Moving round the corner to the Latest Music bar, things are running late so Belfast singer-songwriter Owen McGarry is just coming on as we arrive and it’s one of those pleasant turns of fate, because he’s rather excellent, one of those discovery moments that these type of festivals are all about. He starts with a couple of acoustic songs on his own, before being joined by a drummer and a keyboard player / violinist. He has a great set of songs already and the sound he creates with his band is surely destined for bigger stages than the rather modest basement theatre he’s playing in.
The same can be said for Emma Stevens. We’ve already fallen in love with her recent single Once, which has had four weeks on the Radio 2 playlist, and the good news is that she has other songs that can match up to that, and all backed with an infectious personality that still seems humbled that anyone at all wants to listen to her. Backed by a guitarist, bass player, keyboard player, violinist and drummer, her songs are a perfect pick-me-up tonic, even when they deal with dark subjects like the death of her mother last year. She finishes with the single, with a huge grin on her face as she sings of finding love, and everyone in the room is smiling with her.
We raved about Findlay last night, but the delays at the previous sets meant we couldn’t actually get close enough to see her at Smack, so we hotfoot it up to the Prince Albert for our first random band name selection of the day. It’s the rather wonderful Instrumenti, who although from Latvia are playing the Tallinn Music Week event. There’s two of them, playing keyboards and drums, with backing from a couple of Macbooks. The room’s full, they engage fantastically with the crowd in a very dour but hilarious way and their songs hark back to dark electronica of the 1980s. They’ve afforded an encore which takes ages to set up, during which time the singer passes on greetings from the President of Latvia, and they proceed to sing their last song in Latvian. They shouldn’t work, but they’re utterly charming and very very good.
A few hours break is needed to recharge and to not make the mistakes of the previous day and not eat. The festival has a mid-afternoon lull in bands in any case. Next up is Golden Fable at the appallingly titled Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. The venue’s not much better, poor organization and a shocking sound system that is not much better than a home stack system. It doesn’t allow Rebecca’s fantastic vocal range to shine through as the instruments drown out the peaks and valleys. They still play a great set of songs from their debut album, Star Map, and a great song called Avalanche, which should be on their second album.
Next up is Caitlin Park at The Queens Hotel. Aided and abetted by local musicians Ben Fletcher and David Ford with whom she has only had a couple of rehearsals, she plays a set of intelligent, inquisitive folk songs, aided in parts by sampling through an electronic drum pad and loop pedals. Not knowing much about her other than a quick listen to her excellent debut album Milk Annual, I suspect this isn’t her full set-up, which is a shame as she does have a strong set of songs, but with an attentive but non-interacting audience mainly sat on the floor, it feels more like a performance than a gig, except for the couple of songs where she uses the sampler and turns the pace up.
Making the mistake of not staying where I have a spot for MO, the next forty-five minutes is spent trying to find a venue where there’s not a huge queue and one-in one-out operating. Finally, I end up in the Brighthelm Centre, mainly because I can get straight in and it’s about a tenth-full if that. I catch the most of Peter Kernel’s set and it’s fascinating. I’m told later the three on stage come from Switzerland, France and Canada. It’s full-on rock, lots of posturing, shouting, jumping down into the crowd. We’re asked if we want to get naked or dance on stage. It's actually just a lot of fun, and sometimes music needs to be about that rather than earnest chin-stroking about chord changes and image, image and image.
Next up is Faye, a six-foot stunning Swedish electro-pop chanteuse, aided by only a guy with a couple of laptops and some very prominent recorded backing vocal accompaniment. It sort of works, or at least it would if there wasn’t the most ridiculous vibrating noise coming from the speakers from the bass in the mix that actually makes part of the set unlistenable as it’s close to drowning out her perfectly pitched Euro-pop vocals. I'm not convinced by the whole set-up though.
And that’s it for Day 2. The thought of queueing to maybe get in another gig as the main venues wind down doesn’t appeal with another day to go. Hopefully, it’s a case of just making the wrong choices in terms of venues and bands rather than overcrowding and bad planning, but we’ll see. And hopefully the much rumoured Underwater Fishtank secret show will finally happen.