The Answer with support from Screaming Eagles
Saturday 25th January 2014 – Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill
The Province’s biggest Rock band playing a warm up show in an intimate, sweaty club is a gig that was too good to miss. Clearly, as the queue to get in stretches down the stairs to the street, I am not the only one who thought so. The place is absolutely rammed and buzzing with excitement. Tables have been removed to make room for as many punters as possible (and then a few more) and the place is full long before support act, Screaming Eagles, take to the stage.
A few notches down the pecking order this band may be from the headline act, but what a year or so it has been for this band. Their debut album ‘From The Flames’ has received rave reviews from the Rock press, including Classic Rock Magazine. They also won their heat of Highway To Hell in Glasgow to make it to the Hard Rock Hell festival later this year. That shows 2 things in particular- Screaming Eagles can write a tune or two and they can more than cut it live. The Diamond faithful have an excellent reputation for giving support bands a proper ear, but as the crowd presses against the stage as the boys tune up, it is very evident, that for many (myself included), hearing the Screaming Eagles is very much a part of tonight’s entertainment, not just a sideshow before the main event.
The fervour the crowd displayed from the opening bars of ‘Hungry For More’ to the final strains of ‘Rock and Roll Soul’ (and all points in between, including crowd sing-alongs) showed many of the crowd had come here tonight to see these boys just as much as the headline act. The crowd knew the words, it cheered as songs were introduced, it bayed out for its favourites, and groaned as one when the final song was announced. This reception was clearly felt by the lads and helped them go up and notch in terms of intensity even from the last time I saw them. They also looked to be really enjoying themselves, which is important. This is a band that is going places. I like them a lot and, if they can just take their song-writing up yet another level, borrow slightly less from the DC riff book (not that it is a bad thing), and continue to stamp their own personality onto the Classic Rock template they already have, then I can only see good things ahead.
It would be true to say I am not the biggest fan of The Answer. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that somehow I didn’t get into them before they took off and now I am playing catch up. Their latest album, ‘New Horizon’, is a fine album, excellent in places in fact, and in Cormac Neeson they have a truly gifted frontman. If I am to be critical of their recorded work it would be that over the course of an album, there is a bit of filler in there. But when they are good, they are very good. So, I was very much up for seeing them and recognise how lucky I and my fellow spectators are to see a band of this stature at such close quarters. It is, as Cormac soon informs us, because the Diamond Rock Club, was very much there for the band at the start of their career to give them somewhere to play that they now come back to repay the debt. There is nowhere else the band would consider to hold their warm up show before the embark on their ‘Road Less Travelled’ tour in a few weeks time.
Fittingly, the opening tune is indeed ‘Road Less Travelled’. It is greeted with an approving roar from the crowd and we’re off and running with Cormac bouncing up and down, his long mane shaking violently. He is the epitome of perpetual motion, even on a stage of limited proportions. Over the course of the set he would prove what a tremendously talented vocalist he is. He can rock out with the best of them, with plenty of growl and rasp, but he can also maintain a sweetness to his voice in softer moments such as ‘Comfort Zone’. It is a rare skill. He reminds me of a cross between Robert Plant in his pomp and Janis Joplin. It is a real treat to hear him sing this well. But he is not a needy, greedy frontman. He gives plenty of space for his bandmates to shine. Paul Mahon’s guitar is raucous and bluesy, never afraid to take it to the edge of over-driven distortion, as he bends the strings to his will. Michael Water’s bass is thunderous and provides a great backdrop for Mahon’s work, meaning that the lack of a second guitar is not an issue. James Heatley’s tight drumming holds everything together nicely. The Answer are not a band who try to make every song rigidly performed. The songs are tight but loose, if you get my drift, which is nice because often bands fall into the trap of making their whole performance much too regimented, thereby removing the novelty of a punter of being at a certain show.
Tonight’s setlist is a microcosm of the band itself. It spans the old, such as ‘Dead of the Night’, but also very much shows the band’s newer material such as, ‘New Horizon’ and the aptly named ‘Spectacular’. It shows they can do the 3-and-a-half minute, straight-ahead, no frills Classic rock tunes but also can spread their wings and touch on other areas of rock music. ‘Concrete’ for example, is pure Seattle grunge, with a riff Audioslave would be proud of – heavy as a heavy thing as its name would suggest. Most impressive for me though was the extended blues jam of ‘Memphis Water’. I don’t know how long it lasted. I know it was lengthy and yet it never made me wish for it to end. It was a real tour-de-force, and to me showed a band that is very together and very talented musically. Fantastic stuff. The other highlight of the night comes near the end when Cormac leaves the stage, walks through the crowd, crouches down and asks the crowd to join him. The fact that, once we catch on what he wants, we all duly join in, shows a performer confident in his ability to bring a crowd with him.
Encores come and go and we’re done. The crowd bay for more, but enough is enough and we have been well entertained so we can’t complain. As ever, the band come out later to mingle with the crowd (another fantastic feature of the ‘Diamond experience’) and show what down-to-earth guys they are.
As a side note, I am joined by two of my Chordblossom colleagues, enticed up from the big smoke to rural Antrim to see why I keep raving about this place. Safe to say, the Diamond Rock Club, now has another two converts. Isn’t it time you checked it out as well? Hurry up, there’s not much more room left.