For the past few years, Knockanstockan has consistently impressed us by being one of the best and most lovable small festivals in Ireland. With the festival reduced to two days instead of three this year; there was the worry that the enjoyment might be similarly reduced.
But we needn’t have worried. The sold-out festival was already full of punters by early on the Friday, with a big queue of people bristling with anticipation outside the gates. The weather may have helped – one of the hottest days of the summer left spirits high, and a field by a lake in Wicklow felt, for a moment, like the south of France.
The slightly smaller scale also allowed for a rearrangement of the stages. There was no one focal “main stage” this year – instead each stage hosted a wealth of talent from both well known names and hot young up and comers. We were delighted to be hosting the Faerie Field stage, which featured some our absolute favourite acts of the past couple of years – not to mention a good splashing of our very own ‘Plec Picks 2014’.
See Saturday KnockanStockan 2014 review here
In terms of being a live performer, Liza Flume is still quite young; but often with youth comes bravery. On Friday evening at our GoldenPlec Faerie Field stage Liza showed it in abundance by dropping her most well known song, What We Called Love, from the set as well as playing a rake of new material. Such is the talent that Liza possesses; few even notice its absence. As for the new material, the fact that Liza was spotted at Bats and Broods at Longitude last week is a tell-tale sign. The tunes are as atmospheric as they come and the audience are hooked on every word. This girl just keeps getting better and better. We look forward to hearing more from one of our ‘Plec Picks 2014‘.
The Shaker Hymn
The scorching July sun welcomed Cork’s The Shaker Hymn to the Grabbers Cottage stage. Unfortunately due to long queues to get into the festival site, only a small crowd were present to watch The Shaker Hymn. But this didn’t deter them from producing an accomplished set. Live, their sound is slightly reminiscent of O Emperor, but given how polished O Emperor are, this is no bad thing. It’s a set that’s well paced with more immediate tunes like Hunter And The Headman, mixed with songs that scale up to soaring climaxes such as The Runway. The set highlight was when We Are Awake morphed into a cover of I, Monsters’ Daydream In Blue. It was a seamless transition and this summed up their set. It was just a shame more people didn’t get to see it – next year perhaps?
Crow Black Chicken
A scorching day on which everyone was already on a high from having skived off work to get to a festival early on a Friday may not have been the perfect atmosphere for the blues, but that didn’t stop Crow Black Chicken from making a big splash in their afternoon slot on the Grabbers Cottage stage.
The bearded bluesmen piled on the rough distortion-fuelled riffs and husky, tough vocals with the meandering flow of a jam-band, rocking their way into drawn out medleys of familiar tunes (White Lightning, Murmuration) and extended solos. The addition of a squealing harmonica for a couple of tunes served to reinforce the band’s roots in southern rock, as did their superb finale version of John the Revelator. The messy, rough-around-the-edges rock sound served as a piquant warm up for the eardrums in preparation for everything that was to come after.
The Hip-Neck Blues Collective
The great thing about Knockanstockan is the sheer variety of acts available. Fancy some swaggering Limerick hip hop but with a blues folk twist? Oh, yes that was on the bill. While the Rubber Bandits take aim at all and sundry with their biting humour, The Hip-Neck Blues Collective wrap their songs up in a veneer of organic beats powered by a full band. Despite the set-up the music feels at once authentic and without a hint of gimmick. The standout song is the rollicking Bill Murray and the feel good vibes radiated from the band as strongly as the sun beating down on a sizeable crowd.
Come On Live Long
Over on our own GoldenPlec hosted Faerie Field stage, Come On Live Long provided something different entirely; with their cool, harmonic and jazzy electro-folk stylings. Their complex arrangements of live instrumentations, effects, loops and samples was also going to be a challenge to replicate on a festival stage, but while there were sound issues that kept the set short of total perfection, that the band no doubt strive for, they kept moving with such dedication that all the elements, both good and bad, just fell into place to create some atmospheric and dreamy soundscapes.
The diverse instruments and alternating male and female vocals each found their individual place before they all came crashing in at once in a wave of sound that was impressively uncluttered and tightly arranged, slicing though the sound issues with slick ease. With a few nods to new material, the future releases from COLL will no doubt be one’s to savor.
There was a very strong contingent of Cork bands at Knockanstockan. The Vincent(s) have been making considerable waves over the past 12 months. If too much beer was being consumed and you were settling into a warm summer snooze, The Vincent(s) were the klaxon required to blast people back from a state of slumber. The shrieking chorus of Valley Of The Sun is far more alarming live than on record and this set the tone for their stomping set.
The Altered Hours
The heaviness of The Vincent(s) led nicely onto the fellow Cork band The Altered Hours. While The Altered Hours will never be considered twee, they are less about bludgeoning riffs and more about going on a hurtling psychedelic, hypnotic trip. Sharing vocals, Cathal Mac Gabhann and Elaine Howley provide differing contrasts in tone to the set.
Howley’s dreamy vocals to the shoegazey Sweet Jelly Roll are delivered hunched down in a starkly intimate performance which contrasted to the raucous Dig Early, sung by Mac Ghabann. The latter song was a runway train, picking up speed, with no sign of being stopped. Regardless of who took lead vocals, The Altered Hours are connected by an intensity which culminated to a power-packed performance.
Tandem Felix had a triumphant set at last year’s Knockanstockan and their return this year in the Faerie Field stage was hugely anticipated. What’s different from last year’s performance is the rejigged band line-up featuring violinist Éna Brennan and new drummer Jeffrey Courtney. Every vantage point was taken and Tandem Felix duly delivered an atmospheric set in keeping with the surroundings. While new material was introduced, it is still some old favourites that provide the highlight, no more so than Mandarin and Autumnal. We can’t wait to hear what the new line-up produces over the coming months.
As the sun went down, it came the turn of the notoriously energetic Mutefish to turn things up a notch … or three. The band appeared on the Grabber’s Cottage stage decked in glittering tinfoil armour, visibly charged for the session that was about to be unleashed.
Fusing trad with prog-rock, riffing on influences from folk and punk, there aren’t many bands that inject such pure enjoyability into their shows as Mutefish. Their casual sampling from genres, and even more casual disregard for genre boundaries left few frames of reference for those not familiar with the band, but that scarcely mattered. Mustefish imbue their shows with such riotous good-time energy that its hard not to let yourself be sucked in and go with the flow.
Being an instrumental act, their isn’t really a leading fish, but the central force on stage is definitely the fluteist/tin whistler Daithi O’Cearuill, whose unbridled and forceful presence onstage is yet another factor in Mutefish’s appeal.
Meltybrains? are not going to be predictable. That’s a given. Yet nothing prepares you for the sheer left field weirdness that Meltybrains? unleash. On first impressions they appeared an appropriately odd choice as headliners for the Circus Tent on Friday night. They were clearly up for this gig, with a battlecry from drummer Micheál Quinn signally their intent. Later on during the set when the band takes to an impromptu sea shanty/morris dance, Quinn did his precariously on top of some amps.
At times, their set threatened to topple over. They move abruptly from brooding atmospherics to freaky wig out, sometimes all in one song. They are nonetheless captivating with Green, Yellow & Purple standing out. Comparisons are hard to conjure up, but if Underworld were blasted into outer space, they might sound like Meltybrains?.
Leaving the Circus Tent after their set, the feeling was; were Meltybrains? actually any good? That was overridden by just being confounded by the spectacle. One thing was certainly clear, that their performance wouldn’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Packing ten band members onto the Faerie Field stage was an impressive task in itself, but Leading Armies managed it, and their funky setup was certainly a promising prospect. However, following an endearing opening track, they quickly start to show their weaknesses. Besides all the smoke machine-laden “everybody clap along”-ing and the typical “you’re the best audience ever” craic, the music doesn’t justify the number of musicians onstage. The songs are written in standard guitar-drum-bass-style, meaning all the extra brass and backup singing were just there to stick a bunch of exclamation points on the music.
New Secret Weapon
Closing out Grabbers Cottage at the end of a delightful first day, were old Knockanstockan favourites New Secret Weapon. Despite only releasing their debut album a few months back (which we exclusively brought you here on GP), the band have been regulars on the festival scene for years, and were celebrating a combined anniversary and hometown gig, since they formed after an impromptu jam session in the Knockanstockan campsite back in 2007.
New Secret Weapon’s opening barrage was Rose, a towering, ten-minute plus colossus of a track that flowed from the slow swell of its lo-fi intro into an onslaught of head melting riffs and punchy bass.
Elsewhere, the likes of Look at the State of It and You’re Still Losing struck at that sweet middle ground between chaotic alternative rock noisemaking and tender, introspective lyrics and spacey vocals.
With the band being Knockanstocakn veterans, New Secret Weapon must have been given a bit of leeway when it came to the curfew, since their set just kept going and going. Each time it seemed like the band had ascended to a dizzying climax that couldn’t be topped, they launched into yet another “one more tune”, achieving the same effect all over again. We’re glad they did.
Contributing Writers: Frank Hughes, Bernard O’Rourke, Niall Swan & Stephen Murphy
See Saturday KnockanStockan 2014 review here
KnockanStockan – Friday Photo Gallery
Photos: Abe Tarrush