There’s plenty going on in Northern Ireland at the minute, it’s on the news, in the papers and it’s not all good. However, in a music scene that just about a decade ago was dead on its feet there are a number of bands rising up through the ranks and making a splash here in the UK. It’s not all doom and gloom in the top right corner of the Emerald Isle.
In our last piece detailing the antics of troubadours across the water, Ryan Mcmurtry rightly points to Malojian as one of the big hitters but there’s plenty more to see when you dodge the petrol bombs and rogue protesters. While this is far from exhaustive the following is based on my having seen these bands live or at the very least being pretty familiar with their recorded material.
N.I. based music forums have frequent threads about cliques in the scene, with popular bands denying any such thing and those feeling left out throwing accusations around like it was national throwing shit around day. I’m aiming to ignore both prejudices and recommend bands without bias. Someone’s going to have a problem with it somewhere, take it up with the site’s editors. They’re nice guys.
So, your starter for ten and in no particular order:
More Than Conquerors: This quartet have just released an album on NI label Smalltown America Records. They’ve been compared to the likes of Twin Atlantic and Biffy Clyro but while there are similarities, the band are far from being a regurgitation of their influences. Intelligent poppy hooks are complimented by gritty guitar work and some powerful drumming to achieve a nice balance between catchy and chaos.
The Dead Presidents: Yeah I’m not a massive fan of the name either, it’s a bit of a tired punk throwback and with the talent in the band you’d like to think something more original was possible. When you get past this foible the music is little short of inspired. I’ve been watching these guys progress for the last few years since their inception. Frontman Matt Wilson began on bass in a blues/funk power trio and as chief song writer and focal point fell foul of lazy comparisons with Phil Lynott. The music was solid with potential but nothing to write home about. Handing bass duties over to Joe McQuillan and recruiting a brass section allowed Wilson and guitarist Tom Downey to excel both in writing and performance. Step forward a beautiful blend of soul, blues, funk and rock with comparisons to the Commitments more of a compliment to Alan Parker’s fictional group than this Northern Irish powerhouse.
Sweet Taste: Sticking with the heavier end of things this traditional rock quartet are making moves into England with a summer tour this year and more recordings to come. Like the Dead Presidents, it’s taken them a year or two to really nail their sound, but what’s developed over that time is reminiscent of early Aerosmith and at times the Black Crowes. Vocalist Niall Graham exudes confidence and could give one Captain Jack Sparrow a run for his money on suaveness, while lead guitarist Christopher Seaton and bassist Mark Russell keep things rolling. They’ve just signed to Rocksector Records in the UK so expect to see much more of them in the coming year.
Stillpoint: This Belfast trio make up for their lack of numbers with sheer balls and enthusiasm. Every live show is a sweaty mess and someone will often end up shirtless at least. There’s a bit of Biffy Clyro in there but not sold out Machines Biffy Clyro….more Vertigo of Bliss with a bit of Puzzle. That said, they’re much more than a second coming of the Scottish rockers and have combined a plethora of influences and experiences to create a truly great sound live and in the studio. Top lyric in recent track “I Know What A Monster Looks Like” and often the source of mid gig ad-lib banter between band and crowd has to be “You can all get fucked for all that I care.” About as eloquent as it sounds.
They recorded in the same place as Snow Patrol and General Fiasco, but don’t hold that against them….even the best producers have bills to pay.
Axis Of: Punk/metal trio who never fail to disappoint, especially if you’re expecting unpronounceable song titles. Single ‘Brobdingnagian’ from debut album Finding St. Kilda takes the biscuit (with Port na Spaniagh a close second for non-Irish speakers) and epitomizes their no nonsense attitude. It’s aggression with a conscience though as the group often write about environmental issues and societal problems (without sounding as ridiculous as this sentence of course) and frequently take part in any fund raising gigs. Highly recommended for anyone who likes jumping about to loud music and shouting a lot.
SOAK: Something of a curveball here but SOAK has been getting massive media attention, not least as part of the Derry City of Culture events and appearances on primetime BBC radio, as well as Introducing shows. She’s not even old enough to get into some of the places she’s been selling out, but there’s a maturity to her song writing that some of the greats would envy. Her command of guitar and voice is at the same time disarming and engaging, while even over radio waves the listener can’t help but be drawn in to the experience. Scarily talented for her age.
A Plastic Rose: Bit of a cheat with these guys as they’ve recently moved to Nottingham to enable easier access to gigs in London and around the UK. They’ve also been getting a fair amount of attention from Radio 1, not least from local lad Philly Taggart who definitely doesn’t know them or anything…
They have a great live sound with Gerry Norman and Ian McHugh sharing vocals and guitar duties. Despite jokingly describing themselves as “converse-gaze” which I suppose combines elements of shoe-gaze and general indie-ness there’s much more to it than that. Norman and McHugh have the enviable gift of being able to write great hooks and songs that not only invite, but urge any crowd to sing back at them. Debut album ‘Camera Shutter Life’ got decent reviews and standout track Kids Don’t Behave Like This extensive radio play.
Robyn G Shiels: Again on the solo artist line, this guy seems to have been about the Irish music scene for a while and is consistently putting out some great music. At times reminiscent of Tom Waits in his unique voice, cutting lyrics and minimalist approach but with an eclectic enough sound, leaning towards something I’ve been told is called “alt country” * to be able to appeal to almost any taste.
Honourable mentions go to:
Lipstick Lizards / Petty Youth / Operator Habit: This is a potent triumvirate of acts from County Down brothers Alex and Eoghan Johnson. Between them they’ve explored classic rock, blues, reggae, jazz, punk, dubstep and probably plenty in between. A hotbed of creativity, following these guys on their Soundclouds and other social media will keep the most varied musical tastes happy.
Left Undercover: Angsty pop punk with an unmistakably Irish twist in the lyrics. It’s early days for these guys, but they’re showing early signs of progress and with a second EP due to be recorded 2014 could be their year.
Visceral Attack: Thrashy punk me(n)tal from Fermanagh who have been touring with thrash big boys Gama Bomb. With most songs racking up less than two minutes on the old stopwatch their style is best summed up by their debut album title: ‘Quick and Severe.’ It’s a bit irreverent, sometimes inflammatory and often scathing of politics, but who doesn’t want that now and again?
The Sun Shadows: Modern twist of 60s Beatles style and Weller infused Brit-pop. Like Left Undercover, it’s early days but with recording time booked with one of the country’s top producers fans will soon have something to get their teeth into between gigs.
Pocket Billiards: Brilliantly named and something of an enigma (to the extent that I’m not even sure they still exist) as Northern Ireland’s one and only Ska Punk nine piece band. They live up to every kind of expectation you could ever have and blend the chaos of the Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, The Clash among others into a package that’s simply great fun to witness.
*Whatever that means.