Review: Sea Sessions 2012Tweet
Review: Deirdre Harrison & Ros Madigan
Photos: Owen Humphreys
Bundoran is best known for surfing and as a holiday destination for those of a certain age. Once a year however this all changes as thousands descend on the picturesque Donegal town for one of Europe’s top small festivals, Sea Sessions. This year Team GoldenPlec were out in force to find out exactly why this has grown to become one of the most popular festivals in the country. With a line-up boasting some of the best acts on the festival circuit, both Irish and international, we have compiled a list of our top acts of the weekend in no particular order.
Sometimes the best thing about a festival is stumbling across an act you have never heard before and leaving a converted fan. For the majority of those present for up-and-coming Kilkenny act Neon Wolf, it’s likely that this is exactly what happened. Kicking things off with an intro heavily featuring two cowbells and a tambourine (really, what’s not to love already?!) for Leave Out The Lights, the five-piece almost immediately began drawing passers-by to their stage. No doubt this was down to their unbelievably catchy sound; something about each song felt as though if you were to hear it again you could sing along. Lead singer Rob Grace kept the audience’s attention with his energetic dancing and jumping: how he managed to sing without losing his breath is frankly a miracle. Finishing off their set with the lead single from their debut EP, ‘All Of It’s Yours’, the dancing crowd was left chanting for more. With their alternative pop-rock sound and a hint of electro Neon Wolf are perfectly tailored for radio. Combining this with their confident and compelling live performance, it would be a surprise if by this time next year they’re not one of the biggest acts on the Irish festival scene.
Ophelia MC accompanied by G-Frequency appeared on The Desperado Factory stage on the Saturday evening to become a fervent highlight for the whole weekend. Ophelia MC is a Dublin-born, Cork-based rapper and singer who is currently seeking funding for her debut album release on the well-loved fundit.ie website which aids cash-strapped artists in acquiring finances. (Find her ad here). If her set on The Desperados Factory stage is anything to go by, it’ would be an album well worth getting your hands on. A virtual unknown to the wider music community at Sea Sessions, Ophelia puts the new wave of Irish rap artists to shame with her spits and licks so tight and inventive. While Temper-Mental Misselayneous gets the plaudits she deserves in the capital, her fledging music journey could be aided tenfold if she was to listen and learn from Ophelia MC. On the day Ophelia MC was assisted on decks by G-Frequency as they played one of their first live-shows together. It was a match made in rapping heaven as Ophelia boomed and battled lyrically over the plethora of different tracks being sent her way. It was with a song about a certain Lady Garden that really had the aural and lyrical palettes salivating. Her passion and commitment to every bar is as clear as the veins popping from her vocal chords. The crowd stood in awe as the East-Wall MC dropped earth shattering bass lines with a truly inspired mix of vocal-tampering on her trusty Kaoss Pad. Until such time that she can produce her debut album, there will be a huge Ophelia MC shaped hole in my record collection.
Anyone present at The Minutes’ set at last year’s Sea Sessions will tell you it was one of the highlights of the festival and probably one of the band’s best performances to date. Returning to Bundoran, the trio this year took to the main stage and by some miracle managed to deliver an even more impressive performance. Having drawn an impressively large crowd, it was obvious why the band have received so much praise for their live performances. Commanding the stage like they were born to perform, there are few acts out there at the moment with such a stage presence that just demands your full attention. Taking the opportunity to debut two new tracks, Supernatural and Hold Your Hand, the blues rockers even dedicated a track to an over enthusiastic fan who had broken his leg at their last Belfast gig. An impressive light show added extra atmosphere and perfectly complimented their signature rock sound It will be interesting to see how they can top their performance next year.
Delorentos kicked things off with Right To Know to an already full to capacity tent, showing exactly why they are one of the top acts in the country. With a set list spanning from their debut album ‘In Love With Detail’ right up to their latest release ‘Little Sparks’, one of the most impressive things about this performance was the fans themselves. While not unusual for fans to sing along to singles, it is usually a minority of the crowd who sing along to album material; Delorentos must be one of the few bands out there whose fans sing along word for word to every single track! In what was frankly a bizarre decision to not have the Dublin quartet play the main stage given large crowds unable to enter the small North Shore stage had to congregate outside. With the atmosphere in the tent electric, it was clear that the band themselves were lovingly every minute of the performance. Their delight was infectious as the crowd was whipped into a frenzy for songs such as Bullet In A Gun, Waiting, S.E.C.R.E.T. and latest single Care For. It was their first time playing Sea Sessions but, hopefully, it won’t be Delorentos’ last.
Jape can find himself a tad unlucky with his stage placement over the weekend, despite being featured as a stage headliner. He featured as the headline to the North Shore Stage on the Saturday night in what would have seen him clash with Rev Run. Rev Run however, pulled out on the eve of his performance-leaving Jape as the outright number one-act. To most, the obvious choice was to move Jape to the main stage and bring his massive following with him. Sadly, this did not materialise. This meant space on the considerably smaller North Shore Stage was at an absolute premium, resulting in the stewards refusing entry due to heavy crowds. Hooray for Jape and his electric live show as he marauded through his set with Graveyard being the first notable pleasure. I have seen Jape countless times over the years but something about this performance was special as Richie Egan and the lads seemed extra pumped for this one. Richie and his band members mould and gel their influences so effortlessly together while also staying true to their core sound. Jape don’t power stance or synchronize jumps but still have the ability to create an intriguing live spectacle before your eyes. Ocean of Frequency gets a rousing reception and proves again why the album of the same name won the 2011 Choice Music Prize. Floating serves as the sets highlight as Jape play it better than ever before. It’s hard not to dance and roar back the infectious lyrics of the song and the Sea Sessions massive come in good voice. A lighting and distortion filled onslaught rounds off one of the most complete sets of the weekend.
Ships sailed into the North Shore Stageto a wave of onlooker enthusiam. Ships have hardly even been together a year at this stage, so for many this would’ve been the first look at Ships own brand of synth-pop. On the surface, Ships appear to be like so many other synth-bands as their mix of loops and guitar driven music sounds so familiar. It is however, fresh, new and original with flashbacks of all the best parts of the synth surge of 5 years ago, with a sprinkling of Pet Shop Boys thrown in for good measure. Their stage set-up is intriguing and engaging as they all stand together as a close unit and combine to make catchy pop gems. Instead of crowding the looped layers on each track, they instead opt to let the track breath and build slowly as they use long key changes before bringing the simple lyrics back. Between the mess of wires and buttons exists Simon Cullen’s and Cian Murphy’s strong talents and musicianship as they swop and share instruments, complimented perfectly by Sorca McGrath’s meandering vocals. Their single You’re Gonna Feel It was the clear stand out number as Ships picked up a tent full of new supporters. Make sure to look out for the tent shuffling and dancing at a festival near you soon.
Taking on any festival main stage early in the day is never an easy task, but on the third day when festival goers are exhausted and drenched it suddenly becomes a lot harder. Kicking off appropriately with Warming Up The Band, if The Riptide Movement were nervous at the prospect they certainly didn’t show it! As The Raglans set over in the North Shore stage comes to a close, a mass exodus to see the self-proclaimed “swamp rockers” takes place just in time for lead singer Mal just enlist the audience for some singing duty. With half the band’s brass section missing, the crowd help provide an extra kick to Phantom FM favourite Thieves In The Gallery. It’s the group’s infectious beat on songs such as Shake Shake, Hot Tramp and Keep On and Keepin’ On that really wake up the crowd, turning the sand into one giant dance-floor. One of the hardest working bands in the country, it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their momentum after their hectic summer of festivals.
The Strypes have been impressing people across the country and they have built up an impressive list of festival and gig appearances already this summer. Taking into consideration the bands average age of 15 and the crowd’s reluctance to admit how much cooler these kids are than themselves, this set was a master class of performance and energy. Obvious comparisons lead you down The Beatles and The Rolling Stones route while The Animals or The Monkeys are the closest thing you’ll get to this Cavan based pack of rascals. It’s all well and good looking the part, as these guys do, but you need a whole load of talent, especially when so young, to convince the festival going crowd you’re worth their adoration. Lucky for The Strypes, they have talent in abundance. They play covers better than most cover bands 6 times their age with 50+ years more experience. Songs such as Route 66 and Going Up The Country showcase the bands vast talents. At times, it becomes hard to relate to a 15-year-old singing about Kansas City and picking up girls, but this is soon forgotten about when the band roar into a flawless bass/guitar/drums and even harmonica solo. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that during the harmonica solo in Got Love If you Want It that vast members of the crowd look to their friends in shock and mouth the words “wow”. Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover, points to a surely bright future the band have ahead of them. Talking to many people over and after the weekend, The Strypes feature highly, if not top, as the biggest highlight of the weekend.
Ham Sandwich played one of their biggest shows to date late on Sunday evening. Ham Sandwich have established themselves as one of the must-have acts on any festival line-up. Aided wonderfully this time around with a violin and trumpet player who boosted the sound coming from the imposing Sea Sessions main-stage. After a disappointing outing at Vantastival, Ham Sandwich were back to their blistering and joyful best as they easily took the crown for the best Irish act on the main stage all weekend. Niamh’s vocals soared over the huge blue tent as confetti littered the air. Single Long Distance blissfully flowed through the tent as Podge and Niamh combine with ease as they look at one another and laugh. Podge adorned in his usual flamboyant outfit, equipped with shiny pants and a flowing red shirt, attempted the Guiness World Record for the most crowd surfers at a festival. A commendable attempt followed as 10 or more indulged themselves in the record-breaking. However, the visual highlight of the set came (and no it’s not the shiny pants) when Ham Sandwich unleashed a splattering of huge inflated balloons upon the crowd. A beautiful and memorable moment that will remain top of the Sea Sessions memory bank. I Feel Love by Donna Summer could have been made for Niamh’s voice as she showcased her higher register. It was, however, Click Click…Boom! that brought the best musical moment of the set as throngs of Sea Session punters roared “Break the chain, break the mould, you know I would never let go”. We look forward to catching Ham Sandwich at the next festival but it’s gonna take something special to top this one.
Commendable mentions must go out to Cry Monster Cry. With their delicate and chilled start to the Saturday afternoon, we will make it our business to catch more of the set next time out.
The Hot 8 Brass Band rocked the main stage with their flawless brass and drum combo. A booming-brass version of Sexual Healing, coupled with lyrics such as: “boobies on front, boobies on the left, boobies on the right” made this one of the most enjoyable sets all weekend.
The Raglans often provide one of the best sing-a-long sets at a festival and Sea Sessions was no different as the lads stormed through a set that featured songs from their 5 track EP – ‘Long Live’.
This Club could well win an award for being the Marmite of the festival, never before has Team Goldenplec seen a crowd so divided on an act. It seems if you enjoyed their set you really loved it (and possibly threw your underwear on stage) but there was also plenty less than enamored with the electro poppers.
The festival headliners - The Happy Mondays also gave a rousing performance to the most enthusiastic crowd of the weekend. While the hilarious and sparse appearance of Bez on stage was enough to keep us entertained, it was Rowetta Satchell that stole the show as she held Sean Ryder’s mumbling lyrics together. All we wanted was Step On and they delivered that stand-out track with much aplomb.
If music isn’t really your friends’ thing but you really like the sound of Sea Sessions then fear not, there is plenty to help you entice those who are musically challenged. Firstly, Sea Sessions is held on a beach and who doesn’t love the idea of a festival on a beach? No mud, sand, water, sun….ok well on the north Atlantic coast you probably won’t be sun bathing or taking a quick dip between acts but you can ignore that small detail. Festivals usually mean camping, not Sea Sessions. While there is a campsite there is also plenty of accommodation options around the town and in surrounding areas, ranging from cheap hostels to spa hotels. No matter what your budget there is a bed and hot shower option to suit you. During the day there is plenty to keep the sporty types entertained with organised beach soccer, volley ball, hand ball and tag rugby events and BMX displays in the new Surfers’ Village. Of course you can take a surf lesson from one of the many surf schools around the town and then check out the professionals doing it properly in competition. Feeling tired after all that? No problem, take a nap in one of the heavenly hammocks or take a quick stroll around the town for a bite to eat. Even within the festival site there are plenty of food options ranging from the almighty Pieminister to delicious Indian, and all within a 2 minute walk from each other. With an always stellar line-up and so many other plus points, we can’t wait for Sea Sessions 2013!