It's been a roller coaster ride. The bands gave everything they had in venues all over Ireland. There was heartbreak. There was joy. There was vindication. There was more music. Another round. And then, we were down to a small few. A brilliant few.

Guinness Our Thursdays. The river of sound continues on – to Arthur's Day, where many of the bands and artists who participated in the celebratory joust will play in pubs and venues throughout the country. But, as we write, there is still a final play involving four superb bands, in a special Guinness Our Thursdays showcase at Lavery's in Belfast– the ultimate opportunity to claim the honour of playing alongside Snow Patrol on the biggest stage at Arthur's Day. Four acts. Each very different. Each of whom has impressed the judges hugely in their own right during the course of the event. Each having the potential to go on to become international stars. Each for whom the endorsement of the judging panel that will decide who plays alongside Snow Patrol could be a career-defining moment.

Four acts. In alphabetical order: Empire Saints, Maud In Cahoots, Dave Peyton, Reko. The hour is at hand. They have all been carefully chosen. But who will win the ultimate accolade? Who will line up alongside Snow Patrol? Who will secure the digital release of a single with support from Universal Music?

To celebrate the achievement of all four bands in making it this far, Hot Press has produced four special Hot Press flip covers this issue. By now, you have one of them in your hands. There are three others out there. For each of the four acts, it is their first ever cover story. Thus, it is a momentous occasion. It is a time for congratulations. It is time for a hearty: cheers!

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