It’s day one of ‘Whelan’s Summer Ones to Watch’ and as the crowd begins to gather, anticipation begins to rise and the free pints begin to flow. One per person of course, but a flow nonetheless right?
Kicking off proceedings is Tadgh, and it’s a nice way to begin the evening. His bouncy, easy-on-the-ears funk sounds great on the main stage and he’s flanked by a variety of talented musicians. His ear for crafting a song is undeniable and it’s a solid set that perhaps lacked the crowd it deserved. Still though, it’s fun and sets up the festival well.
Next up are Hawklion and their breezy rock sound. There’s still plenty of room for synth rock in Ireland as you know, especially the kind these guys offer. The performance veers into by-the-numbers territory at times when tracks feature two guitars and instead of a prominent synth, however when they do bring it out, things really get kicked up a notch. The synth brings a heavy, earth shaking element to their songs and the rousing final track in particular stands-out.
We take a quick jaunt upstairs for the first time this evening to watch the eerie-pop soundings of I Am Niamh. It’s a disappointingly low attendance as she begins with the fantastic single “Wonderland”, but as each song passes more and more people are goaded inside by the off-kilter, almost psychedelic sounding keyboards. By the end of her set, she has the crowd entranced and the only shame is that it had to end.
Of course, if it never ended then we wouldn’t have scrambled quickly downstairs to see those jangly rock patrons Skelocrats. So it ain’t all bad. They play a crowd-pleasing set with many tracks from their impressive album Bella Bella including “Permanent House Painter” and the fantastic “Lyin’ Eyes”. It’s the first time this evening we’ve seen the crowd properly up-for-it, and flashes of people linking arms to do ye olde dancing break out towards the end. A great way to finish the main stage.
There’s no rest for the wicked though and upstairs New Valley Wolves are determined not to let anyone put their feet up just yet. It’s a thrilling set and they’re warmly received. The sheer dance-ibility of their hard rock sound serves them well and the appreciative crowd respond in kind. “FTF” in particular shows off the band’s qualities, with Baz Joyce’s frantic drumming a pure delight throughout.
Things aren’t about to let-up though, and up next are the intriguing case of Pretty Beast. Despite playing only their second gig, the band take to the stage with all the swagger and vigour of seasoned veterans. It’s just as well, as their EP So Content is a bit of a mixed bag. “So Cold” remains their most accomplished tune, and “Trying It” offers something a little different but the band are between a rock and a hard place when coming up straight after New Valley Wolves. But with such energy and enthusiasm, there’s no doubt they’ll become a real force on the live circuit this year.
The final act of the night, Switzerland, are almost a welcome change of pace when they start up their set. Their tracks lean teasingly close to country-rock at times and that’s certainly no bad thing. Shane Murphy’s thoroughly enjoyable bass and the fantastic track “Going Native” bring Friday to a relaxed and pleasing end. Day one is a success, and day two is only 18 hours away. Ah bless.