They’ve opened for Snow Patrol at the O2 in London. Headlined the Introducing stage at Reading, Leeds and T-Vital. With their 2012 debut album heralded as one of the province’s best albums in recent times . When you think of the Belfast music scene, A Plastic Rose are often one of first bands to come to mind. Unfortunately we are set to toast them farewell as one of our most popular acts open a new chapter of their lives in England. We’re going to miss them, but they’ve promised us that it’s only bye for now. During a spare moment between packing and practice Gerry, Ian, Troy and David sat down with us to reflect on the career so far of our favourite adopted sons.
▶ It was announced last month that the band was set to leave Belfast. Where are you guys moving to?
Gerry Norman (vocals/guitar): As close to London as possible without paying the stupid rent there. Nottingham is perfectly located for our needs as it’s right in the centre of the UK, so we could settle there. It’s a cool city too like Belfast with a great music scene and tram system. I can’t figure out why it’s there so that’s the first thing I’ll do. Sherwood Forrest actually exists so I plan on running the half marathon in it at the end of the summer with my band of merry men…in tights.
▶ Was it hard to decision to make?
Gerry: No. Well, yes. But no. Scary as hell but we know it’s the right move.
▶ What were the main factors for the band deciding to move to England?
Gerry: We have an English agent who books our shows. An English radio guy who needs us there to play shows, an English press guy, an English lawyer, an English accountant etc. The whole APR team is there, so makes sense and it will make their jobs easier. We’re so privileged to have such a team and see this as an opportunity we can’t deny ourselves of. Not many bands from here get asked over and we see that. The press we’re getting there too is amazing and people are really buzzing from us in a way that we don’t really see in Ireland outside of Belfast. I didn’t see the point in touring any more as it was such a massive commitment for a month of living in a van and having to play Sunday, Monday and Tues nights when nobody goes to gigs. It made more sense to live there so we can just play the weekends and then constantly be on tour. We feel from here it’s too hard to grow as a band and build a following when you’re stopping and starting all the time. Once we conqueror the UK we’ll be back I’m sure.
▶ Was there any bands which helped you make this decision? Inspired by their success maybe?
Gerry: Yeah U2! Haha. Any successful band in the world had to leave their home towns in order to be big it’s the logical next step. If you’re afraid or can’t leave then it wont happen. It shocks me when bands who dedicate their lives to a band for a few years won’t leave their country. What did you think was gonna happen, thousands of people fly to your town every night see you play? Celine Dion and Gareth Brookes can get away with it in Las Vegas but otherwise you gotta take the show on the road and get your music heard by as many people as humanly possible. Page 1 in ‘How To Be A Rock Star’.
▶ Last year you were one of the most vocal supporters of the petition against the merging of the local BBC Radio 1 Introducing shows from N. Ireland, Wales and Scotland into one show. Now after months of the new format, do you feel it has lived up to its promise and are you happy with the new set up?
Gerry: I wanted to keep it obviously. Everybody knows that was the case. Thousands of people wanted it to stay the way it was. But to be honest since it has gone, I don’t think it has done the harm which we feared it would. Which is great! The show on a Sunday night in Glasgow is really good and has been playing Northern Irish bands, which has meant they they’re actually being played on a bigger platform than before. Which is kind of what they tried to tell us when we went to London, but I was too stubborn to listen and agree with them at the time. Haha.
It’s gone now, so there is no point dwelling on it I feel.You’ve just got to look at different avenues at getting your music out there. Ally McCrae will play it if it’s good enough, it might not be every week which is probably what you want, but he has proved that he’ll support our bands.
The DJs have moved on from the show and done much better things anyway! I was worried for Philly (Taggart), but sure, we’re all laughing now!
▶ It has been a great turn around from an Irish point of view, especially as it looked as though Philly could have been left out of the fold!
Gerry: It has turned out great! We might have had a different opinion had things turned out the way they have. He’s playing Northern Irish bands, such as ourselves, on primetime Radio 1! What could be better?
❝ We still get compared to Snow Patrol constantly! But I guess it’s better than being compared to shit like Daniel O’Donnell.❞
▶ Last October you released your first full album “Camera.Shutter.Life.” to great praise. Was it hard to decide what mix of old and new songs you wanted to feature on the record?
Gerry: We included our oldest song on the album, “Indian Sheets”, which we never play live – and we never will. Haha.
David Reid (drums): Maybe in our arena tour of 2021 or something like that.
Gerry: The thing is, we never set out to write an album to sound like a certain band or a record which is already out there. A reviewer at the time hit the nail on the head. There isn’t a weak song on that album. If the song was good enough, it’s on the record. It didn’t have to be a certain style. We could have done an album full of three and half minute radio friendly pop-rock songs, and it would have been great. But that is not us. We don’t want that. We want it to be a journey, a piece of art which you are going to listen to over and over again. First time you’ll like it. Second time, you’ll really really like it. And by the tenth time you’re absolutely gone and head over heels in love with it. It worked with the “Promise Notes” and that is what we are trying to do. It’s not disposable music, it’s music which you are going to love forever.
The likes of the quieter songs, “Indian Sheets” is an acoustic song and people have been requesting it for years and we never ever play it. It’s crazy, and we won’t get a chance to play that song until we are playing hour and half sets, headliners and people are shouting for it. But it needed to be on the album because it’s a really strong and beautiful song. The album is full of songs which we felt that we didn’t need to play live as we have enough songs between our mini-album (The Promise Notes) and Camera.Shutter.Life. The single “Colour Blue” for example did’t get on either record and we are happy with that just being a single. We felt as though we had a strong enough rock set to take on the road which could allow a few quieter songs to find a home on the album. The idea is supposed to be that if you really get into it (Camera.Shutter.Life.) then by the end of the last chord, of the last song, we want to you to be an emotional wreck and ready to cry. That’s what we like to do to people….make them cry, haha.
▶ What bands do you feel might have influenced the sound of that record?
David: I suppose we all come from different musical backgrounds. Ian and Gerry come from a singer-songwriter background, and they would listen to Elliot Smith and Damien Rice. While Troy and I would be more into heavier and metal music. In terms of how thats all come together and sounds like, I guess it kinda sounds like an Irish Biffy Clyro perhaps – but not exactly the same as you might imagine though. We have such a wide range of different songs. Some of our more heavier songs probably sound like Biffy, while the quieter stuff sounds something like Bright Eyes I guess.
Ian McHugh (guitar): It feels as though there is quite a lot of Scottish bands right now who sound Scottish. I think we are trying to do that by not being afraid to sound Irish. It’s quite a Scottish thing to do right now, having an attitude based around where they are from and not being ashamed of that. We can relate to bands like Frighten Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks and WeCameFromWolves who are all very Scottish bands and we like to feel that we are a very Irish band.
Gerry: Yeah…we’re kind of like a Socttish rock band…from Ireland, if that makes sense.
▶ That’s quite interesting , as relating back to the old regionalised Introducing shows, Scotland’s version of the program was always a great outlet for quality guitar music. Bands like Fatherson, So Many Animal Calls, and Twin Atlantic. Those bands all have a unique edge which could be described as a development of the sound of some so-called “Emo” bands from a few years ago such as Funeral For Friend and Taking Back Sunday.
Ian: That’s exactly what we like about those bands as well.
David: They didn’t do what everybody else did after those bands and decide to Americanise the balls off everything.
Gerry: To me bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance took Emo to the “next stage” – the commercial stage. Really mainstream and really shit! Right? Whereas the Scottish where the ones who really took it to the next stage and it just didn’t get mainstream. But it’s the best, it’s amazing. So, we let all the Scottish bands do the hard work for us. We just stole what they did but sang in an Irish accent. Haha.
Seriously though, the thing about the Glasgow scene right now is that there is a definite sound coming out of it and we feel like we fit into that. Meanwhile in the Northern Irish scene – there’s one thing that people have been saying for years, there is not one particular style, genre or sound. The quality of the music is just so high! From the Wonder Villains to More Than Conquerors to Axis Of to us. There is not just one sound, they are just so different.
▶ Do you think your affection for Scottish bands has led to your music being compared to bands from there?
Gerry: Of course, we get the whole “You’re the next Twin Atlantic”, “You’re like old Biffy”. We still get compared to Snow Patrol constantly! Then there is stuff like REM and all that. But I guess it’s better than being compared to shit like Daniel O’Donnell you know?
Ian: I think we should probably change the genre on our facebook page to Irish/Scottish Rock after this.
Troy Heaton (bass): No, we’ll be Celtic Rock!
David: Now that does sound dodgey! People will think we play fiddles and river dance. Haha.
▶ Did you have to resist the urge to include a bagpipe solo on the record then?
Gerry: Well, now that you mention it , the original idea for “Fading Pictures” was to have an accordion player on the track and I think there was a time that irish pipes could have been included as well. I’m delighted that we didn’t do that now as the album was released a week after Biffy had released “Stinging Belle” so we avoided everybody claiming we were trying to be them and it sounds ten times better the way it is now. We all know Biffy tried to rip us off anyway. Haha.
▶ For those who might have not heard the album yet, how would you describe it?
Gerry: One review I read I think said it best, it said “You’ll be surprised when you hear this album”. And you know what, they are spot on cause you are! That is what we want. Because there are songs on the record we can’t play every night and the people who see us live are so full of energy. People have started to call us a heavy band but I think that is more to do with how we perform.
David: Our music isn’t pigeon holed at all. If the lads need to get something off their chest, it is expressed in whatever format we feel suits it best and comes together to make the best song possible.
Gerry: We don’t just fill it with pointless shit for the sake of being cool. It something feels right we use it. It’s not like other bands who might say something like “Lets put a seven in here, followed by a five into a massive two”. I don’t even know what that crap means. But I have to be honest I think we just understand music more than other bands, I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, I just really believe it.
You notice loads of bands, particularly in England, who just think they are class – but they’re shite! I’m not going to name names…but, there was this one band we played with in London and you could just tell that these lads thought they were amazing. But they were horrible! All I thought was, “Are you mental or something? ”. For me it’s important for a band to know what is shit, if you know what I mean.
For people who expected an album full of “Kids Don’t Behave Like This” or “Boy Racer”, they were surprised and we like that! As a band we always want to be surprising people. People will love you more for surprising them.
▶ How would you compare it to your previous work on “The Promise Notes”?
Ian: It’s probably heavier…and softer. There are heavier tracks on Camera.Shutter.Life. without doubt, but with the length of the album it gives you time to have reflective moments which you don’t usually have on an EP or mini-album. It’s definitely more varied, but the live shows are becoming heavier.
▶ We’ve seen many local bands who you used to share bills with decide to call it a day in recent months. The Northern Irish music scene is very different to how it was a year or two ago. What would you like to see newer acts start doing or try out?
Gerry: Tony Wright and I have become very good friends over the past few years and there’s been something we’ve been saying to bands over the last twelve months so. Tony was apart of that amazing “A Little Solidarity” show and we played in the UR festival a few years back. We are dying for one of the new bands to go out and do something like book the Mandela Hall, put on a big night for the scene and see what happens. Everybody would get behind it too! Every scene needs a kick up the hole every couple of years and I think that now is a good a time as ever.
▶ The golden question now is what is it going to take for a local band to “break” and gain the nation exposure which they’re all working towards?
Gerry: We’ve been around a lot longer than most of current bands playing in Belfast but right now we feel that we are finally heading in the direction which we want to go in, and that took six years of really hard work! I think there is a load of Irish bands who are good enough to make it big, you’ve just got to believe that you are good enough and keep touring in UK and beyond. We’ve played something like seven UK tours, playing smaller venues on damp Sunday nights but you can’t get disappointed by small crowds. We played the Borderline in the centre of London last time and it was packed! Which was incredible.
The unfortunate reality is that Belfast is so small and once you start touring you realise that every single city you’re playing in is bigger than Belfast. We play in Newcastle and we’re probably the smallest band playing that night. We’re a big band in Belfast but that means sweet FA in England. You’re starting over again in every city in the UK so just get out there. It’s gonna take some hard graft.
▶ What do you think you’ll miss most about Ireland?
Gerry: Guinness. Sweet, sweet Guinness. We’ll always be a Belfast band and will never be too far away.
▶ When might we see you back?
Gerry: Whenever we can fill Mandela Hall!
Don’t miss out on A Plastic Rose’s bumper leaving show @ Radar, Thursday 25th April. Admission: £Free