallett in town for a few days, someone who might well be a valuable member of your team, you really should get in touch with him. After all, everyone who’s in town is looking for new teams to be a part of.
When the videos from the various HWCH Convention panels are published, it will be well worth looking at the body language of the five lads on the tech panel. Let’s just say that this was not another bland series of elevation pitches and leave it at that for now. I had to be persuaded against my will to do another funding panel, but this one, with Ciarán Walsh (Culture Ireland), Allison Outhit (Factor Canada), Mark Crossingham (Universal Ireland, IRMA) and Madeline Boughton (Ireland 2016), turned to be hugely informative on many levels with Outhit’s outline of how Factor works providing the Irish panelists with some food for thought. There was also an excellent music journalist panel with Jessica Hopper (Pitchfork), Hugh McIntyre (Forbes, Noisey, MTV), Dev Sherlock (Hype Machine) and Blathnaid Healy (Mashable) showing there is still life in this neck of the woods.
Back to the streets and my band of the weekend were Saint Sister. They were an act I’d tipped before the event to a lot of people but they exceeded expectations. I thought they were good on what I’d heard and seen before, but this show was on a whole other level. Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty are the Saint Sister duo, but they were joined onstage by other musicians and here’s where it gets interesting. There are many times when a duo or a solo singer will put together a band for an event like this and invariably, it doesn’t work because they just haven’t done the spadework and heavy lifting to make the new musicians gel. No such problem for MacIntyre and Doherty: the other musicians onstage were perfectly in tune with the material, didn’t overplay their hands and added fascinating tones and timbres to a brilliant rub of songs. That Saint Sister had also invested in bringing along their own sound engineer was also a sign that here was an act who meant business.
Hugely striking and individual, it was easy to see why so many people were talking about the band afterwards. Going back to an earlier paragraph, though, it’s up to the band now to put the rest of their team together and make sure they’re right for them and what they want to do. The difference between choosing the right team players and the wrong team players is be the difference between a hit and a miss.
Anderson’s live show in the Grand Social on Friday night was a great affair, another good memory for Daniel Anderson to add to the growing stack of such experiences and moments since the release of debut solo album “Patterns”. A string section added warmth and colour to those heartwarming songs about the small things and large themes, while Anderson’s voice, with its Jim Sullivan and Tim Hardin tones, bossed those songs to give up all their emotions and feelings.
There were others too – like Bad Sea, Pale Rivers, We the Oceanographers, We Raise Bears, Frankenstein Bolts, Pleasure Beach and Basciville – who displayed oodles of potential for future days out. There were also a lot of acts who were playing their first or second shows ever over the weekend and it sadly showed. The bands just had not the number of shows under their belt to stick out or to even ensure that everyone onstage were working off the same page. It may also have come together superbly in the studio and on Soundcloud, but it’s a much different matter when you’re a bundle of nerves on a stage with a crowd looking at you. Especially a crowd of sweaty people with bicycle helmets who were racing from venue to venue.