Hidden Machine #08: A Plastic Rose, In An Instant & The Twenty
Thursday 18th December 2014 – Voodoo, Belfast
Although 2014 has been an all-round incredible year for the Northern Ireland music scene, it’s safe to say that, even with such short notice, that this was to be one of Belfast’s most exciting and anticipated shows of the year. This evening marked the return of Belfast’s most colloquially conversational and relentlessly hard working band, A Plastic Rose. After having spent the majority of the year promoting their music overseas, based in Nottingham, the band have now returned just ahead of the release of their latest album, ‘Flickering Light Of An Inner War’, which has already attracted much attention from the press due to the obscure nature of the Spotify release months before the official release date. With such a hype surrounding the group, Hidden Machine did well to book A Plastic Rose for what would inevitably be a homecoming performance to remember.
Before hand though we sat down with Ian McHugh from A Plastic Rose for a quick chat about the band’s progression, the scoop on their new album and their plans for its release.
► What sort of progression have you seen in the band’s success, from 2009 (first major festival appearance at Reading & Leeds, Fightstar support show, touring in support of Colour Blue single release) to 2014 (move to Nottingham, festivals around the UK, appearing with bands like Turn, Black Sabbath, and The Rolling Stones)?
“Well, I think it was probably summer 2009 that we did the Reading & Leeds gig. Maybe it was a little too early to get that gig – we didn’t really have our infrastructure in place, we didn’t have the team around us. We definitely didn’t have everything ready in terms of our sound, or professionalism to go from there!
Even that was a brilliant time for us, that gig was kind of a flash in the pan really. I think, since then, a big part of [our progression] was that we all quit our jobs and decided to go full-time, practice-three-times-a-week for 9 hours, instead of once a week for two hours, you know?
Musically, obviously, we’d written a whole lot of new songs since then, and because of practising a lot more, we’ve started writing songs as a band, whereas it used to be just myself and Gerry writing individually, and everyone coming in to work it together.”
► A lot of your earlier songs differ greatly from the new album, and a notable influence throughout has been Jeff Buckley. In what way has his music affected your own?
“Grace was a massive album for Gerry & I, which I think we got into just after he died. That was a massive thing for us – it’s definitely affected the way I sing, personally. I don’t think we’ve ever deliberately taken him on as an influence, but it’s just because we listen to it so much, it’s just become a way of how we write.”
► What do you expect from the band through the new year? Are there any plans at this stage for new material or shows in the follow up to Flickering Light Of An Inner War?
Yeah! We’re putting out the album on 1st March – can’t really say too much about the plans around that, but obviously we’ll be doing some touring around that time in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as in the UK.
Hopefully – I mean, hopefully – next Summer, we’ll have another few festivals, and maybe we can really start to take things into Europe, depending on how things are going. But besides that, you know, we’ll just be writing new songs, recording a new album, which we’re hoping to do quicker than this one. We’re thinking even a this-time-next-year sort of thing
► While we’re talking about the whole industrial aspect of recording, releasing, PR, what are we to expect thinking within the 2015 spectrum and your presence in Ireland and Northern Ireland?
Yeah, both Rory McConnell, and Davy Matchett of Third Bar Artist Development, are a massive part of what we do now. They kind of built up the rest of the team around us, where now we’re working with Devil PR in Manchester & everyone’s on-page now, so I think it’s going to start working like much more of a machine – much more in-sync.
► Obviously the homecoming show is going to be a massive thing for everyone here. What are your expectations from the fans tonight?
Yeah, jeez, it’s at this point in the night you have literally no idea how many people are coming – the nervous time of the night!
I expect there’ll be a lot of our friends here, a lot of people we haven’t really caught up with since we came home… I think that’ll be good, very much a home crowd, which is really the whole idea. And in a nice, intimate venue as well.
Starting the night off were punk rock 5-piece, The Twenty. Although this group would not have been the favoured choice to support such a stellar line-up, they did a great job of energising the slowly gathering crowd with their punk attitude and energy on stage, which was greatly reflected in the weight of their music. The Twenty showed their musical diversity throughout the set, crossing over to classic-rock impinged songs – a very modern, more ruthless take on twelve bar blues – with gritty vocals gracing the distorted guitars and harmonically high-end bass riffs. An overall favourite from tonight’s performance was ‘Have You Seen Her?’, which broke away from the perfected sound on the record in order to growl out the anthem in a composed, yet disorientated fashion. Such a genuine punk rock style of conduct on stage is rare, and so admirable. With this performance, The Twenty proved themselves as contenders in the music scene to a lot of new fans.
Next on the agenda for tonight’s smorgasbord of musical entertainment was a band that Belfast are very well acquainted with, pop-rock group In An Instant. With the release of their critically acclaimed debut EP, ‘Light You Know and Love’ coming months before, most songs from tonight’s set came directly from the record. If you consider the backing tracks that supported the group in their efforts to renew their road-worn set which is, song-for-song, identical to the one they have been playing since February of this year at The Stiff Kitten, Belfast. Despite this, the band were completely on top form, having polished not just each song’s performance, but their eclectic stage presence and their timing with backing tracks – eliminating errors they may have faced this time last year – and most evidently their likeability to an audience not entirely theirs.
I daresay In An Instant sold a few units of their latest EP on this night, as they were able to attract people apparently glued to their seat or their phones to front & centre stage, and even those who refused to get up were unable to resist tapping their foot to songs such as ‘Something Right & Something Real’ and ‘All Binds Fall Undone’. In An Instant, as always, performed admirably, always showing humility when contrasted to bands such as A Plastic Rose, and deserve to do well in this music scene because of the obvious work they put into the band. It’s a predictable statement that success will follow this group into the new year, with impending releases and appearances all over the UK.
As the stage became absent of life, seemingly out of nowhere, the inevitable crowd of A Plastic Rose fans – known as the ‘APRmy’ – gathered from the front of the stage to the very back of the room. Unlike many other bands I’ve seen live, A Plastic Rose have their trademark Belfast no-messing-around attitude, and did not keep us waiting for too long before taking to the stage and diving into the first song of their set with no warning.
Beginning with a relatively recent classic, the first notes of ‘This Side Of Winter’ enticed further cheering from the crowd. Released a little over a year ago, every A Plastic Rose fan knew this song well by now, and were able to sing along with fronting duo Gerry Norman and Ian McHugh. ‘Someone’s Daughter’ continued the theme with everyone singing along, and the band enjoying every minute of it. It’s clearly been too long since they’ve played to their universally appreciative home crowd – appreciation that they have undoubtedly earned.
Next was ‘The Last Revolution’ taken from their latest record, a crowd pleaser layered with melodic lead guitar from McHugh, perfectly executed stop-start drum work from David Reid, adorned with harmonic vocals and pumping rhythmic bass work from Troy Heaton. Surprising the band, many of their followers in the crowd knew each lyric and melody, having only had a few days to familiarise themselves with the new album. What followed were another two new tracks – ‘Happiness & Joy’, and ‘Pumping Blood’ – both very different from one another, showing the band’s ever-developing diverse songwriting in terms of melody, rhythm & tempo transitions, and guitar cadence, all demonstrated in this live performance.
After a notably unpremeditated breakdown, featuring screeching vocals from Norman, and “g’wan the lads” as a compliment for the crowd’s moshing, A Plastic Rose introduced another new track called ‘Avarice’, which demonstrated everything to be proud of in a modern rock song: melody driven, talented guitar work, lyrically poetic, great chord changes, and a climactic chorus. To demonstrate this live to a crowd who haven’t heard the song before is a testament to this band’s incredible capabilities. However, what was to come next defiantly trumped this with the introduction of A Plastic Rose’s latest single.
‘Move Islands’ was introduced vaguely and swiftly, only registering in ours minds after the iconic opening riff of the song. As expected at this stage of the show, the crowd were singing along, even falling over one another in an attempt to convey their adoration. This song, with perfect timing in chorus slowdowns and the guitar solo, as well as inspirational lyrics, might as well have moved islands with the volume coming from the top room in Voodoo and the unstoppable jumping around.
‘Autumn Eases You Into The Dark’ soon followed, and again, with the blessing and encouragement of A Plastic Rose, the crowd were at it again. It was humorous and heartwarming to see the band enjoying themselves to such an extent, their passion overflowing from the small stage and engulfing every fan who made it out. From playing massive yet inevitably cold festival stages all over the UK in 2014 then to come home to play this show with an audience that relates to their music in such a unique way, one can guess which is the band’s preferred alternative.
With heavy hearts, the band announced ‘The Last Of All My Friends’ would be their final song, and performed with such composure, energy, and ardour, to quote the band, “I can’t see anywhere else.” As they said their goodbyes, the band left the stage with chants of ‘encore’ from the crowd. On this occasion, much to the delight of everyone involved – not least the band themselves – A Plastic Rose took to the stage for one final song. I’m sure everyone, along with myself, was wondering which of their new songs they could possibly play as their final number which could top such a set. So, when the first notes of ‘Kids Don’t Behave Like This’ rang out, having never sounded as compelling or as beautiful, it was as much a surprise to myself as it was to everyone else. Choosing to play at least one song from their debut album, ‘Camera.Shutter.Life’, a proven crowd favourite, was an ideal choice to please the APRmy.
It goes without saying that no-one but a home crowd can understand and appreciate the significance of this song ending their set. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way; many who obviously hadn’t seen the band before or heard too much of their material, finally had their chance to sing along to a song everybody knew. Even the sound engineer mouthed the iconic ‘kids don’t behave like this.’
Without much actually left to say, A Plastic Rose were satisfied that their performance said it all. This night marked what had surely been A Plastic Rose’s triumphant return to the throne of our beloved music scene, and all that’s left to look forward to is the release of the much anticipated ‘Flickering Light Of An Inner War’, hopefully bringing with it a launch show to somehow exceed this one.