I swear the name Stephanie Rainey rings a bell for some reason… Oh wait, now it’s coming back to me, it’s probably the 4 shows I’ve seen her at this year so far and the three blog posts I’ve featured her on. If you want to check up on that three part series, here’s #1 with Little Hours twice, #2 with Dan Owen, and #3 with Tiz McNamara, which was her first headline of the year that I went to. So I guess you could say I’m quite a fan of her work. On August 16th, Stephanie Rainey announced that she would be supporting Hermitage Green in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin on September 22nd. I had begun to hear of Hermitage Green’s name due to seeing them on the line-up for Indiependence Festival and whatnot, but had not yet heard their music. What a tragic mistake I never knew I was making until that day. Already feeling the temptation of a trip up to Dublin to see Stephanie again after the FOMO had hit hard from not getting to Indiependence or Electric Picnic, I started listening to Hermitage Green to see if they interested me. Short answer: Yes they did. Long answer: HOLY CRAP YES THEY DID! I don’t know anymore how many times I’ve cursed myself this year already for only recently starting to crack into the depths of the music scene beyond the safe edges I had confined myself to beforehand, but this certainly added a big red flag in among the numbers of things I missed due to being so oblivious.
If we’re really going to get into the nitty gritty of this one and how special an occasion it’d be, then it’s time I rope in a special new character to The Merch Perch. So for this piece, let me introduce you to my Finnish friend Susanna! A friend from afar that I initially met when she did Au-Pairing in West Cork when I lived there, our most notable past achievement was when she introduced me to the TV series Sherlock and I binge-watched 18 hours in 3 days before the season 4 finale aired to catch it when it came out. Susanna has been an instrumental follower and sounding board for all things blog related and otherwise since the conception of this project of mine. Susanna currently resides and studies in Scotland, so you may be wondering how she could have anything to do with this post. Well that’s where things get interesting. After I wrote the blog series about Stephanie Rainey, her music really clicked with Susanna after she read it and checked her out, and she said she’d love to see her live some day. At the time a fanciful notion that didn’t necessarily imply any immediacy. That’s when the powerful force that is Hermitage Green comes thundering in. When Stephanie made her announcement, and I almost immediately got completely and utterly hooked on HG’s music, I simply had to share it. My brilliant friend Mihaela from the Summer Madness Part #1 blog post, long time returning character Christopher, and Susanna were the direct targets of my conversion process. Whatever bubble we all lived in, it was the first time for all of us to hear their music – But as with myself, it was hook line and sinker from the first listen. What had started as a fanciful temptation to go see Stephanie Rainey again was seeming all the more likely a reality.
Setting the plans into motion
It wasn’t until September that I managed to confirm that I could go ahead with the plan to travel to Dublin for the concert. It also just so happened to conveniently coincide with a point in time that I got a decent lump sum of money and started splashing mad cash on tickets for a selection of different shows from right now all the way through to February 2018, so yeah this blog is in for some right treats down the line. Christopher was unable to commit to the idea of going to the concert. Mihaela was on board immediately, with Hermitage Green quickly escalating to become one of her favourite bands. As her birthday had just passed, I bought her ticket for her. And then there’s the case of Susanna. Hermitage Green had the same level of impact upon her as well, and she was genuinely dancing the line of dropping mad cash and flying from a different country just for this concert. With a dainty little helping push from myself and the dangling of a free-ticket under her nose, the convincing was done: She would fly from Scotland to Ireland and back again for this show. Now that is commitment, in one action she overshadowed me at what I do best! At this point, I kept it as a surprise from Stephanie and co. that I’d be attending on the day. That said, in August before it was confirmed I may have spilled the beans of it being an idea in the works when I bumped into Gary Keane, their drummer, but that was far from a confirmation at the time.
The big day rolled around, but it did have it’s down points. Late unpredictable circumstances meant Mihaela had to pull out of the concert, so I had a spare ticket. I traveled up to Dublin by bus early enough in the day, and I was on a mission. My plan was to find a random person in Dublin to give the spare ticket to for free, and make their day. The premise sounded awesome and totally something I would love to do for someone. The approaching random people to do so became a whole lot more terrifying a prospect when I actually got there, though. Not that I didn’t try, but I certainly ended up being a tad more shy about it than I had pictured. As the day wore on I did build more and more nerve though, but to no avail. My attempts were lauded by those I did approach, but nobody I spoke to was up for the spontaneity of it enough to actually go for it. I tried buskers, charity workers like some young lads canvassing for Concern, and a whole host of people in the Dublin University open day that was going on. Eventually I just ended up at the ticket desk asking the lady behind the counter to give it for free to anyone who might come in looking for a ticket at this late stage. Last I checked she had not had anyone, but there was still time after that point so my hope is that I might’ve made someone’s day after all, I may never know. With doors opening at 7 PM, and Susanna due by bus near the Olympia Theatre by like 6:10 PM, the excitement was building. After watching a few of the buses that Susanna might’ve been due on pass without her on board, I did begin to worry slightly, but she did arrive at like half past 6 and all was grand. Last time I saw her was for one day in I believe March of this year, so to say it was a grand aul’ happy reunion is an understatement. We waited eagerly at the doors to the Olympia Theatre, somewhat surprised to be first in line. Peeking through the doors, we spotted Gary Keane, Sarah Power and Stephanie Rainey hanging about in the hallway with their backs to us, but they never spotted us before going back into the theatre.
I knew immediately that the alcove in the wall of the hallway we walked down as we entered the venue was going to be a merch counter, so I was already eagerly approaching. The first thing my eyes zoned in on and spotted, was not the ample selection of Hermitage Green Merch available, but the fact that STEPHANIE GOT MERCH! I had been dying for this moment since show one. When she brought out lyric sheets in June, I knew the merch journey had finally begun. This time, she had tote bags, and it was the first item I gleefully had placed on the counter. Opening my wallet with an un-clipping akin to that of the cracking of knuckles before getting into the nitty gritty of something, I began the acquisition. ‘I’ll take that shirt and that shirt and that CD and that CD, please’. Boom, two Hermitage Green shirts and two CD’s in my posession, hell yeah. Susanna got herself a tote bag and a shirt. Moving onwards, as one of the first to enter we got given green wristbands which guaranteed us access to the very front pit area, which was just what we were after. We nabbed ourselves a slot right against the barrier, and waited for the very precise starting time of Stephanie Rainey at 7:55PM.
Stephanie Rainey Show #5
As this was the biggest stage I was going to see Stephanie Rainey on yet, I was well elated for the evening ahead. The first thing I noted was that Sarah Power on keys was on the left side of the stage pretty much right in front of me and Susanna, and Gary Keane on drums was on the right side of the stage, and that’s usually in reverse. Solidly taking up the middle as always was Stephanie Rainey with her acoustic guitar, wearing her kick-ass black and white stripe matching suit jacket and suit pants that seems to have become a bit of a staple to her performing attire since she rocked Electric Picnic in it as well. As ever, the amazing trio played a fantastic set, with the classics of a Stephanie Rainey performance making it onto the set list for the night. She was introducing her song ‘Second Hand Love’, which in summary is about loving someone that is in love with someone else and how that person will always have more of their attention than you, when she quipped that because she was supporting Hermitage Green the connection with the audience to herself would be much the same. Ouch, I felt that one for them, joke though it may have been. The crowd certainly were attentive and responsive and loving her music and it was an ever amazing experience. Now, I’ve been waiting for quite some time for news of what’s in store for Stephanie Rainey for the end portion of the year, as it’s only been a matter of time with the year she’s had that some form of headline tour would come up. She did announce on stage right there and then a headline show she would be having in the upstairs room of the infamous venue Whelan’s in Dublin in November, which was certainly a great indication that similar announcements of Cork and other shows in the same kind of timeline were likely on the way. Indeed, they have just been made during the writing of this post! Stephanie shall be playing Upstairs of Dolan’s in Limerick on Nov. 16th, Cyprus Avenue Cork on Nov. 26th and Upstairs of Whelan’s in Dublin on Nov. 29th. Tickets are on sale tomorrow (Friday), and I know I’m gonna be on that straight up.
Oh. My. God. How do I even begin to capture this night, ranking any of my experiences this year would be tough as it’s absolutely been the best year of my life, but this would definitely be right up there among the top of them. It was apparent from the very first song that this would be an absolutely glorious night, as they opened with the high energy crowd lifter that is their song ‘Golden Rule’, setting the tone very early on. It’s also an incredible song to watch played live, as a band known for their use of an eclectic mix of unique and interesting instruments, this one is right up there with Dan Murphy at the front playing the Dobro. On the topic of band members, here’s a quick run-down: Dan Murphy – Vocals, Guitar, Dobro, Harmonica. | Barry Murphy – Vocals, Bass. | Dermot Sheedy – Bodhrán & Drums. | Darragh Griffin – Vocals, Guitar, and also primary Song-Writer. | Darragh Graham – Banjo, Djembe, Backing Vocals. It was early in the set, a couple of songs in, when one of the extraordinary moments that made the evening special occurred. As Dan Murphy was playing harmonica on stage he came right to the front of the stage on our end, standing out on the edge and playing out from there. But then suddenly he hops down from the stage, comes right up to the barrier, and is playing harmonica and singing directly in front of Susanna and some awe-struck girls next to her as well, pretty much serenading them. At this point Susanna said the flights over for the concert had definitely been worth it, and couldn’t stop thanking me for convincing her to make the trip.
Moving further into the set, the band brought out their song ‘Magnificent’, with Barry Murphy first giving an introduction going into the song. He spoke of how the song has very deep meaning for them as when they played it the year prior, they dedicated it in the memory of one of his good friends who had passed shortly before the performance. In a revelation that stirred the emotions of everyone in attendance, he told us that he had unfortunately had to bury another friend of his, Pat Geraghty of Munster Rugby fame, just the day before this concert, and thus extended the sentiment behind it in dedication to him as well. What followed was a hauntingly beautiful rendition of the song brimming with a genuine rawness and emotion that was simply awing to watch.
Later when they reached the mid-show portion of the night, the band vacated the stage with the exception of Dermot Sheedy. Equipped with his Bodhrán, Dermot put on an absolute master class display of his insane talents with the instrument that has in the past won him an incredible 7 all Ireland titles. It was pure percussion brilliance, which was then stepped up a notch when Darragh Graham came out to join him by playing the Djembe. They worked off of each other to create an awesome back and forth between them and their respective percussion instruments. The light-work during all of this was on point as well, masterfully tracking and highlighting everything that was going on. Dermot went back to the drum-set and they continued their back and forth from opposite sides of the stage, the lights creating an epic visual division with Darragh on the left being flashed by bright blue-white light and Dermot on the right being flashed in bright orange light. All this culminated in the big climax, to which the rest of the band re-emerged.
Continuing on, the band continued with a fantastic set which they closed out with a brilliant performance of their song Gibson. Of course, with some obvious choices for the set not yet played, there was no question of there being an encore. When the band came back out, it was not to the stage, but on the balcony seat area above us to the left in which they stood. Explaining the situation, Dan Murphy said that they required absolute silence from the audience for this next part, as they intended to do a completely A Capella song to the theatre called ‘The Kerosene Light’. At first attempt, someone actually had the audacity to heckle them, but of course the person was quickly shut down, and the band got going and the result was a spine-tingling, absolutely beautiful song that flowed through the theatre even without their mics. I’ll include the video the lads made and a snippet from the live performance I recorded below.
Hermitage Green confirmed on this evening as well that they have a new EP coming out on October 20th entitled ‘Gold & Rust’ (Dan announced it as Rust & Gold and was immediately corrected by the rest of the band, classic moment). The first song to be released from the album a few weeks prior to the performance was the incredible tune Lion’s Share. Fun fact, Lion’s share was co-written and produced by none other than Gary Keane, so hon the Gary! An upbeat anthem of a song, they brought it out to get the place absolutely rocking. Featuring the use of a Didgeridoo by Darragh Graham, and also the surprise appearance of them bringing Gary Keane out to play the Acoustic Guitar along with them for the song, it was yet another piece that came together to make this evening as a whole very special to take part in.
After Lion’s Share, there was just one more song for the band to play, and that was Save Your Soul. Threatening to tear the roof off the theatre with the noise they were making for the crowd, it was the perfect ending to the evening. And that is where I failed horrendously. I’ve constantly been banging on about one day catching a drum-stick that is thrown out into the crowd after a concert like this, having had no success at concerts such as Walking on Cars and Greenday. This time I was in prime position, and the drummer came forward as the band converged on center stage to bask in the roaring appreciation from the audience. He had his drum sticks at the ready, and I realized it was my moment. As the stick left his hand, the trajectory seemed perfect. Right above me, slightly to the left, so I launched myself up into the air to grab the stick and felt the contact of it in the fingers of my left hand – Whereupon it bounced as I closed my fist and ricocheted into the hands of some girl standing behind me. I was devastated to say the least, if only I had a better left-hand catch.
After the Concert
Me and Susanna left the venue in a completely elated state, delirious from how awesome an evening we’d had. On the way out, we passed the merch counter and Susanna was on the edge of deciding to purchase their first CD from their live album ‘Live at Whelans’. I made the decision for her to escape the indecision and plopped the money on the counter and made her take the CD. After waiting outside for a while, we realized there was a side door stage exit around the side of the building, and we went around. There, we met Stephanie Rainey, Sarah Power & Gary Keane and had a grand aul’ time. They were delighted with my efforts in making it to Dublin and dragging someone from another country to come along too, I suspect it defied belief of the impact they’d imagined having. Interestingly enough, I was telling Stephanie and co. a little bit about my absurd luck at times in the past with the occasional purchase of a scratch card or lotto ticket (Particularly prevalent in the week in question, as I entered a work syndicate of the lotto for the first time for €2, which won decently enough that we each earned €200 individually in return). Their automatic response was to rub my shoulder for good luck. After leaving their presence and going for food (Burrito’s in a Mexican food place), I checked the results of a ticket I had for that evenings draw, and funnily enough bagged myself a neat €8 which I thought was pretty funny, even if the win itself wasn’t overly impressive; it did back up my point quite well.
With food out of the way, it was too late for me to get the midnight bus back to Cork (I should probably mention I had work the next morning, I’m a nutcase), so we walked to the stop for me to catch the last bus of the night at 1 AM. With time to spare and a pub next to the bus stop, we wandered inside – What a wonderful decision that was. For a reunion that lasted just about 6 and a half hours, such an amazing time was had, and it was a really fitting way to finish Susanna’s one evening back in Ireland to walk into a pub with a pure Irish duo playing some music. They had the pub going wild for classics such as ‘Fields of Athenry’, and their renditions of songs such as ‘Amarillo’ and ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’. Washing it down with a pint of Guinness, Susanna who had been quoted earlier as almost not believing she was even in Dublin, had no way to deny the Irish-ness of her experience after that. I caught my bus back to Cork, made it to bed for 4:30 AM, and championed my way through work the morning after and even made it late into the following night for a work function of a coworkers retirement, somehow still standing so I was. Susanna spent the night in Dublin Airport emotionally attached to the music videos of Stephanie Rainey and Hermitage Green, before flying back to Scotland at the crack of dawn.
Hermitage Green are playing Cork Opera House soon on October 19th, with support from none other than Stephanie Rainey again, and I’m going to be there and this time Mihaela will be able to make it too! Funnily enough, she’s now based in Dublin so I continue the trend of dragging people far and wide for these things. It’s sure to be another awesome evening, I believe there’s still a few tickets left as well if you’re considering it! That’s all for now anyway, sorry for a long ass read, if you made it this far, congratulations. And remember, keep on Merchin’!