Friday 7th September
I arrived at Moira Demesne on Friday night to the wonderful and tiny festival Moira Calling. The cold weather has already hit us and the park was full of families bundled up warm and drinking hot drinks before the festival kicked off.
On Friday night Ryan Vail and the Arco String Quartet led the opening set to the festival. Their set was inspiring. Vail’s onstage presence was different to anything I’ve seen in electronic performers and his previous performances. This might have had something to do with the intimacy of the main stage, seeing the children tucked under a tepee sitting and dancing attentively. There were incredible percussive moments which seemed to shimmer around the tent, accompanied by Vail’s breathy vocals, and the beautiful sounds coming from the Arco String Quartet. Highlights from the set were the song ‘Breaking Minds’ which opens with sounds like a spaceship breaking down paired with futuristic lighting on the back of the tepee. The stage was flooded with yellow light and the quartet’s melody created the allure of a heroes song. Vail thanked those who attend and organise these local festivals, celebrating the importance of a thriving local music scene.
Saturday 7th September
Arriving back to the festival on Saturday to see the park fully opened up with circus acts, sustainable designers, food trucks and face painting accentuated the life which these festivals bring into their local areas.
The first act on my Saturday was Vokxen on the All the Little Lights stage, a three piece pop group comprising of three impressive women. The energy from their set was incredible, from the sparkly outfits to their performance, it was the perfect start to the day. My highlight from their set was their song ‘Running’. Front woman Claire McCartney has incredible vocals which could be likened to Lorde or First Aid Kit. The band has a dark 80’s pop edge to their sound through the three part harmonies, synth lines and drums.
On the main stage was another all female driven band, this time the London based two piece Rews. Though they are not unfamiliar to the Belfast scene as their songstress and guitarist Shauna Tohill is a Belfast bred local music legend. I had forgotten how much fun and charisma Tohill possesses, Moira was blown away by the duo’s edgy pop rock energy. Rews accomplished some dancing from the younger crowd and a lot of cheers throughout their set. My personal favourites were their single ‘Miss You in the Dark’ from 2017 and the track ‘Violins’ from the the debut album Pyros. Melodically these songs are catchy and intense while being driven by more interesting rhythms and beats than typically heard in the genre.
All the Little Lights stage saw the impressive six piece Runabay next. Their set is always a highlight due to the immense amount of sound the band can make with the cello, two guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, shaker and three vocalists. The intricacies that they can create together within each song and the passion for their music are spectacular to see live. My personal favourite was their final song ‘Symmetry’ the ocean sounds and bass and cello drone in the opening are a new sound for the band but a good direction for them.
The next act on the All The Little Lights stage was the remarkable Owen Denvir, performing with a full band drums, bass, keys and guitar. Denvir, joined on keys by Peter J McCauley, has quite a gentle onstage nature, chatting with the audience as one would to a friend in a quiet pub. One of my favourites from this set up was a song from Denvir’s EP Motion Picture Soundtrack, ‘You Want to Love Me’. McCaulay’s jazz piano fills over the lyrics created a beautiful dream-like feeling. Denvir moved to piano for his songs ‘Ghost’ and one called ‘The Lie that You Think I Am’ which he explained was based on the film Catfish. Between the rain and these more simply performed songs there was an intimate and intently listening audience to Denvir’s songs and stories.
Immediately after Denvir’s set came the boisterous indie rock suit Hunkpapa on the main stage. This was my first time seeing the band and I was surprised by them. The boys have mastered their stage presence and look; notably the bare foot, poncho wearing bassist and the frontman in red chinos, a blazer and cowboy boots. Despite the rain and intimate set previous, these boys were able to quickly warm up the crowd and get them rocking alongside them; particularly the youngest members of the audience who had notably been face painted since the morning. Not only was their stage presence unique but they are fantastically capable at their instruments and bring regular three part harmonies like we heard on the acoustic stage to the indie rock genre.
Dream pop outfit Beauty Sleep lit up the All the Little Lights stage in the early evening and they were, in the fear of sounding repetitive, a dream. The band have recently introduced a live drummer into their set and it makes a fantastic difference, the driving force being in the flesh creates an incredible vibe for bassist Aimee Williamson to bounce off. Cheylene Murphy was full of her usual immense energy and vocal range, paired with a keytar. The tonality of the keytar is just incredible to listen to and fits perfectly with Ryan McGroarty’s fantastic guitar solos. It was great to see Williamson sing a few lines earlier in the set however my absolute highlight from their set was ‘All We See’ due to the guitar and keytar solos. By this time in the evening the crowd was at its largest and its most engaged so Beauty Sleep had a lovely reception in the little tepee.
The delightful Joshua Burnside was next up on the main stage, overall his set was slightly different than he might be known for as his band has had a bit of a line up change. There is a heavier feeling to some of his songs that wasn’t there before which is surprisingly accentuated by the trumpet. Highlights from the set include his song ‘Red and White Blues’, the trumpet is perfect for this song and Burnside’s vocals are raw with the honesty and pain needed in our political climate. The stage was flushed with red, white and blue light in the perfect amount of comic relief for the song. Burnside is another music scene regular and the crowd react to him with respect and admiration for his craft.
Jordan Adetunji, a Belfast based rap artist, headlined the All the Little Lights Stage. The band itself were absolutely excellent, the drummer and bassist Matthew Harvey were unbelievably tight which allowed for the pianist and guitarist Lewis Crothers to really take the music to the next level. Adetunji himself was full of energy and has a fantastic way with engaging with the crowd and moving across the stage fluidly. Adetunji’s lyrics echo self belief and love for your friends. This positive energy moves through the crowd and into the final performance of the festival.
Marsicans are an indie pop band based in Leeds. Moira Calling make it their mission to bring acts to Northern Ireland who would usually not get to perform here. This creates a great balance between supporting local music at their festival and showing off our local scene. Admittedly, I had never heard of them before but their energy was infectious. Marsicans have everything you need from an indie pop outfit; dirty guitar solos, catchy melodies and a few great bass lines. What made their performance special is that they are all about hair, cool trousers and tight vocal harmonies. They just made it impossible for new and old audience members not to dance along, thanks to Marsicans Moira Calling ended on a high.
Overall, Moira Calling was a great small festival and a lovely addition to my weekend. Despite the fact I had to put on a jumper and a jacket to stand outside for the first time a little while, I got to listen to some of my favourite local bands and get the opportunity to hear some new music. As well as that there was delicious coffee, cheesy chips and some good times with some great people. A massive thank you from us to Moira Calling.