It’s my first gig of the year and while initially only attending the event as a faithful gig-goer I am so impressed by the end of the evening I decide to put together a review. Starting off my 2019 by attending one of my favourite musical venues, Belfast’s ‘The Empire’ there is a palpable buzz. The crowd gathered all drawn to see an amazing line-up of female led talent featuring Jess Edlin, Gemma Bradley, Reevah and for their very first show Problem Patterns. Organised by Shizznigh Promotion’s, Jonny McKee, Gifted has deservedly earned its reputation as one of Belfast’s prominent gig nights.
After a substantial crowd had gathered Jess Edlin opens the evening, my first time seeing her perform. There are definite hints of nervousness as she begins which is understandable giving the quietness of the room. The contemporary singer songwriter seems to find her stride and along with a grungy guitar we are treated to a very fragile and delicate vocal. Edlin has a charming vulnerability to her performance and provides an enjoyable start to the evening.
Songstress Gemma Bradley is next to the Empire stage bringing her eclectic fusion of RnB and pop. Having already built a remarkable repertoire Bradley’s aptitude to coin soul baring pop songs has helped influence her ever growing following. Performing her most recent single ‘Hollow Heartbeat’ it was impossible not to nod my head to the enchantingly catchy and pop-soaked tune. Often with some singer-songwriters their set can become a little lacklustre however Bradley possesses enough power as a performer to keep the audience constantly engaged.
Dreamy folk singer Reevah is up next, taking her place on the Empire stage and beginning her set with just herself. Performing new song ‘Bee’s’ the delicate vocal delivery exposes a darkness and despair to some of her lyrics and is tinged with a sweet melancholy. Joined for the second half of her set by her band the extra additions give another level of depth to Reevah’s songs. Accompanied by her band ‘Nights’ is a palliative and immersive song with an entrancing and calming melody. Whether Reevah is performing solo or accompanied by her band she maintains the ability to hold the audience in the palm of her hand.
Finally, for their very first performance five-piece feminist punk outfit Problem Patterns are ready to show us what they are all about. There is a huge surge in energy in ‘The Empire’ with the group having a considerable crowd of supporters who occupy the front of the stage. Originally forming as part of Girls Rock School NI, there had been talk for them to write originals for the better part of a year. Finally, in Autumn 2018, they got it together, and haven’t stopped screaming since.
Performing their debut track ‘Allegedly’ the song is a formidably charged and derisive reproach against a society that has become tolerant to sexual assault and even more powerful live. Sometimes amid uncertainty a band like Problem Patterns come along who are not only able to soliloquise certain issues but make you feel like change is possible. What also makes this group so interesting aside from their topical lyricism is the fact they do not have a clear front-woman but instead switch roles and instruments making it an exhilarating watch. Setting the bar for their future performances insanely high, Problem Patterns debut gig was an overwhelming success for a band at any stage of their career.
Announcing their brand-new name, Derry based trio Sugarwolf are rapidly building anticipation and intrigue around upcoming shows. Rising from the ashes of former band Making Monsters the band have returned with a new name, sound and attitude. Originally formed in 2011 the band navigated their way through several line-up changes before finding success both locally and throughout the UK.
No strangers to the DIY graft of the Irish and UK rock scenes, Sugarwolf previously released all their music independently. Juxtaposing the two sides of their new distinctive sound, Sugarwolf, represents both the rock-oriented side as well as having a melodic and pop base. Led by front woman Emma Gallagher the band previously secured a reputation as one of Ireland’s most exciting rock outfits and plan to continue to do so.
Following a multitude of successful releases, they received extensive airplay on BBC Radio One, Across the Line, Kerrang Radio and others. In support of their last record ‘Bad Blood’ in 2016 the band performed at Camden Rocks Festival in London and the BBC Introducing Stage at T in The Park. Sharing the stage with the likes of Black Peaks, Young Guns, Fightstar, We Came As Romans, andSkindred helped earn the band the reputation as one of the best live acts in Ireland.
Before going on hiatus their last E.P ‘Bad Blood’ surpassed all expectation, receiving gushing praise from the likes of BBC Radio 1, Kerrang! Magazine, Rock Sound, Metal Hammer, Team Rock, Scuzz TV and many more. With debut single ‘Better’ picking up spins from Daniel P Carter and Phil Taggart with their video also being to the main playlists for both Kerrang! TV and Scuzz TV.
Sugarwolf are set to release their brand-new single at the beginning of 2019 accompanied by an even bigger and better live sound and set-up.
Fresh from supporting Welsh rockers ‘Feeder’, Donegal six piece ‘Don’t Fear the Natives’ have released their debut E.P ‘Stupid Heart’. After initially performing and releasing music as duo ‘Palomino’, singer Claire McDaid and guitarist Denis Kelly wanted to expand their live performance. Eventually progressing into a full band with the addition of extra members ‘Don’t Fear the Natives’ is the next chapter in their musical journey. Along with their enhanced line-up the band officially launched ‘Stupid Heart’ at the Buncrana Music Festival in June and have slowly built momentum with several shows.
Opening their E.P with title track ‘Stupid Heart’ singer Claire McDaid takes the lead with an impassioned vocal. Exploring the anguish of a broken heart throughout the song the lyrics seem to touch on personal experience. As the song progresses McDaid’s vocals are supported by a flurry of soaring guitars adding an angsty feel to the alt-rock track. Taking a change in pace with a softer more delicate guitar ‘This Tide Will Turn’ is a wistful and contemplative song.
‘Just Talk to Me’ is again a gentler track by the Natives with thoughtful lyrics as each song has explored the tenuousness of relationships and the varying emotions you experience through them. Completing the E.P with ‘Another Lonely Day’ the song which was premiered on Electric Mainline with Stephen McCauley is a melancholic and melodic track for the band to end their first full release. Showcasing their range of diverse influences throughout ‘Don’t Fear the Natives’ demonstrate how they can move from a full bodied alt-rock to a more tender relaxed sound. The ‘Stupid Heart’ E.P is a substantial offering for a debut and leaves room for the band to continue to grow for future releases.
‘Stupid Heart’ will be available from all digital stores from the 27th of July
Rebel rousers, ‘The Wood Burning Savages’, released their highly anticipated album ‘Stability’ to the world on Friday the 27th of April. Persistent purveyors of punk since 2013 the band have become a relentless force of energy on the music scene. ‘Stability’ which was produced by Rocky O’Reilly in Start Together Studios, Belfast, is the band’s first full length album and follows a string of single releases.
Opening title song ‘Stability’ is short in stretch but ferocious in nature and at just over two minutes is a sharp starting track. Bass player Dan Acheson drives the song along with lead singer Paul Connolly’s use of the words security and stability making it evidently clear the bands gritty political agenda for the rest of the album.
The anthemic ‘I Don’t Know Why I do it to Myself’ is a stark observation about the terrifyingly high rate of suicide in the Savages own hometown of Derry. Despite it’s serious nature it’s fast paced and funky while showcasing the bands ability to create stadium sized songs. ‘Purple Heart’ explores post-traumatic stress disorder and elicits a similar sentiment to other album tracks articulated through Connolly’s expressive lyrics.
‘Living Hell’ is fast and furious with a fierce riot of relentless guitars and pounding drums and one of the most intense songs on the album. Closing track ‘Freedom of Movement’ starts slow and builds in emotion and momentum. The anger and frustration in Connolly’s voice is clear as he cries “Freedom of movement well I don’t think that’s what she meant”. Capturing perfectly the unease and apprehension facing all of us in light of Brexit it is a strong and poignant track to end their album.
Passionate about inflicting real change through their music ‘The Wood Burning Savages’ album is ten-tracks of fury, anxiety, angst and rage. Attempting to not only challenge various establishments but provoke movement among one another ‘Stability’ has provided fans with their very own WBS manifesto. While the message and themes remain wholly the same there is enough variation throughout to keep fans listening. A triumphant debut album, ‘Stability’, is bursting with recognisable political reflections preformed with musical and lyrical conviction.
Derry based band Susie Blue have released their highly anticipated album, ‘Didn’t Mean to Care’. The album is a carefully crafted collection of songs which the band has been writing and playing over the past few years. The self- reflective title ‘Didn’t Mean to Care is an ode to lead singer Susan’s teenage years after coming out. Chronicling her past relationships, both bad and good, the ten tracks have come together to make a refreshingly pop centered album.
After an astonishingly successful 2017 with numerous festival appearances including Glastonbury, the quartet are on track to out-do themselves with the release of their debut album. Opening the album with ‘Lisbeth’ the song is a strong indie rock track with a certain gravitas in the lyrics as Susie sings ‘I’m not asking you to die for me, only asking if you would’. Anthemic in nature and sound ‘Lisbeth’ is sure to be a stand out song in the bands live set and is a compelling opening track. Followed by ‘She’s a Keeper’ the album moves seamlessly with Susan’s signature and tender vocal tone carrying the song to fruition.
‘May Ninth’ is an inspired alt-rock song with enthused and pulsating percussion keeping the vibe of the album upbeat. Having embodied the role of the angsty and troubled purveyors there is still feeling of hope throughout many of Susie Blues songs. Unafraid to put their own twist on songs or be unconventional ‘Doing My HeadIn’ is a bracing take on a usual love song.
Already showcasing the bands rockier side, we reach the midpoint of the album with two slower acoustic songs ‘Till You Started’ and ‘Trust Me’. The aching and hypnotic lyrics are expressed by Susan’s invigorated vocals and are a nice change of pace. The album’s title track ‘Didn’t Mean to Care’ begins cool and composed before building into a rousing and stirring chorus. The anguished lyrics which are a redeeming feature throughout are particularly poignant on this track as we hear the cry of ‘I don’t to live to keep on dying’.
The albums closing track ‘No Shade’ oozes pop rock melodies and is possibly my favourite on the record. An eclectic collection of songs, it is the bands passion and fervour that truly shines throughout. It is undeniable that Susie-Blue’s popularity is at its peak after securing necessary support through a successful GoFundme campaign. The band who have used their position to create a powerful dialogue with politically motivated tracks have created an important piece of music that will stand the test of time. The release of ‘Didn’t Mean to Care’ has helped to truly cement Susie Blue’s position throughout the UK and Irish music scene.
For their third Sound of Belfast gig, Shizznigh Promotions managed to put together another sublime line-up of performers. Consisting of new and established acts for a brilliant week night expedition to the Empire it certainly motivated a lot of people to come out in full force. Starting the night off is Whale Talk who despite being a fairly new band have been making a considerable breakthrough on the NI scene. They are the perfect band to help introduce and begin the evening with delicate harmonies and casual indie vibes.
Up next is singer-songwriter Aidan Logan whohas brought a full band with him for the night. Recently returning from Nashville where Aidan spent his time writing, recording and soaking in all that Tennessee has to offer. Very charming and confident on stage, Aidan immediately attempts to build a good rapport with the audience by telling them anecdotes about his songs and travels. His song ‘Higher’ is an incredibly catchy and infectious song and is the highlight of the set. Having spent so much time in Nashville it’s evident how much Aidan has been influenced by country throughout his set while also putting his own twist on songs . Towards the end of his set Aidan takes a moment to dedicate a song to his friend Margaret who just passed away ‘Seems You Better Go’. As the rest of the band step aside it’s just Aidan and his guitar accompanied by soft and gentle piano and is a beautiful tribute.
Four piece ‘No Oil Paintings’ arrive next on stage and begin their set with ‘God Only Knows’. Lead singer Chris Kelly’s vocals sound immediately strong and powerful accompanied with George Sloan’s solid drums makes for a bold entrance from the band. Their second track ‘Cut Me’ has guitarist Sean Doone take the lead for vocals with a deeper and darker tone to his voice adding a melancholic element to the song. Finishing the set with their latest single ‘Icarus’ which the boys have also just released a video for the song begins with gorgeous harmonies. There is a really good synergy between all the members on stage and you can truly feel the connection that they not only have as musicians but as friends. The biggest triumph for any band is to be able to sound better live than they do on track and this is certainly true for No Oil Paintings.
Finally the main act of the night, The Tragedy of Dr Hannigan takes to the stage with No Oil Paintings joining for the band’s debut gig. Inhabiting the full character of Dr Hannigan, Tony Wright appears with a top hat and long coat and it’s clear from the start that not only are we in for a musical treat but a theatrical performance as well. With so many people onstage it felt like a huge jam session was about to take place with an array of players and instruments. Dr Hannigan’s first release ‘Hey Little Worried One’ begins with impressive harmonies before the hypnotic drum beat kicks in. There is an electric atmosphere in the Empire as the audience become increasingly more and more excited as the band continue.
There were points during the set that I felt as though I had been transported to a real blues bar located in Louisiana as my senses were completely overwhelmed by the incredibly funky ‘We Can’t Breathe’. Inviting Steven McCartney to the stage for the slowest song of the night ‘You the bottle and me’, Tony comes right down off the stage into the audience. Making his way over the tops of tables and across chairs it was almost as if the vigour of the crowd had carried him. Inciting the audience to begin chanting, the crowd continue to clap and foot stomp even after the band leaves the stage. Setting the bar for future performances, The Tragedy of Dr Hannigan’s first gig was a truly overwhelming and successful night for a band at any stage of their career never mind one’s debut.
As part of the continuing Sound of Belfast festivities, Shizznigh Promotions presented a showcase of up and coming local bands and acts on Friday in the Oh Yeah. A remarkably versatile and talented line up of performers, it was great to see so many fans arrive from early on to help enjoy and support the evening. Another wonderful Sound of Belfast gig it was refreshing to attend an event with acts that were not only new to myself but a few that I had been meaning to catch for a while.
Arriving just on time to catch the last few minutes of Darren Doherty and the Heathen Choir there is an upbeat atmosphere as everyone seems excited for a night of good music. Despite what their name might suggest the heathen choir helps support Doherty’s extraordinarily melodic musical offering and I look forward to catching the band in full next time. Up next was ‘Les Pantalons’ who providedmore of a jam style routine with the three of them remaining seated throughout. The very chilled and relaxed position from the band made for an easy and enjoyable performance.
‘Part Time Pilot’s take to the Oh Yeah stage nextas the audience starts to build. The bands energy and vivacious presence on stage helps to encourage audience members to gather at the front. Their great audience interaction ensures that fans are kept very interested and attentive for the whole set. Lead singer Enda Mc Crory has a very strong and alluring voice which along with their accessible rock sound has ensured that Part Time Pilots are a band worth keeping your ears open for.
Catchy, melodic girl group Vokxen are next to perform as they enchant the audience with their atmosphericpop sound.The group shimmers on stage with both their glittery outfits and seductive harmonies creating the perfect pop storm. The trios synth heavy sound accompanied with sweet melodies and electronic dance tunes makes Vokxen the most memorable act of the night.
Headlining the evening was the incredibly talented Anto and the Echoes, the six-piece who have a distinct look certainly appear the part on stage. It can often be difficult waiting to go on all night especially after so many acts before them but Anto and the Echoes take it completely in their stride. Lead singer Antony Breen is certainly a confident and self-assured front man who knows how to work both a crowd and a stage. Moving effortlessly from catchy pop songs to heavier indie rock sounds serves only to highlight the bands versatility. The band carries a very positive upbeat vibe when they perform and was something that the audience certainly reacted to helping to end a very successful Sound of Belfast showcase.
By Aine Cronin-McCartney
Photos by Carrie Davenport Photography