Saturday 10th September 2016 – Moira Demesne
Moira was calling all music fans last Saturday with its first all day festival Moira Calling. A day full of local music talent, craft beer, food and fun! We arrived at 12.30pm which was way too early and so began the day exploring Moira, a quaint town with beautiful traditional buildings. If not for Moira Calling I’d never have had the pleasure of seeing this town, the festival could put Moira on the music map should it become a staple of the summer music festival lineup. We returned to the festival grounds just after 1pm and it seemed things were getting of to a somewhat slow start with not many people about, this would change during the course of the day as people old and young, families with kids, and local music enthusiasts filled the small enclosed area of Moira Demesne Park.
After grabbing a hot chocolate and the most amazing rainbow cake I’ve ever had from Holly’s Coffee Co it was time to take a seat for the first performance. This took place at the smaller stage of the two endearingly named ‘All the Little Lights’. Taking the stage was Co. Armagh sibling trio Cup O Joe, bringing plenty of folky tunes to set the tone of the evening. I absolutely loved this band, but then I am a total sucker for anything bluegrass, and they supplied this in abundance. The song ‘Red Rocking Chair’ was everything I love about this genre of music, it has so much soul and the siblings (Reuben, Benjamin, and Tabitha Agnew) sang together in perfect harmony as Tabitha played the banjo. Highlights were the song ‘Blue Birds’ and the band’s cover of Cyndi Lauper classic ‘Time After Time’. Catching up with the bands double bass player Benjamin as he and my plus one enjoyed a delicious veggie burger from the General Merchant’s stall, we discussed his impression of Moira Calling, “I love the atmosphere, the great food choices, and it’s really family friendly, but most of all the setting. Being surrounded by trees is nice, it feels like a farm. It’s wild in a good way.”
After Cup O Joe we made our way to the ‘Maine’ stage (sponsored by Maine lemonade) to listen to musical husband and wife team New Portals, with Daniel Laird on drums. I recognised them as The Jepettos and hadn’t realised they had another band, I was surprised at how different their style of music was from their other band. New Portals is very electro pop and reminded me of chart toppers from the late 90s. They were great, and it showcases their musical talent, they’re not tied to one genre and have the skills to change things up when desired. Their single ‘Stay Here Tonight’’ sounded especially good and really got the crowd dancing, especially some younger kids at the front of the stage. Frontwoman Ruth Aicken was shaking the tambourine, hitting a drum and singing – that’s what I call multitasking. Her voice was so clear and rang out over the synth. New Portals are doing an acoustic set in the Lamppost Cafe in Belfast at the end of the month and I’ll definitely be there.
Bear Skin were next on the Little stage, an Antrim folk rock trio. I loved their sound, they were great with the crowd and honestly had the most hilarious banter of the day, having finished a song the lead singer stated, “that song was called ‘You Won’t Ever Know’, it’s about not ever knowing”. Back to the Maine stage with Arborist, a 6 piece Belfast band with some very beautiful and tranquil songs. They were slow, relaxing, and the violin was especially complimentary to the band’s vibe. Additionally, my friend noted similarities between lead singer’s voice and Glen Hansard. Their single ‘A Man of my Age’ was just released in July, and they performed it brilliantly live, it was the stand out track of the performance. A new single is to be released next month called ‘Dark Stream’, so that’s one to watch out for.
Derry based band Ports drew a large crowd and were full of energy. Their sound was very upbeat and clear which invigorated the audience and got people dancing and involved. The Maine stage also saw the very successful and fun Pleasure Beach, having just played Electric Picnic they were ready to sign off on the festival season in style. Every single member of that band is their own brand of cool. The lead singer’s majestic flowing hair made him look like an 80s rock idol, yet reminded me a lot of The Darkness’s lead Justin Hawkins. I could write a whole review on his hair alone. The band were so into what they were playing their enthusiasm leaked out into the crowd and everyone was having a blast. Amazing stage presence. All elements of their music are enjoyable, the music would still be sweet without vocals. A couple of their songs reminded me of Savage Garden, and they had an overall rocky feel. At one point the keyboardist suddenly started playing a trumpet during a song, it was truly immense. Pleasure Beach were one of my highlights of the day and I’ll be sure to check out their next Belfast gig on November 4th in the Mandela Hall. Other acts on the Little stage were Beulah Kim and Siobhan Day, I only heard them from afar as I was tucking into some delicious loaded chips supplied by Street Dogs and exploring the craft beer options at the bar, but they really added to the atmosphere and had beautiful voices.
The Little stage welcomed Hannah McPhillimy, her song ‘Ruins’ was truly lovely. She then played a solo with the ukulele called ‘Kindness’ that had the crowd in awe of her beautiful soulfulness. Lisburn’s own music producing and playing wonder Michael Mormecha took to the Little stage, not with Loris or Mojo Fury but with his own solo creations and they didn’t disappoint. I felt like everyone in the crowd was really feeling the sound and enjoying it. He drew the biggest crowd to the Little stage of the whole day. When Mike and his band came on they wore black tights over their faces, it took us a whole song to figure out which one was Mike. Being as multi-talented as he is it could be anyone! And for a moment we felt like we were tripping and they were all Mike, thank god we weren’t under the influence or our minds would’ve blown a gasket. After his set many people in the crowd shouted “one more tune”, so clearly he had a great impact despite a few technical issues with the last song (which was maybe the best of the setlist).
The Maine stage had two piece Belfast band exmagician, they definitely knew how to hold a crowd and were very energetic and fun. The Maine stage also welcomed David C Clements, a big name in the local music scene and it was the first time I’d seen him perform. At first I felt like I wasn’t a fan, things started off a bit slow for me but by the end I was convinced and enjoyed his alternative folk sound. The crowd didn’t need as much convincing as me and stayed fixated on the stage for the entirety of his set.
Callum Stewart and his band performed and with over 100,000 plays on Spotify it was a no brainer that it’d be a good show. New Portals’ Daniel Laird returned to play drums with Callum, and everyone had great onstage chemistry. They did a cool jam session where they played ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ mashed up with ‘ Hotline Bling’. Initially I thought it was weird and not working, missing some energy, but as soon as they went into ‘Hotline Bling’ and then back to ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ I changed my mind and the rest was energetic and groovy. The last song was ‘Parachute’ and when it kicked in the crowd loved it, a little girl threw a balloon on the stage in excitement and instantly regretted the loss. A further reminder of the family friendly atmosphere at this festival.
Then came the main event of the evening, Hudson Taylor. Alfie and Harry Hudson-Taylor, two brothers from Dublin that have gained a lot of mainstream attention for their folk sound and interesting styles. They brought on special guest English songstress Gabrielle Aplin, a treat to have someone who’s gained so much recognition in recent years. She sang ‘Beautiful Mistake’ with them, then a few others. Another guest joined called Jack Harris, he was kind of awkward but gelled well with everyone on stage and they looked like they were having as much fun as the crowd. They clearly had a big following at the festival as people sang along knowing all the words and finishing lyrics off when the band asked them, everyone on the grounds was in front of the stage glued to this performance.
For a first time festival Moira Calling was well organised, professional and it was clear a lot of hard work went into its creation. When one band ended another one started, it was timed fantastically and meant you didn’t need to miss any band. The sound on the stages was quality thanks to Forfey, it was honestly the most clear and well mixed I’ve ever heard. I’m confident we’ll see this festival on the cards again next year!