A lot has been said these past few weeks about the importance of Radar in Northern Irish music. Since last Thursday’s show was announced there has been quite an outpouring of support. Sadly all good things must come to an end, and Thursday night saw one of the biggest and best gig nights in Belfast finally say farewell after ten great years.
The four strong bill in the Mandela Hall featured a mix of talent, old and new. Headliners Mojo Fury were always going to be approached, having played the very first Radar back in 2010. While Oh Volcano are the latest project from old favourites General Fiasco. Hot Cops have been cause for excitement in Belfast for the past year or so.
Finally, and firstly on the bill was Jealous of the Birds. Jealous of the Birds aka Naomi Hamilton has only been around the live scene for a few months, playing her debut show back in May. The buzz around her was incredible back then, with a seven track release in March. Thankfully that buzz has not died down at all, and unsurprisingly a good crowd had assembled early in the Mandela Hall.
The worry for a solo artist on a stage like the Mandela Hall, particularly a relative newcomer, is that they will be dwarfed by their surroundings and the occasion. Hamilton however always seems to be at ease on stage, fully absorbed in her music. Tonight sadly there’s a number of sound issues, leading to a few false starts. These issues continue through her set, with a few pauses while things are fixed. Despite this however Hamilton sounds as assured as ever. She treats the early risers to the kind of set we have come to expect. Her music and voice seem like memories of a bygone era, her bohemian aura and poetic songs winning new admirers. Lo-fi folk tracks like ‘Dissolve’ showcase her considerable ability to craft incredible songs, while tonight her version of Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ proves her talents apply equally well to reworking old songs.
Next up is another big hope for the Northern Irish scene, three-piece Hot Cops. The band are not known for consistency, for every great show there has been a few that haven’t quite connected to the audience. Perhaps this is due to their penchant for putting plenty of unknown and unrecorded tracks into their setlists. This was certainly the case at Spectrum festival in the Mandela Hall, a night that they really could have made their own despite an unfortunately limited time slot.
Tonight however the band rises to the occasion. The first half of the set certainly shows their DIY attitude, with track after track of new material, likely unknown to many of the audience. Certainly there’s some great tracks in here including ‘Passive-Passive’. By the second half of their set however, introduced by front man Carl Eccles, they bring out the big guns. The change in tone is immediate with a huge outburst of energy thrown into the crowd through the fast paced punk intro of ‘Kenzie’s Farmhouse’. From here they move into ‘Decay’, a huge tune from the band and known to more than a few into a growing, appreciative crowd. Sadly those technical issues from Jealous of the Birds’ set come back to haunt us again in the form of shortening Hot Cops’ performance. Eccles’ initially announces ‘Fallout’ but the opening bass of ‘Six’ begins instead. ‘Six’ has turned into a huge tune, with ‘oh baby twenty feet tall’ surely echoing around the head of plenty of the crowd long after the band finished. The outro with bassist Nathan Rodger’s repetition of that mantra being surrounded by the thunderous noise and feedback emanating from Eccles’ guitar.
The band, described by a friend as ‘our shining light’ put on a showcase of all their talents. They had a big crowd by the time ‘Six’ rang out which is fitting as Hot Cops showed that they fully deserve to play to a venue of this size.
With lo-fi folk followed by Hot Cops’ brand of punk, third act on the bill Oh Volcano are yet another beast. Consisting of former General Fiasco members, Oh Volcano features Owen Strathern on vocals and synths while brother Enda sticks to guitar. With such a diverse bill it was hard to picture what kind of reaction the band would get but there needn’t be any doubt. As the duo played through track after track of their electronic pop they received a warm reception from the large crowd.
What immediately stands out throughout their set is their dedication to production. Each song sounds incredible, with Owen’s vocals sitting on top of a bed of electronic beats, synth and the occasional guitar flourish. Everything fits together perfectly in their live sound. The robotic ‘Oceans’ and finale ‘Colonise’ go over well but it’s ‘Don’t Know Love’ that stands out for me. The big chorus is the kind that lingers and is surely their best song to date.
The man behind Radar Damien McAdams takes the chance to address the crowd after Oh Volcano finish up. Thanking those involved with Radar over the years and indeed anyone who has ever attended and supported the shows, McAdams is given plenty of applause. Radar is surely deserving of such a big send off.
With the thank yous said, it’s time for Mojo Fury to headline the final Radar show, ten years after the first. With the sound of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ playing out and Michael Mormecha, ever the rock star, donning a double-take worthy mask, there is plenty of expectation as the band launch into ‘The Mann’ from their first album.
While Mormecha sings the chorus of ‘Terraform’ there is something to freak out the audience. Despite a sparse crowd at the front one enthusiastic gig goer makes the disastrous decision to stage dive. His injuries appeared to be serious, and the gig was halted for a period. Thankfully by the time he is moved and the band starts into a wonderful cover of Duke Special’s ‘Freewheel’, the man is said to be ok. While many in the crowd are initially unsettled by the incident, Mojo Fury soon ramp it up and leave it behind them. ‘All in Awe’ sounds as incredible as it does on the record, and track after track receive great receptions.
There are a handful of tracks however that get monumental receptions from the audience. ‘The Difference Between’ is a masterclass in energy and craft, with the Mandela Hall’s fantastic lighting adding so much to the occasion, Mormecha’s distinctive vocals in top form and some truly energetic drumming. The equally distinctive synth intro to ‘We Should Just Run Away’ is greeted by perhaps the biggest cheer of the night. With its anthemic chorus, it is always going to be a big hitter at their live shows. While the band end on ‘Origami Bird’, there is still time for not one, but two encores. The first ‘What A Secret’ appears to be the end of a truly triumphant performance, but after a torturing few minutes the band return. With the band unleashing for one final heavy hitter, an impromptu mosh pit forms to close the night.
It’s a sad day when such an important fixture of the Belfast music scene ends. Radar meant a lot to those invested in the scene, from bands to fans. Thursday night was an incredible send off for Damian and the team behind Radar, with great performances all round and an incredible turnout.