You didn’t have to see the dozens of eager fans queueing outside deBarras to sense something special was happening as Guinness Amplify came to Clonakilty last night.
This quickly became apparent when the media crew and I were amusingly mistaken for one of the bands and asked for a picture!
Arthur’s Day is no more - a victim of its own success in many ways, as people found a convenient label to stick on the overindulgence of the minority.
For the rest of us, this could have meant the end to the thrillingly ludicrous concept of heading down to your local to see the likes of Ellie Goulding and Fatboy Slim, but thankfully Guinness have taken a new approach in the form of Amplify.
Now, over the course of five weeks, the Guinness Amplify ‘tour’ brings with it some top international acts, as well as rising Irish stars, in dozens of pubs across the country – and last night it was the turn of DeBarras in Clonakilty, Co Cork.
Now this is not a large venue by any means. The first thing that strikes you about DeBarras is just how physically close the audience gets to the group.
What a giddy thrill it must be for devout fans to really see the whites of the eyes of their chart-topping musical heroes at venues such as this. It’s not a chance afforded to many.
Of course, this is familiar territory for the up-and-coming acts who have been supporting the headliners on this tour, and tonight it’s the turn of Dingle natives Walking on Cars. They certainly aren’t here just to make up the numbers and it’s obvious from the response that they have a reasonable contingent of fans here themselves.
Opening with ‘Tick Tock’, bassist Paul Flannery contemplates “a bit of old crowdsurfin”, and given the packed crowd already, it would certainly be a reasonable option.
Singer Patrick Sheehy gives an impassioned performance and sets the high bar for the acts to follow.
Next up is a solo set from Bristol singer/songwriter George Ezra. It must be the most unassuming entrance I’ve ever seen from a singer - the welcoming whoops fade abruptly as some wonder if they're cheering an unusually well turned-out roadie.
The jaunty opener ‘Blame it on me’ soon sorts all that out. He relaxes into the gig and he’s quite a disarming stage presence, as he thanks Bastille’s sound technicians for stepping in for his sick tour companion and reveals his fear of losing his lone plectrum.
Armed with a single guitar, the plaintive qualities of songs like ‘Benjamin Twine’ and ‘Barcelona’ take the tempo down slightly, and while he never loses the audience, there is some audible chatter at times.
So he turns on the charm again to regale us with a story of the recording of ‘Leaving it up to You’, and warning us in advance that the choir he hired with the last of his recording budget will not be present for the chorus tonight.
Sure enough, after singing the chorus, he quips “Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the choir”. One big laugh later and the entire crowd are firmly back on side.
“Why didn’t you tell me I just had to talk to you?” he laughs, ending the set with the sublime ‘Budapest’ amid brave attempts by the Clonakilty faithful to sing those high notes.
As soon as Ezra exits the stage to some very appreciative hollers, the Bastille roadies descend with a distinct “right-now-how-are-we-going–to-manage-this” look about them.
One man and his acoustic guitar this ain’t, and it soon looks like a game of Tetris as various keyboards, drumpads and the like are shuffled around the compact stage.
They do an admirable job though and look on proudly as Bastille take to the stage soon after, carefully taking their positions.
Their music may lack the complexity and subtlety of many of their counterparts, but this is a band who know their sound from top to bottom and their canny pop edge has seen them sell albums in their millions.
Coupled with that, singer Dan Smith is an energetic live performer, with a charm and willingness to connect with his audience, prompting one female fan to ask “Can I have your hoodie?”
“Maybe later!” he quips.
He apologises for the “depressing” songs and works with the limited stage space admirably, pogoing furiously and even climbing on to the barrier to say hello to those of us watching from above.
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Excitement reaches fever pitch when Dan exits the stage to walk amongst the heaving crowd, inviting thrilled fans to sing a line or two.
‘Of the Night’ sees the tempo ratcheted up another notch before it all culminates in a rousing rendition of their breakthrough hit ‘Pompeii’.
Away from the sprawling city venues, gigs like this get bands to de-evolve for a night, get up close and personal and really reconnect with their fans. It must do them the world of good.
The fans certainly aren’t complaining, as they search for superlatives to describe what they’ve just experienced.
And that’s what projects like Guinness Amplify really bring to the table. I mean, where else could a punter in the crowd casually ask the lead singer of Bastille for his hoodie?
For more information on upcoming Guinness Amplify gigs, check out www.guinnessamplify.com