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Floyd Soul + The Wolf, Disconnect4, Philtre, Ladydoll, Dirty 9s, Jeromes Law. The NSMA Final, The Village, 24/ 04/ 08

The National Student Music Awards
24/ 04/ 08
The Village
By Angela Macari-O'Looney

As I walked into my favourite gig venue in Dublin, a great sense of pride enveloped me, at the thought that I’d been invited to such a great Irish Music event. There was already a good many people there milling around and it was only a little after eight. So grabbing a drink at the bar I spotted one seat. Great! Somewhere to sit, take in my surroundings and prepare myself for what I envisaged to be ONE GREAT NIGHT. And it was!

A pretty blonde MC [Jacqui] took to the stage to introduce the show and announce the bands who would be taking part. I had acquired a list of my own and had familiarised myself with each band prior to this. I felt a rush of excitement at the thought of seeing these wonderful bands all on the one night, each with such a great portfolio of gigs, recordings and competitions already behind them as they would now be vying for this prestigious award.

The first band up was ‘LADYDOLL’. They began their set with ‘GOOD TIMES’. It had a thumping jungle-drum intro which sounded like they meant business! The bassist was a very attractive blonde, Nora King. She certainly wasn’t just a pretty face though, as she slapped out some mean IN YOUR FACE Riffs. I felt however, that the lead guitarist’s solo was very quiet. Not his fault! But I would have liked to have been better able to hear him in certain parts of this number and definitely couldn’t! Not good on the part of the sound engineer, this being a very vital necessity in a competition!

On vocals Finn Sedas seemed pretty good and seemed at home singing alternative-type music. There was something missing but I can’t put my finger on it. However things started to improve on their second song, ‘I HATE CATS’. Finn played a really sweet intro on keyboards and with a touch of snare and cymbal the drummer, Eoin Ryan added a slinky beat, which for me brought to mind the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical ‘Cats’.

Everything began to speed up to a galloping beat and suddenly the bass player played a totally outstanding sneaky, catty riff. She was definitely the star of the show here! Having said that, the lead guitarist, Dave Shaw could actually be heard now and played some very sweet solos. With a great melody and excellent backing vocals this song really showed off the ensemble’s full potential!

They finished with ‘HUNNY BUNNY’ which was performed with the lead singer showing off his excellent guitar-playing ability as he took up a very nice looking blonde semi-solid guitar. He did this justice playing a choppy intro using just enough distortion. With ballsy bass, lovely lead guitar riffs and generally a creepy aura in the melody throughout the verse, this was a good choice for the last song. I liked ‘Ladydoll’ and think they gave the show a great performance to set it off!

THE DIRTY 9s came onstage after a very nice introduction from the MC. These guys got a great welcome from the audience and I have to say I loved them even before hearing them after reading their blog on My Space; ‘Ringleader – Feargal Moloney, Troublemaker-Cian McCarthy, Local hooligan – Stephen Dunne, Inside man – Paul Rice’.
With a sense of humour like this who couldn’t like them!

However once I heard the sweet guitar riffs, magic chord combinations and an extremely competent and winning vocalist in Feargal Moloney, as he portrays the well written lyrics and gorgeous music of such a high calibre created by this band, charm certainly wasn’t all they won me over with!

With a catchy Indie/pop sound they began with ‘LOOK TO THE LEFT’, a thumping, choppy number in a staccato style. It was just perfect with little stops and starts which got the juices flowing and a cheerful atmosphere into this event!
Harmonies were sweet, guitar riffs and IN YOUR FACE chords were belted out as this song had all the ingredients to create a refreshing wake-up kick. There was a lovely big build up to the finish comprising a DEAD STOP!

‘ECHOES’ continued the set. Although quite a slow number, it’s certainly loaded with lots of energy. A bashing Anthemic style intro is followed by the dramatic verse. Then before the chorus a sweet but unshy arpeggio-style bit on Keyboards gave that little extra bit of class to things.

Then the chorus! This is just so memorable and sweet and with cute little riffs so sharp and lively it was popular with the listeners, especially me. I loved it! At this point I couldn’t help sympathising with the judges having to pick a winner from such a mine of talent.

Finally, ‘WEEKNIGHT LOVERS’ was definitely the best song for the Dirty 9s to end on. Kick-ass bass, fast moving drumbeats and all framing the full and delicious lead guitar riffs and sweet melody. This band exudes class as they each have such a high level of expertise with their solos and Fergal’s unforgettable and winning voice! I was riveted to the spot by those sexy riffs, sweet melody lines and gutsy beats, plus of course the unignorable fact that these lads are lovely and I know for sure that from the reaction of the crowd they are going to be big even if they didn’t walk away with a prize on the night!

FLOYD SOUL AND THE WOLF were next in line! With influences from ‘Kings of Leon’, ‘The Rolling Stones’, ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ and to quote them in their blog ‘The wilderness (not a band)’ this motley bunch took to the stage. They began with a good punchy number – ‘GIVE IT A CHANCE’.

This song had a big bashing intro and with each musical instrument audible and Luke Heffernan’s addictive and charming voice, this band was already overtaking their predecessors on the road to the prize! Using close harmonies and up-beat distortion-packed guitar chords they had us all in the palm of their hands. Lots of their influences were coming through in this song, with its outstanding and gutsy arrangement. As they ended it they did the chorus accapello which I found to be a good choice for a hat trick!

They went on with a brilliant number called ‘STONEWALKIN’ which started off slow and sweet. The melody line was extremely catchy and had a Cajun ring to it, very ‘Creedence–style’. Luke was in his element here, enjoying himself and looking like he didn’t care a fig. He was just jamming and giving it loads. With polished backing vocals from the rest of the crew, the whole sound definitely came together so well and so smoothly blended and seamless! Cute little ‘Rhythm ‘n ‘ blues’ riffs injected between the choruses and confident lead solos kept the whole of ‘The Village’ intrigued. You just had to stand up and take notice of ‘FLOYD SOUL AND THE WOLF’ whether you wanted to or not. They drew you into their lair!

‘MAN ABOVE’ was third. It had a classic hard rock feel to it with outstanding lead. Luke jumped down into the audience and strutted about ‘Mick Jagger’-style with a tambourine as he raised it above his head and the arrogance of this man seemed to know no bounds! You had to give it to them. They wouldn’t let you take your eyes of them and transfixed you with that unmatchable ROCK sound!

My guest and his friend, both members of the band ‘Rifle Tower’, arrived after this act finished. They were so disappointed to have missed them and ‘The Dirty 9s’. I told them no amount of description could properly paint the picture that had just gone down. I also told them I couldn’t decide who I preferred since I hadn’t heard everybody yet. But I was intoxicated by all the mind-blowing, brilliant song writing and performing that I had just witnessed so far.

Next up was a band hailing from County Kerry with a C.V. as long as your arm: PHILTRE. Their music has been described as infectious Alternative Rock which it most definitely is, with a twist! Having performed on the same stage as bands with a profile as high as ‘Republic of Loose’, ‘Leya’, ‘Delorentos’, ‘Vesta Varro’, and ‘The Frank and Walters’ they already have a shining future to look forward to. Influences include ‘The Stone Roses’, ‘Oasis’ and ‘Stereophonics’. This would explain the exciting heady no nonsense kick-ass riffs, punchy rhythms and every necessary ingredient to create brilliant music! They reminded me a little of ‘The View’ as with cheeky school boyish vocals and powerful melody-lines sung in close harmony, they give a performance which just cannot be ignored!

Their first number was ‘WALK AWAY’. This had a sweetly sung intro changing to a wild upbeat drum to wake you up and with distortion used for all of it and the three guitars performing outstanding riffs, a HUGE sound emerged. The chorus is so appealing in this number with Omar Abdulsalam on lead guitar playing to the gallery and the crowd just throbbing with enthusiasm.

‘PAPER THIN’ followed with ballbreaking chords bashed out, plus a fast and furious rhythm. Tom Leahy has a fabulously sexy voice and he and the rest of the band pulled out all the stops here! Sweet little riffs were played on a lovely looking ‘Epiphone 335’ guitar which my nephew and guest informed me is the little brother of a ‘Gibson Les Paul’. Nothing little about the stuff coming from this particular one tonight! Anyway, the three guitars belted out their best and each musician in turn showed himself capable of drawing on every fibre, to produce this cheerful lively performance!

Number three was ‘SATURDAY NIGHT’. Once again this involved a thrashing intro taking them into a choppy stroppy verse. With excellent rock breaks throughout and Tom Leahy giving it loads this song certainly was my favourite of the set. The drummer like all members of this act worked his socks off and I feel is a talent out on his own! Dave Henry supplied the background for this wonderful and memorable quartet. And I daren’t leave Padraig Dillane without a mention, for his bass riffs and untouchable input in every song. Needless to say ‘PHILTRE’ had to be up there with the favourites after this. The applause ripped the place apart!

Consisting of Yvonne Ryan on Bass, Eoin Ryan on lead guitar, Keith McCafferty on Drums and Leon Butler on Synth and vox, ‘DISCONNECT 4’ were the 5th band in the competition. Hailing from Galway this unique and interesting looking bunch brought to mind my halcyon days of dancing around to 80’s music in ‘Abraxis’ nightclub or ‘The Apartment’. In an interview on ‘My Space’ I read that they take their influences from bands such as ‘Joy Division’ early ‘U2’ and second era ‘Cure’. Definitely I could agree with that on hearing their style.

‘RUNNING WITH SCISSORS’ started their set. Initially something didn’t sound right when they began this number. One of the guitars sounded a little bit out of tune or something. Perhaps the din from the mad audience was preventing them from noticing this. But eventually they adjusted whatever it was and you could now hear the song as it was meant to sound. There was a real New wave thing going on alright, with a hauntingly melodic verse followed by a catchy dramatic chorus. When it took off, this number involved lovely synth from Leon Butler, who does lead vocals too. Yvonne on bass performed backing vocals and great riffs in this one.

‘THE DISCO NEVER CHANGES’ – This began with Leon doing a riveting intro then a really 80’s beat brought you into the chorus. Punchy drums and brilliant guitar riffs gave it a ‘Pulp’ meets ‘Cure’ sensation. Leon’s synth for me was outstanding and gave this act originality and a fullness of sound! The only criticism I would have for them is that they had a slightly detached aura about them. They didn’t have that charisma that previous acts put across. This of course could have been down to nerves on the night, or waiting around to go on. Whatever it was they came across just a tad oblivious to their surroundings.

‘WE LOST IT’ –This song recovered their game for them and was more confident. A lot of noise and chatter coming from the audience was very distracting. But it settled down when they got into the chorus and I felt the crowd were beginning to stand up and take notice now even if it was a bit late in the day! It’s unfortunate that things don’t always come together on the night however well you prepare for it. This band didn’t quite hold the crowd as well as previous bands but I would have enjoyed one more song from them. I suppose it’s all down to taste...

Last but not least on this wonderfully adrenaline charged night, was a Pop/ Rock/ Alternative band – ‘JEROME’S LAW’.
Listening to their first number ‘SAFE’ I was transported back to bygone days when my sister and I would sit on the top bunk bed in our room, jamming away with a book my Dad gave her for Christmas with 100 ‘Beatles’ songs in it, ‘The Beatle anthology’ or something like that. There was a very ‘When I’m sixty four’ ring to this song. Shane, a very tuneful vocalist and rhythm guitarist, performed this beautifully composed number backed by sweet ‘oohs’ as the simple but catchy melody was done with style and panache.

In the second song, ‘SMILES AND SECRETS’ Jerome impressed with wonderful riffs on keyboards. Donal O’Sullivan gave a first class performance on drums and you could feel that they were in their element and the crowd were with them. This number has a catchy choppy beat and I felt it was like ‘The Beatles meets The Jam’ or something like that! For me the singing standard in this act surpassed all the previous acts. It was going to be so close when the prizes were being given out.

The 3rd song and final one of the competition was 'FIGHT IN THE DARK'. Like every number done by this ensemble, this had a memorable and musical melody line sung by Shane whose vocal range was demonstrated to great advantage.
It’s an anthem with pretty riffs and a vibrant beat even though it’s slow. The crowd were responding well and with a lovely key change involved I have to say it was the best of all three songs. With a distortion packed lead solo, sexy bass riffs from Ronan and a throbbing rock sound it was sweet and easy on the ears.

After a brief interval, the MC returned to the stage to invite some of the Judges and organisers on-stage. The panel included as follows;

Steve Cummins (NME), Lauren Murphy, (Hot press), Silpa Gantra (The Star), Ger MEADE (Easy Duplication), Dara Higgins (The Jimmy Cake), Keith Johnson (IMRO), Linda O’Connor, (Opal Star music Mgt/Manager ‘Suddyn’), Dave Reid (BME Music), Mark Murphy ( Religion Music), Dr. Joe Timoney (Music Technology Lecturer, NUI Maynooth) and Nadine O’Regan (Phantom). I was proud as punch to see Ron Healy (IrishUnsigned), my review-writing mentor among the royalty!

‘JEROME’S LAW ’and ‘DISCONNECT 4’ shared the runners up prize and the winners of the 2008 NSMA award were ‘FLOYD SOUL AND THE WOLF’. I just knew that stroppin’ tambourine-bashing stunt would overwhelm the judges as it did me. I would definitely have picked them myself, because quite seriously although it would have been close with all competitors performing to such a high standard on the night, Luke Heffernan (aka Mick Jagger) mesmerised everyone in The Village on the night. Not forgetting Si Merriman’s artful bass riffs and the whole powerful sound coming from this band. Aswell as a goldmine of talent, they have that special ingredient that won’t let you forget them– CHARM!

‘THE FLAWS’ performed an A1 set to put the cherry on the top of this brilliant night’s entertainment. I felt very privileged to be there and will remember it for a long time!

Review written by: By Angela Macari-O'Looney --

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