It’s fair to say that the music scene in the Irish Republic has always been distinct from that in the UK. It’s not uncommon for bands to be massive, having Number One hits in Ireland while being unknown in the UK and that’ s the way it is with Keywest. They’ve had two Number One albums in Ireland already and now they’re out to conquer the UK with their first album release here, “Ordinary Superhero”. It’s fair to say that in (fairly) recent years, bands taking this route have been aimed at the teen market and the pop charts; while Keywest have some radio-friendly tunes, there’s a lot more to this outfit than pop songs.

They got together busking in Ireland, honing their craft in front of a constantly changing audience on the streets; it’s a harsh learning environment, but the survivors have to be good and they have to know how to hold an audience. I’ve seen Keywest live a couple of times and I know for sure that they’ve achieved both of those goals. It was a live performance in Camden in 2018 that led Steve Tannett, head of Marshall Records to sign them to the label in the UK.

“Ordinary Superhero” is a pretty good representation of where the band is at the moment. They’ve taken all the lessons learned from playing to audiences whose attention they had to grab instantly and created ten songs that fuse influences from pop, folk, rock, Celtic traditional and world music rhythms. The arrangements are built around big choruses and an effective use of dynamics with some Edge-style guitar parts (U2 had to get in there somehow) and emotive Andy Glover vocals, creating a wide soundscape with constant variations.

If you’re looking for standout songs, the floor tom-driven opener “Somebody to Love” with Big Country (or maybe Bryan Adams) guitar hooks is right up there. The title song praises mothers bringing up families in dire social conditions; it’s about an Irish mother, but the message is universal. “This is Heartbreak” features a standout vocal performance, pulling out every nuance of the immediate impact of a broken relationship perfectly.

Just one more thing. The album’s packed with great songs and performances, but it’s not the best way to get the Keywest experience. To get the best from Keywest, you need to see them live. They’re touring the UK in October to promote the album and the live experience is just something else.

“Ordinary Superhero” is released in the UK on Friday September 27th on Marshall Records (CD – R910.022, Vinyl – R920.009).

Abbe and Hannah ScrollerOK, I’ll admit it, I have gone on a bit about Sound of the Sirens this year but I think events have proved me right. I was absolutely blown away the first time saw Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood supporting Mad Dog Mcrea at the famous Half Moon in Putney. Since then they’ve had a stratospheric rise which saw them play at Carfest South and appear live on the first edition of the revived TFI Friday, so I was really chuffed when they agreed to do something for this year’s High Fives. I should say that they’re lovely people (and that includes Johnny Wood as well) and I wish them all the best for 2016. Thanks once again, Abbe and Hannah for sharing this insight into the world of Sound of the Sirens.

CarfestCarfest South

We arrive at the services with extra wide smiles and sit for a second to take in the full extent of what has just happened. People in the car park double take when looking at the car and we sit inside with the cheesiest grins. We don’t look like the owners of this vehicle… we look like we’ve stolen it. We are sat in a top of the range brand new Land Rover Discovery and the usual battered van is long gone…..for the day. It’s a Sunday morning in August and we have just played Carfest South to a crowd of 20,000 and we are in a complete daze of disbelief that this is now a memory of ours. It happened! Sunday morning sees us packing up to leave the beautiful Surrey countryside and head back south to Somerset for the lovely Watchet festival. Chris (Evans) suggests we head back to Carfest for the night after the gig but the van will never make the journey on time. ‘Do you want to borrow one of my cars instead?’ So here we are at the services smiling and laughing at how strange and fun life can be.

Ben HowardWrong continent or incontinent

It’s January 2015 and I (Abbe) book tickets to see Ben Howard on his last European gig of his tour. He is playing in St Petersburg and I have always wanted to go. This is the perfect trip. In the mad panic of Christmas and sorting visas, I never once double-check the venue location. On arrival in Russia I discover that he playing the first date of his American tour. It is then that I discover there are 2 St Petersburgs and I am in Russia and he is in America. I am on the wrong continent! This gives our friends back in England fuel to tease for me life and one in particular tweets Ben Howard to tell him about my faux pas.

It’s now February and we have just played a gig in Birmingham and we are heading back to Devon. Johnny (driver, roadie, all round sirens organiser) pulls into the services and we all bundle out together as Hannah announces what percentage she needs a wee. This is a normal soundtrack to our drives. 20% is ok but 97% is a bad situation. We are all on a high 80% when I get a message sent through with a link to a video where Ben Howard is laughing at the St Petersburg disaster. Well, he laughs and then calls us ‘******** idiots!’ Totally fair though. As I am watching the video and following the corridor through the services I wander into the wrong toilets look up and scream as I disturb Johnny. My screams echo round the services as Hannah’s laugh erupts from the ladies next door. Bad times!

GordanoDrug mule

It’s April 2015 and we are sat in the Bristol Gordano services and Han is in need of a hot chocolate and a hug. We have been waiting at the airport for hours whilst she is detained by the police. We have just played at the Frankfurt Messe working alongside Elixir Strings and Freshman guitars and have flown home excited and full of stories to share. We step off the plane and through passport control when I realise Han is no longer behind me. A commotion breaks out ‘I can’t find my passport Ab’. My heart sinks. I should let you know that Hannah is a ‘loser’(Not an insult, Hannah loses things – AM). So ….. she can not come back in the country and the police chat to her. She has left her passport on the seat of the plane but they can not find it. Unfortunately at that point a flight comes in from Amsterdam and hundreds of people assume Han is a drug smuggler. More bad times! We are eventually let back in after they realise she is English and not a mule.


We have arrived at the services for a strong coffee to ease the self-inflicted ache in our brains at an overload of excitement . It’s a Saturday morning in October and we are electric with energy as we have played live on TFI Friday the night before. Our slot was set between the mighty U2 and Take That and endless messages are pouring in from the lovely people we’ve acquired on our musical journey and each one puts a smile on our face. As we arrive at the services one message comes through from a friend to tell us that we are 20 in the ITunes chart and it just keeps rising as the day continues. I don’t think the services have heard a scream like ours before.

Motorway foodToo many choices

We have just finished supporting Mad Dog McRea on their tour and we are heading back to Devon eagerly awaiting the services sign on the side of the motorway. This was it. We had found the perfect services. We all piled out like animals at feeding time. You should know we base our day around mealtimes and we take it very seriously. This services had everything to offer. There was a vast selection of different places to eat and we all set off in different directions to get food. However, we kept meeting each other in different queues heading to the front and then changing our minds and joining the back of other queues. We were all in a fluster that we would make the wrong choice on our food and worried that food envy would set in and so nothing was achieved. We all needed time out from all the choice on offer. This services was too good and we were not prepared for such decision making. We have since stuck to simple services as we fear the larger ones that offer too much. We are small town girls and the big services are just too confusing.


Review TitleIt’s the hottest July day in recorded history and I’ve chosen to spend ninety minutes on public transport to get to Islington to watch new bands play in a room that’s blacker than a politician’s heart; it could get warm. Thankfully, Upstairs at the Garage is air-conditioned. I’ve been invited along to see Jupe, a group of guys from Dublin, but I’m looking forward to watching all of the bands because it’s always (okay, usually) good to see and hear new bands.

So, a little bit about Jupe then. Well they’re from Dublin and after nine years, their line-up has stabilised at Tim Night (vocal and occasional guitar), Brendon Rennie (drums), Jeff O’Callaghan (keyboards), Kevin Rowe (guitar) and Voodoo Jonesy (bass). Musically they fuse together three strands of popular music to create something powerful and unique. There’s the impassioned, earnest rock (start with The Script and work your way back to U2), dance bass and keyboard sounds and a bit of pure boy band melodic pop. The sound they create is huge and they know how to write a massive, infectious chorus; they’re seriously good musicians writing and playing classy pop tunes and their onstage enthusiasm is totally contagious. They even had followers of the other bands on the bill bouncing up and down, and that doesn’t happen too often at showcase gigs.

And it wasn’t just Jupe that caught the attention. LUME, kicked the evening off with a power-trio set that was listenable and watchable; Henry Mata (guitar/vocal), Alex Holmes (bass/vocals) and Nelson Baia (drums/vocals) have some great songs which move from alternative towards prog territory; there’s probably even a hint of Muse in there as well. I’d certainly go and see them again.

Paper Circus are from East London and had the unenviable task of following a storming set from Jupe, but Alan Shaller (guitar/vocals), Kevin Curran (drums), Sara Shevlin (guitar) and Mickael Blanchet (bass) were up to the challenge with a bit of help from their faithful following. The musical styling was indie/alternative with strong songs and a powerful live performance; this is another band that I’ll be watching out for in future. Top night.

The new Jupe single “Rocket” is out on August 3.


Maura and Pete at Kings Place (Photo by Allan McKay)

Very occasionally you go to a gig expecting to see a good show and you actually see a brilliant show; The Kennedys at Kings Place was one of those nights.  The venue is in a fairly new building behind Kings Cross Station and all of the staff make a real effort to ensure that the audience have a good time; that’s important, but it’s a very small part of tonight’s story.

I feel really guilty that I only heard of The Kennedys for the first time a few weeks ago when they’ve been writing and playing great songs for so long.  I reviewed the latest album “Closer than You Know” this week and it’s a great album which you should all have in your collection but, after tonight’s show, I think any true music fan should at least have a copy of their greatest hits package “Retrospective” in their collection as well.

The Kennedys live show is a perfect blend of musical talents; Pete is an incredibly good guitar player (more about that later) who also adds vocal harmonies to the mix while Maura is great country/folk/pop singer who is also a great rhythm guitar player, and that matters when it’s just two people, two guitars and two microphones up there.  Truly exceptional songs are the ones which stand up when you tear away all the layers of studio production and there were an awful lot of songs standing proud at this show.

Apart from the musicianship, which is exceptional, there are a lot of things to admire about The Kennedys.  They are very generous in their support for fellow songwriters, giving the audience some background (and usually a little anecdote) for most of their cover versions.  They engage with the audience, both on and off stage, and each one allows the other space to shine.  So, I’m guessing you might want to hear what they actually did.

The set started with a few old favourites featured on “Retrospective”, including “Life is Large”, “Breathe”, “Midnight Ghost” and “9th Street Billy”.  Each of the songs is given a spoken introduction to help give it a context in the show and to help build a rapport between the performers and the audience and this, combined with The Kennedys willingness to play requests, gives the evening the feel of a house party hosted by some very talented friends.  It certainly creates an intimate atmosphere.

The tour is partly in support of the recent (excellent) album, “Closer than You Know” and about half of the songs from the album are featured, including “Cradle to a Boat”, “I’ll Come Over”, “Marina Dream”, “Big Star Song” (thanks guys) and the U2 cover “Wild Honey”.  All of these songs shine in their stripped-down live arrangements and stand up well in comparison with the songs they perform by other songwriters such as Nanci Griffith (“Trouble in the Fields”), Dave Carter (“When I Go”) and John Stewart (“Jasmine”).  Pete and Maura are always generous in their praise for their fellow-writers and performers.

I might have mentioned that Pete is an incredibly good guitar player; his playing throughout is superb, but particularly during his solo instrumental pieces. Tonight he played a jazzy version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, a contemporary setting of the Bach piece “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” (with harmonics and fret-tapping, no less) and a version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” played on an Ovation ukulele which left me speechless and, trust me, that doesn’t happen often.

So add in the traditional English balled “Matty Groves” and the obligatory “Eight Miles High” and that’s just about it for the two sets apart from the anthemic, and very timely plea for tolerance and diversity, “Stand”. 

The Kennedys are very accomplished musicians who are completely comfortable with their performance and happy to mix with their audience during the intermission and after the show; they really deserve to be seen by a much wider audience.  This tour continues until Thursday 06 June, so you still have a chance to check them out.  You won’t regret it.