Think of Ireland and three things come to mind. Green, Guinness, and Great music. Often you get all three in the one place, especially if you’re in a pub on St Patrick’s Day. Essentially Pop took a long weekend to visit Dublin and explore some of the music that Ireland’s capital has to offer.
Grafton Street, right in the middle of Dublin, is a mostly pedestrianised shopping area, stretching down from St Stephen’s Green to College Green. As a result, it attracts a lot of people, and makes a fantastic base for Dublin’s many buskers. On any given day, and particularly on the weekends, you can hear high quality music on Grafton Street that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. It was on such a day that we visited, and we found ourselves caught up in the crowd surrounding The FitzaFrenic, a ska act based in Dublin.
Stripped back and simple, the band nonetheless were able to go through all the tracks from their album, “Chew The Fuse”. The 10 track album, co-produced by Mark Healy and NDT Productions, was on sale during the gig. Consisting of Conor McGrath (Lead Vocals and Sax), Cian Lernihan (Lead Guitar), Mark O’Connor (Bass Guitar), Trav Keogh (Drums), the FitzaFrenic have been together since 2008 and it shows. In 2010, they appeared live on TG4’s Pop 4, 98FM and Spin 103.8. Of the songs on their album, we enjoyed the quirky and very fun “One Can Van Damme” most of all – conveniently there is a video for this song:
We really enjoyed The FitzaFrenic. Make sure you check them out on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. If you can’t get to one of their gigs, or even to Grafton Street in Dublin, you can get “Chew The Fuse” on iTunes and Amazon.
Still on Grafton Street, our next stop was a band we instantly recognised, and anyone who has had anything to do with Dublin will know why. The five piece Irish/English band, Keywest, has been a staple of the Grafton Street busking scene since coming together in its present lineup in 2011, and this year won the 98fm Best of Dublin award for Best Street Artist/Busker. In 2012 they were nominated for Best New Act at the Meteor Awards, with their debut album, The Message, nominated for Best Debut Album by Hotpress the same year.
The band is made up of Andrew Kavanagh, Andrew Glover, Sam Marder, James Lock and Harry Sullivan, with the two Andrews (Kav and Glove) coming from Ireland, and the rest hailing from the UK. Although they have sold out venues (lead singer Kav told me that they have three gigs coming up at Dublin’s Grand Social on 16-18 December – all were sold out, but more tickets were being made available the next day), busking is still their main way of making a living. He says on their Wikipedia page:
“The busking pays for everything really.
“It’s crazy. We have funded all our records, marketing , publicity, this way. It is a godsend. It’s an amazing thing to have stumbled upon because it is the dilemma for every artist and Band, how do we put a hundred per cent of ourselves into our music, whilst keeping the band together? It’s not a new problem and has always been the case but you find something like busking, (which we still love and do to this day) is a great way to make money while you can play your songs, test new material and hopefully see your fan base increase with everyone that is kind enough to pick up a CD – it’s ideal really.
“You don’t have to put forty hours each week in to working different jobs trying to arrange rehearsals. The street is our rehearsal. The Band have gone from strength to strength with two sold out National tours and significant radio support. It is the fans that make it for Keywest, its them that keep them going. It is all very much built from the ground up, with the busking feeding into the club gigs and to radio it is all very organic.”
Keywest drew a massive crowd around them, and it wasn’t hard to work out why. They’re really slick and the sound is exactly what you’d expect from a professional band, because of course, that is what they are. At the end of their set, Kav asked if anyone would like to buy a CD, and a few of us took him up on it – it wasn’t bad value, one double album, “The Message” and two EPs, “It Started on Shop Street” and “Electric Love” for €20. At time of publication, there are still very limited tickets available to see them at the Grand Social on 17 December, and also in Cork, Galway and Limerick. See Ticketmaster for further details. Keywest can be found online on their website, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You can buy a range of their music from iTunes.
Watch “Electric Love”:
The third band we went to see was Jedward, at the Cheerios Childline Concert on Sunday 30 November, in Dublin’s 3Arena. We’ve covered their performance here.
After Jedward’s set, we made our way to the Grand Social, a fantastic venue overlooking Dublin’s famous Ha’penny Bridge. It’s been a “must do” venue in Dublin since opening in September 2010. Winning the 2011 Dublin Live Music Venue of the Year Award from the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), the Grand Social has gone from strength to strength, and is committed to professionally staging a mixture of musical styles and live performances.
We went upstairs to The Loft, which has been running “Saucy Sundays” since April this year. Each Sunday night, from 6 until 11pm, 7 bands perform on The Loft’s stage, drawing an audience wanting to hear good music. We’d come to see Fanlights, who started their set at 10.15. Formed in 2013, Fanlights have been described as having “hints of ethereal wave, neo-psychedelia and dream pop rock”. We’ve been fans of the band for a good few months now, having discovered “Superstar” on YouTube, so we were keen to see what they were like live.
We weren’t disappointed. Opening with “Freeze Time”, Unamae’s vocals are sultry and smooth. Leading into the very 60s feeling “Fortune Teller”, we could see where the “neo-psychedelia” tag comes from. But it’s hard to put any label on their style – although Unamae says she has a soft spot for 60s psychedelia, the band’s genre is less specific than that. Third song, “The Crown” is rich and multi-layered, and led nicely into the trance-like, “Soul Cake”.
Next came our favourite, “Superstar”. Comparisons have been made to The Cranberries, but there’s a lot of Janis Joplin evident both lyrically and in Unamae’s vocals. Superstar is smokey and sensual – with soaring guitar making a fantastic counterpoint to the song. Following “Superstar” was “Pall Mall”, a summery tune that was nonetheless still very fitting for the Big Top-like Loft.
We really enjoyed Fanlights. They’re polished and professional, and Unamae’s stage presence is transfixing. Watch out for them. They’ve recently played a few gigs in London, and hopefully they’ll be back very soon. Check out our interview with Unamae here, and listen to “Superstar” – see if you agree with us: