Gigs of the Year

Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology
15 September 2015

In mid-September, the sounds of both the veteran and new upstarts of punk rock were still fresh in my ears. The annual Blackpool Rebellion summer festival is a parade of punks that would be spectacular anywhere. Yet it is particularly spectacular because of its location. While, as John Robb so eloquently stated, Blackpool is the ‘tatty seaside town’ personified, the punks gather and stomp in the mighty and magnificent ballroom that in the past hosted the bright lights of ballroom dancing, comedy and even politics. Do the punks have a good time? Oh, yes they do.

And here I was in another seaside town, this time the Dublin suburb of Dun Laoghaire when I chanced upon a gig that was so quietly ‘promoted’ that it was almost a secret. Naturally I recalled the first time I saw the Heathers live, in the summer of 2007, in what I believe was their debut gig, in Dublin’s Lower Deck venue, appropriately by the banks of a canal. I saw the band many times in the two or three years after that introduction. And I never saw them do anything less than a fantastic show despite the variety of venues in which they performed. I saw them in a suburban Deansgrange back garden, and I even remember them playing in the lobby of the Project Arts Centre with their extraordinary ability to make everyplace feel like home, and every member of the audience feel like a welcome guest into that home.

To my ears, Ellie and Louise MacNamara, who make up the Heathers, were the best band of that mid-2000-2010 generation. And so tonight, at a post-tea time gig, was like seeing old friends I had not seen in a long time. The audience was hardly inspiring; in particular a few drunken student lads who were probably giggling at the same jokes as they had been in secondary school. Banter and bluster and pre-drinks, I suspect, or ‘prinks’ as they are now known as in this part of the world.

If I was playing for them I wouldn’t have felt the urge to deliver my best….but that’s where I am differ from Heathers. Ellie and Louise played as fine a gig as anyone could expect, the sort of gig I imagine people play when the audience numbers in the thousands rather than the tens. It was noticeable how much stronger their voices are since those early, precious and spell-binding gigs. Yet the magic is still there, and is just as potent. They introduced their brother Martin, who played the perfect accompaniment on electric guitar. And while Louise and Ellie used to generate their own electricity with just their voices and acoustic guitar, tonight Martin MacNamara brought shadows and light to their sound, never taking anything from his two sisters.

They delicately picked Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ apart and made it the perfect sound for September suburbs; equally they embroidered Lana Del Ray’s Summertime Sadness with a delicacy the original lacks. And between these covers they played a new song, which might have been called Winter, which held its own even in such mega-selling company. They have also lost some of the shyness which marked their early shows, and are happy and engaging and funny in a spontaneous way. They told tales of hypochondria and fears of the ‘freak spiders’ which have begun to appear in Ireland; tourist spiders perhaps, attracted by the Irish Tourist Board’s use of Heathers’ music in their ads.

Songs like Forget Me Notes sparkled even in the Spartan setting, and it was not just nostalgia that made songs like Remember When, sound great. They were also gracious to the audience, and not in a creepy crawly way that the fake pop starts can be. They reminisced about how they ‘always have such a great time at IADT’. They are probably unaware just how much wonderful gigs by incredible artists can bring magic, artistry and inspiration to any school or college. It should never have been a remarkably gig, yet it was. Brilliant and wonderful.

It was a treat seeing a band I had not heard for a few years and discovering that they were even better now. I look forward to hearing more from them, and from their brother Martin, in 2016.

Michael Mary Murphy

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