The Five Best Bands I Saw At Europavox 2018 (Clermont-Ferrand)

Clermont-Ferrand is a small town – a touch bigger than Galway – in central France. It’s famous for its dormant volcanoes, which dominate the skyline, and for its rugby team, ASM Clermont Auvergne, who currently compete in the Pro-14, and lost the European Cup Final in 2013, 2015 and 2017. There’s also a stunning cathedral hewn from the lava rocks of the nearby volcanoes sat in the town’s heart.

Every summer, the town hosts Europavox Festival, a four-day event that’s part media meeting, part music festival, and part cultural promotion. It draws bands from all over Europe, picked out by local experts to be promoted beyond their immediate local fanbase. I was lucky enough to be asked to come and check them out (I’ll also be contributing to their website on Irish music in the very near future).

As I only connected with Europavox in the last two months or so before the festival, I only made the Saturday and Sunday, so a small disclaimer before I start: this list is based on only two evenings at the event, and not the whole four. That means I missed some of the bigger names at the festival, including Norwegian breakout star Sigrid and awesome (and ridiculously named) Brit-rockers Cabbage. The only Irish act booked had to pull out, too, so there was no Rejjie Snow to enjoy.

There’s something fantastic about short, ‘show us what you can do’ slots from bands all over Europe, though, so I saw quite a few great bands in short form. Here are the ones that really caught my eye:

Σtella (Greece)

Athens electro-pop sung in English by a tight, vibrant band with the capacity to surprise. Σtella would be a little bit samey if they stuck to the same old electro-pop schtick all the way through. Instead, they delve into some extended prog-rock interludes, lay off the synths every so often, and really engage with those in the front row. Frontwoman Stella Chronopoulou is intensely charismatic, which obviously helps, too: technical problems early in their short set couldn’t do a thing to stop these guys.

Secret Garden: An Instrumental Career Built On 90s Eurovision Stardom

Unquestionably Ireland’s most famous ever Eurovision took place in 1994. As well as an Irish win, through Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan’s ‘Rock N’ Rolls Kids’, a far more lasting legacy was established through the first-ever performance of Riverdance at The Point.

Because of the win, the contest returned to Dublin in 1995, a Eurovision long thought to have been deliberately lost by the home team, due to the cost of hosting the event the following year. In an odd twist, though the winner that year, Secret Garden, has substantial Irish links. Irish-Norwegian instrumental band Secret Garden (representing Norway) had met at the contest in 1994, and through their unusual (for Eurovision) haunting track ‘Nocturne’, brought a little Irish glory through violinist and Naas native Fionnula Sherry. The band have always lived apart, working together across two countries, with songwriter Rolf Løvland based back in Oslo.

Amazingly, 23 years after forming, and following Sherry’s spectacular recovery from two broken arms back in 2015, the pair are still going strong, and have just released the first ever version of their other big hit ‘You Raise Me Up’ to feature the vocals of Johnny Logan. Logan made the original recordings, only to be bumped in favour of Brian Kennedy on the single that was ultimately released, a point of some dispute with Logan that has finally been cleared up all these years later.

“It’s like a full circle being back,” Sherry says ahead of the pair’s Late Late Show performance just ahead of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. “I’ve actually played in a lot of Eurovision’s with the orchestra, as we were having that nice run of wins at the time.”

“We connected in ’94, and thought maybe we could do something together,” Løvland recalls. “I had a lot of instrumental tunes I was working on. I started to send some songs over to Fionnuala, and that was the beginning of Secret Garden.”

“I don’t think there’s been another song like our since,” Sherry admits. “We juxtaposed the idea of instrumental and lyrics, the vocal part was the introduction to the song [Nocturne], and the outro. It was planned for the album, the development of Secret Garden. It was halfway produced, and then it was suggested we do something very different for Eurovision.”

Heroes In Hiding: A Debut A Decade In The Making

Dublin indie band Heroes In Hiding forged their reputation in the live arena. Having existed in various forms for over a decade, they’ve changed genres entirely, become confident in front of a crowd, and learnt some smart live tricks. Those include their extraordinary 360-degree concert, played at Newmarket’s Green Door Market last year. That saw the band place their entire audience inside a boxed-off screen, while they played on its exterior to beautifully orchestrated imagery. Now, after a decade of playing about with their style and identity, they’re finally ready to launch debut album ‘Actor’.

It has to be a lot of pressure finally stepping up to the grandeur of the LP after such a long time, but after exploring near-death experiences in earlier EP ‘Curtains’ (specifically, in title track ‘Hospital’), and going big on Spotify with a quarter of a million plays, it makes sense to finally make the transition.

“We changed the name from The Dynamics and changed the sound a few years ago,” Rathfarnham native Cian Donohoe recalls. “The band set up was different, we’d reduced from six people to four, losing the brass. I think this album was a little different, in that we worked in the studio and put things together, and then figured out how to put it into a stage show. In the past, we figured it out live and then worked out where they went from there.”

“We were pretty much playing stuff live in the studio on the last EP,” he continues. “There weren’t drastic changes. Back when we were sixteen we were interested in ska music, mainly, and it’s gone from there. Ska came out of ability as well, as ska music’s pretty easy to play. Obviously there was an indie influence, then we started listening to folk music, and that became the sound of the band. Eight years later, it’s matured a lot as a sound.”

“The disparate influences collide in the middle,” Liam McCabe explains. “We’ve tried to fight against it at times, but I think that’s the nice bit. The nice thing about this record is it’s all the influences mashed together in this pile. We either push them aside, or just allow it to happen.”

“We’ve always written a lot of music. There’s a lot of discarded stuff out there. I think our plan has always been to write a load of tracks and pick the best few. With this one, we did a lot of experiments. Even if they aren’t full songs, there must be thirty or forty songs out there. There were a couple of real nonsense songs where we tried things, then tried to see things through. We had some Indian riff on one, and a vocoder. That was one of the slow days in the studio. We were writing tracks that wanted to be really long, with spacey intros, no verse, no chorus. In the end, we wrote an album of three-minute tracks. That wasn’t really the intention.”

“We self-produced for Curtains, but the engineer we had mixing it, Martin Quinn in Jam Studios, is brilliant. Really creative. We felt easy about trying new things this time around, and he helped us put them together,” Donohoe explains. “He guided us when we were going wrong. There’s definitely a nice sense of achievement you can take from saying ‘this is us, we did all this.”

Ash Get Personal On Break-Up Record ‘Islands’

DOWNPATRICK pop-rockers Ash have been going for 26 years, and for many, it’s the relatively early hits – Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah, Shining Light – that still stand out. In fact, it’s been 11 years since the three-piece announced their intention to “never make another album,” something that lasted until 2015, and the release of Kablammo!

Still powering through with the same distinctive vocals and hooky chords that helped them find their niche, eighth album ‘Islands’ has been a slow process, and one held back by factors outside of the band’s control.

“There’s been quite a gap,” drummer Rick McMurray told the Gazette. “The actual process went quite quickly, but there were a lot of changes on the business side that held up the progress of the record. It was finished towards the end of 2017, but it could easily have been a lot sooner. We wrote new stuff while the album was being finished, so we have a big backlog of material.”

The idea of abandoning the album completely is one that’s long in the band’s past now, but at the time they felt like it was a progressive move. “It seemed like we were witnessing the re-emergence of the single,” McMurray recalls of the plan to only release individual tracks back in 2007. “The album had only been out a week at the time, and when we came up with the idea, it really felt like getting ahead of the curve. Everything was going that way. We don’t have a problem with the format, but then vinyl came back, and an album kind of became a work of art again. The return of vinyl meant we had to go back to albums.”

Islands will get the customary new album tour, then, but a follow up is already on the horizon. “I doubt it will be another three years,” McMurray says, laughing about the extended gaps between the band’s records “I expect we’ll have another album out in 2019, some time, though it’s far from definite. We’ve hit on a new method of songwriting that is really working for us at the moment. There’s so much material around at the moment. We probably seem quite lazy when it comes to albums. In our defence, we did put out 52 singles in a year,” he adds, referencing the ‘A-Z’ project that saw Ash experiment with one off tracks throughout 2009 and 2010.

The new release is very much about frontman Tim Wheeler’s difficult breakup. The band live apart now, Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton in New York, and McMurray with his family in Edinburgh, jetting in for recording sessions and communicating largely digitally. “It’s pretty easy, really. It kind of suits all three of us. I like working in quick bursts, as that’s just what works as a drummer. Tim’s more slow and thought out. For me, this album was just one big explosion of energy.”

“It’s got very easy to get together and record,” he admits. The way things are is a natural thing. It took Tim six months to make this album, and me two weeks, but that really suits our personalities, at least the recording part.

A Quicky With… One Horse Pony

Taking the American deep south and transporting it to Ireland in the form of swampy Lousiana folk rock, One Horse Pony take cajun beats and infuse them with a rootsy Corkonian charm. Aiming to get your feet stomping, the band are building on an acclaimed live show – so far, they’ve hit up Electric Picnic, Kilkenny Roots Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and Indiependence – and looking to put it all on record. 

Here’s what they had to say ahead of the launch of their new single ‘Muddy Waters’ this month. An EP, ‘Hot One’, produced by Gavin Glass, follows later this year.

Let’s start with a potted history of the band… Tell me your story.

We had a really organic beginning. We started life as a couple of strangers playing blues and folk around a table in the Franciscan Well in Cork, before it was the worldwide bastion of craft beer it is now. Over time, new members joined and more material got written. A two-year residency in Whelan’s, a couple of years spent on the festival circuit in Ireland and a couple of international tours put us and our songs through the mill, made us friends all over the world, gave us amazing adventures, a couple of funny stories, and a lot of laughs.

What are your musical backgrounds?

They’re varied. There’s a lot of old blues in what we do, as the title of the new single suggests, but throughout the upcoming EP Hot One, from which the new single is taken, there are nods to gypsy jazz, Irish trad, lots of gospel and the sort of roots grooves that make your shoulders move.

How did you come to be Louisiana-inspired in Cork?

They are both deep South. There’s lots of Irish inspired roots music going back hundreds of years. Cork is as much a melting pot of musical influences as New Orleans at the moment too. We also supported the Blind Boys of Alabama a few years ago and we loved their attitude to life.

How was working with Gavin Glass on the new single?

Gavin (Unkie Gav to us) is a force to be reckoned with. A serious artist in his own right, he has the musical chops, the ear and the enthusiasm to take a song and turn it into a statement. He has that gift of making a musician twice as good or half as bad.

Six Great Festivals You Can Still Hit Up This Summer

Summer isn’t summer without spending at least one weekend in a field supping luke-warm beer and watching music, right? By the time the sun actually peaks in Ireland, however, many of your best festival options are already sold out. Electric Picnic broke new ground this year by selling out without announcing a single act. The more well-known UK events are long gone, too: the more desperate festival goer might even be considering security, or pulling pints, to get through the gate.

Fear not, for there are plenty of places offering great beats and even better buzz on our shores, or just a short flight away. Those at home have drawn in a huge array of international talent. Those a short flight away might well make you your plane ticket back on cheaper tickets, food and beer, so are well worth a glance. Here are our six best bets (you can still snap up tickets for) for 2018 summer shenanigans…

Knockanstockan (Blessington Lake, County Wicklow) This lakeside event a few kilometres from Blessington has a cult following, as one of those festivals it’s impossible to truly understand without going. Think effortless hippie cool, great chances to uncover new bands, an incredible atmosphere and top late-night action. If you’re willing to forget the big-name acts, you’ll probably have a better time here than almost anywhere else (tickets €150).

Featuring: Jinx Lennon, The Eskies, The Bonk, Elaine Mai and The Hot Sprockets.

Colours of Ostrava (Ostrava, Czech Republic) A hidden gem within a short drive of Katowice (Poland), the main draw of this four day July epic is the creaking steelworks it’s set in, the chance to sip wine in a hard hat, really, really cheap beer and a surprisingly stellar line up that runs late into the night. Visually stunning, with a strong dance showing and plenty of cultural appeal (€122).

Featuring: NERD, London Grammar, Josh Stone, George Ezra and Jessie J.

Sea Sessions (Bundoran, County Donegal) A west coast, beach-loving event that combines Bundoran’s ever-growing reputation for surfing with lively evenings of tunes. As well as the music and at least one afternoon of surfing (do it), you’ll be checking out BMX and skate jams, daytime beach sports, and another stunner of a location. Chilled. (from €109).

Featuring: Dizzee Rascal, Walking On Cars, Le Galaxie, Everything Everything and Delorentos.

Full Circle: How The Legal Life Suits Trance Legend Judge Jules

One of the king’s of Ibiza’s early trance scene, Judge Jules still flits between home and ‘the island’ dropping records and exploring newcomers to a scene he helped create. These days, though, DJing’s for the weekend: he’s a specialist lawyer, too.

Judge Jules was always a tongue in cheek name; a nod to the trance-scene mainstay’s decision to set aside his law degree and head for the hedonism of the 90’s most notorious dance scene. These days, though, his life’s gone full circle.

Listening to Jules describe his manic schedule is enough to make your average person wilt: long weeks as “probably the only person in my field with real-life experience at the top end of the music industry;” weekends on the decks.

Jules spent fifteen years as one of the main DJs at Radio One, and his passion for what he does still shines, not least through his syndicated radio show Global Warm Up, now more than 700 episodes old.

“It’s a background thing, but it’s syndicated to lots of radio stations, so I think of it a bit like the radio,” he says, recalling his time on BBC Radio One. “I’ve nothing negative to say about Radio One, it was an amazing experience and everything runs its course. This is a great way to showcase stuff I like.”

“DJing for radio and DJing live are similar in name only really. Of course, you’re playing records, but there’s no immediacy from radio. You might be aware that you’re playing to lots of people, but there’s not that live immediacy to react to. That always influences you.”

Live, Jules does different types of sets these days: those in the style of his 90s heyday, a loving throwback to the highs of 25 years ago, which he calls an “exhibitions,” and those with more of a modern tinge. With the latter, he’s come to view the world in a distinctly modern light. The exhibitions “focus on 30 years of music, and they’re always mad. It’s important to push onto new stuff, though, not just to stand still.”

Growing Up In Soulful Pop: The Brave Rebirth of Delorentos

Dublin’s deeply-personal indie-popsters Delorentos are growing up, fast. In ditching and totally rewriting their fifth album, they hope the result – ‘True Surrender’ – shows them for who they truly are.

As an embedded mainstay of the Irish music scene since their debut album ‘In Love With Detail’ propelled them to regular radio play and local acclaim, Delorentos – some of whom have been friends since childhood – have been fairly quiet since 2014 release ‘Night Becomes Light’.

In part, that period of quietness has come about because they’ve produced two different albums. The Dubs entirely abandoned the first of the two, written in a Spanish vineyard, in favour of a sound that more reflects the changes in their lives.

“As an independent band, that was a really hard call to make,” vocalist and guitar player Kieran McGuinness says of the decision to simply ditch their first effort. “Everything we do directly affects us as a result of being independent. I guess it doesn’t feel like that long to us since ‘Night Become Light’, as we released it in Ireland in 2014, Spain in 2015, Mexico in late 2015 and a few other countries in 2016.”

“With the Vineyard album, we’d taken several days off a tour to record, and the owner of Sonorama [a Spanish music festival] gave us access to a recording studio and a vineyard. We had sixteen songs at demo stage, and we were happy when we finished. It wasn’t like we suddenly put a cross through them all. I think it was a good Delorentos album, it was just the same as our last album, quite poppy, and quite what we felt people wanted to hear.”

“It gradually became clear that it wasn’t ‘us’ anymore. A lot has changed for us in the last few years. Three of us have married and one has got engaged. Three have moved house, three have had babies. There’s been a crazy amount of things going on. That wasn’t reflected in the album we’d made.”

Slowly, Delorentos came to the realisation that they’d have to abandon the planned album and start again. The new version, entitled ‘True Surrender’, is quite a departure from their traditional style.