Breaking Bands: Bloom, Harrison Tweed & Joel Harkin
Friday 14th August 2015 – The Oh Yeah Centre, Belfast
Once a month, the Oh Yeah Centre transforms itself into a sanctuary of sensual ambience and relaxation so that Belfast may enjoy what new prospects its music scene has to offer. Breaking Bands, having taken a break last month, was to make a return with an entirely new line-up of artists from the brink of the music scene.
First to grace the stage was Donegal based singer-songwriter Joel Harkin. Describing himself as “raw” and “experimental,” this is precisely what we encountered: pure and rough electronic rock. Heavy on the backing track and guitar effects, Harkin managed to create a ridiculously powerful sound embellished with explosive and emotive lyrics. Major, minor and natural keys wreaked havoc through the set, however Harkin’s seemingly incidental narrative and musical progression makes him extremely unique and his songs imaginatively adventurous. Harkin will be joining the ranks of Belfast musicians within the next few months, leaving his home town of Letterkenny to take residence in Belfast, and is now actively seeking to book shows more consistently. Harkin’s first EP, Pleasure In Leaving, is to be celebrating its first anniversary in the coming weeks by being released free for digital download.
Next to play was Harrison Tweed, advertised as an alternative acoustic trio. However, tonight it was the lone guitarist and vocalist John Phillips playing solo numbers from his band’s repertoire. Opposing the self-adorned genre of “alternative acoustic”, the music of the night sounded more like folk pop and sentimental rock akin to early Johnny Cash, mixed with Rush’s mythically tragic lyrics. Phillips displayed a wide range of guitar ability, retaining a cool demeanor throughout, and going into the second half of the set the tone changed from mythology to themes of love and of quasi-patriotism to Ireland. As Phillips slowed to the end of his set, it was abundantly clear that he was quite a shy person masquerading adequately as a performing artist. However, as he announced his last song ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’, it was like a transformation on stage. Coming out of his proverbial shell both in action and in voice, Phillips subscribed ironically and confidently to his own lyric “appearances change but the inside stays the same.” A redemptive ending note, almost comical if it weren’t so enlightening to watch.
Finally, the rock ‘n’ roll four-piece known as BLOOM took to the stage with the articulation and professionalism that surpassed the camaraderie they portray off-stage. Having broken through this past year as an entirely rare retro-rock groove band, they have remained the archetype for said genre in Northern Irish music, one that has not been challenged thus far. As they immersed themselves in their progressive song style, the comfortable passion of each member became apparent as they realised they were deep within their element; happily playing their music to an audience in the low double digits. An aura of coolness emanated from BLOOM throughout their set: perhaps not as psychedelic as they have been previously described, but more coherent in both timing and melody. Each song was surely inspired by a mixture of – among others – The Beatles Pink Floyd, and Tame Impala, showing us that this band is aware of the progression of rock music throughout the past fifty years and would like to take us on that journey through their music.
The chemistry between each member is something unique to witness in countless other groups of the music scene, even with BLOOM’s talented new synth-organist Meaghan Liggett. Perfectly timed slowdowns dominated by Gareth Davies’ bass and Jack McConnell’s flawless drumwork gave sovereignty to these conceptual instrumental songs. The immersive nature of this band’s live music evades their low-definition online recordings, a perfect example being ‘The Storm’, which was made conceptual by the simulated weather guitar and synth-organ effects, overlayed admirably with shimmering drums and cymbals. The band’s experimental nature was epitomised primarily in Neall Humphries’ guitar playing style; not only regarding his use of obscure and seemingly out-of-place effects, but with his signature surprising jolts of prodigy throughout the set. Ending with a BLOOM classic – ‘Kepler’s Glass Eye’ – the bass and guitar harmonies occurred perfectly to end the night on a berceuse note. Albeit, between crashing waves of heavy improg.
All in all, a fantastically underrated night of new music. It is always a shame to attend a show with an extremely low number in the audience, and especially when giving such an impression to new bands from other areas of the land. However this gave the evening its signature ambience, and Ryan O’Neill of the Oh Yeah Centre is doing a fantastic job in introducing such new and growing musicians to our music scene. I retain hope that next month, it will be harder to find a seat.