Hornets with support from Axis of, Small Hawk Orchestral & Captain Queer
Friday 28th February 2014 – Catalyst Arts Centre, Belfast
The grey door at Catalyst squeaks open to reveal an industrial bare interior. A bouncer beckons people towards a flight of stairs before moving back into the drizzly night. It is cold and my breath floats before me.
Stepping into the glow and warmth of the venue the hushed growls of Captain Queer have already begun to ease the crowd into their new surroundings. Standing alone, red 335 in hand, Captain Queer ( Steven Toner) provides a chill prelude to the more heavy and energetic bands on the bill. His voice, soft and yet capable of breaking it’s smooth edges to reveal a more raw interior, lulls the slowly filling room into a dreamy state. People laugh and share their two litre bottles of cider generously.
Small Hawk Orchestral (pardon the pun) don their guitars and take to the stage. We are pulled into their sound with ferocious energy and the cogs of the crowd begin to wind up. Dave Hanna (ex Straight Laces) barks down at the mic while bassist Johnny Creelman’s four string punches out the air in our lungs. Like a processed serpent, the bewitching guitar of Deathbed Repentance coils around the room. The kick drum beats like “syncopated thunder” and Simon Crowe builds on the dark sonic texture with delightfully menacing riffs. Pando Pandiani on drums holds everything together with tightness and precision. Small Hawk Orchestral may only be starting out as an act (this is only their second show after playing at the brawl), but the musical proficiency and gigging experience of each individual member carried this performance through impeccably. However, as is the case with many gigs, the vocal levels could have been a bit higher as Hanna’s vocal ability deserves to be showcased, but as the PA was used mostly for practicing, higher levels were unattainable. Apart from this minor issue, Small Hawk Orchestral impressed with their darkness and quirky song structuring.
Axis Of are a band who are flourishing as musicians and songwriters. Well established in the local music scene and with numerous high profile gigs under their belts, (live at the BBC and several Glasgowburys) Axis Of added the sheen to this night of brilliant music. The band played an exciting set, showcasing songs off their debut album Finding St Kilda. Lawler and Friers complemented each other perfectly, from their voices right down to the tone of their guitars and even how they moved on stage. Ethan Harman, the backbone of this excellent trio, provided a thunderous chorus of drumming. The performance was tight and most importantly a lot of fun. If you haven’t already heard or seen these guys, go do so now.
Hornets stand before the crowd who are now sufficiently damp from perspiration and beer. Many people are interlocked and singing. Somebody hands me a can of Carlsberg. Hornets, like Axis Of, are no rookies when it comes to performing live. They blast us with toxic guitar riffs and smother any of the survivors with Sib’s powerful bass. Andy Shields flies across the stage as if 12,000 volts were surging into his veins. Sib, stoic, screams in throat ripping madness, his four string rattles the teeth of the front row. Ricky McAuley, perched behind his kit like a tattooed bird of prey, hits the skins as if they were his worst enemies. Hornets certainly can play! Exhausted revellers throw themselves against one another in delight as the band surge through their set.
For a show without a sound tech, it is commendable that each band took the time to obtain a balanced and full sound. No instruments were compromised by another’s gain, the drums did not overpower things and the vocals were clear. Unfortunately though, they rested a bit too low in the mix. The interaction of each act with the crowd was warm and friendly, everyone treated each other like family.
A feeling of optimism descended on this rather bleak Friday night and we left stumbling down the metal staircase, three at a time.