The music industry in Northern Ireland is made up of a host of wonderful individuals and companies that use their talents and enthusiasm to champion and promote our artists. We tasked nine of those individuals to think about the last ten years and tell us their favourite releases, their favourite gigs, their ones to watch for the future and what we need to do to ensure our scene continues to flourish.
Therapy? – Button Factory, Dublin – 10 December 2015
Buoyed by the success of their Sonisphere show in 2014 where they packed thousands into a tent and promptly blew its roof off playing Infernal Love in full, Therapy? performed some very special Irish shows to celebrate this misunderstood monster’s 20th anniversary and frighteningly good they were too.
Singer/guitarist Andy Cairns’ reservations about revisiting this once polarising LP were banished after it received a hero’s welcome in Knebworth and as a result this Dublin show was one for the ages. To paraphrase a famous film, it was an excellent night for an exorcism and it was such a thrill seeing the likes of ‘Jude The Obscene,’ ‘Misery’ and ‘Epilepsy.’ If I could sum up that show in just one word it’d be redemption.
Stendhal Festival 2021
I want to talk about the City of Culture 2013 and how it gave us a glimpse of Derry’s spectacular cultural potential. I want to talk about the treasure trove of discovery that is the annual Celtronic festival and how I draw endless inspiration from it but, if I had to single out one standalone event, I’d say Stendhal 2021. Stendhal is always magical but context played a huge part this time round.
For many people, myself included, it was the first music event they’d been to since the start of the pandemic. We saw people we knew, in person, for the first time in 18 months. Duke Special stopped halfway through “Freewheel” to sing the names of as many bands playing at the festival as he could remember, finishing with “this is being alive!”. Before the last song of their set, Rory Friers from And So I Watch You From Afar said that he didn’t want to start the song because that meant that “this is over”. It was a festival in which the moment felt fragile and all the more precious because of where we had been but everyone seized it with all their might.
We have a really great scene here and in normal times I’d be at gigs weekly, mostly local gigs and rarely a bad one among them to be honest. I do however remember vividly the following gigs – New Pagans first Belfast show @ The Empire, you could feel the whole scene was keen to get a look that night – the place was rammed. Axis Of @ The Empire on New Years Eve 2014 was unreal. The whole room was engaged, moved by the music – no photo or video could do it justice, it was a ‘had to be there moment’. Ward Park Three and Wark Park Free was a stand tall moment for the scene – so many great acts represented across so many stages and spaces in beautiful Bangor.
Jealous of the Birds at Output 2017 in the Dirty Onion yard was magic – it marked a significant and much deserved point of progress for Naomi and her talents. The Women’s Work Showcase @ Oh Yeah is a highlight every year. There are so many moments I’d like to mention but all I will say is our scene would be lost without venues like Oh Yeah, Black Box, Empire, Voodoo who are letting artists in at the early stages to hone their craft. Those early exposures are so vital for artists to thrive and deliver memorable live experiences. Save our venues.
Nils Frahm / AVA Festival
There are two I would like to include, one was Nils Frahm in the Mandela Hall in 2018. This was the first time I managed to see him (I have been many times since) and I was blown away by this show, leaving on a high by witnessing such a stunning performance.
The other was AVA in September 2021, which had over 50 NI Artists perform and 20 Non-NI; for me this Festival carried the most meaning as it marked our return after two covid19 reschedules, the atmosphere was electric and provided a much needed return for us, the scene & industry.
Farewell Quiet Arch – Belfast Empire – 10 January 2020
I think the Farewell Quiet Arch show at the Empire Music Hall on January 10th 2020 will stay with me forever. The label had announced it would be going on an indefinite hiatus and the gig was to be a celebration of its work and their family of artists. Lyndon Stephens, the force of nature behind the label was quite ill at the time and he sadly passed away that day. It became a tribute to Lyndon.
Family, friends, musicians and people involved in local music all came together in the most fitting way, with a gig, with his artists. There was a lot of sadness but there was also a real sense of community and love in the room that night. The gig featured artists he had worked with, Malojian, Elma Orkestra & Ryan Vail, Joshua Burnside, Ciaran Lavery and newcomers Laytha. They were all brilliant, it was very moving.
The likes of Glasgowbury had sown the seeds – but it’s been so heartening to watch Stendhal Festival in Limavady develop into a proper weekender – with multiple stages, entertainment outside of the music, proper food and drink and real attention to detail with regards to the layout and production. It like a shrunken Glastonbury in our own backyard!
It’s really impressive how they have built their reputation – and big crowds – with line ups that are vast majority local talent. As for specific shows – there’s been loads. A homecoming of sorts from Roe, a headline set from Ash, ASIWYFA being their usual uncompromising selves – when it comes to Stendhal highlights, it’s a very long list….
Needtobreathe – Limelight – 3 December 2014
Needtobreathe with support act Foy Vance in the Limelight, think that was 3rd December 2014. I have been a massive of this band since I first heard their music in 2006. That was a special night.
Metal 2 the Masses
Pre-Covid, I would attend 100+ gigs a year, most of them by local bands. However, there is one gig, or series of gigs, that always stands out, and that is Metal 2 The Masses. It is the ultimate showcase for local bands, and every year every band gives it everything they have got.
I have discovered so many great bands through the competition. In addition to the musicianship, it also shows the other great aspects of the NI metal scene: the camaraderie, the sense of us being one big family, the support network. It’s unique.
Quiet Arch 4th Birthday – Elmwood Hall – 21 December 2019
The Quiet Arch 4th Birthday celebrations in Elmwood Hall in December 2019 was a special evening, for many reasons. The line-up which featured some of my favourite artists and QA label mates, Malojian, Beauty Sleep, Joshua Burnside, and Ryan Vail, along with poet Stephen James Smith, was a triumph in showcasing the breadth of talent that we have across Ireland. I still remember how receptive and uplifting the crowd was that night, and it really revealed to me the endless possibilities of what can be achieved with a dream, hard-work, and passion. An even more poignant gig now as we continue to celebrate and observe Lyndon’s legacy on our music scene here in NI.