Death forces us to re-examine ourselves and our life choices.
Sometimes it means a complete overhaul. Sometimes it means carrying on.
On the go since 2010, Belfast’s Stop Stop Start Again were one of the stalwarts of the scene. With links to the first wave of Ulster punk (Stage B and Lunatic Fringe), they retained this edge while mining their love of glam rock and androgyny to create something darkly humourous. And they were pissing off crowds right until the end as well (I once witnessed them clear the Black Box with a mashup of ‘Believe’ by Cher and ‘No Feelings’ by the Sex Pistols.
The death of talismanic singer/guitarist Paul Rowan in 2019 ended the band. Now, arising from the remnants of SSSA, are Cupboard 55. Named after a section of the British Museum that stores historical items that have been classed as obscene, this band sees bassist Colin Fletcher and guitarist William Maxwell join forces with Ian Livingstone. And ‘Exhibit’ is the end result of this.
‘Guru’ has a heavy Magazine vibe to it due to the driving bass and guitar riff that has that inverted Stones feel that John McGeough did so well, while the soaring chorus puts me in mind of Fiction Factory. Lyrically, references aplenty to David Bowie and the Velvet Underground seem to make this less of a tribute to Paul and more a celebration of the milieu that all the band emerged from.
Dealing with the notorious cupboard 55, ‘Secretum’ is a sneering punk rock/power pop work out that is very much in the same vein as SSSA’s ‘Banging on Your Back Door’, although Ian Livingstone’s vocals are more along the line of ‘frontman with attitude’ than Paul’s knowing subversion. Nonetheless, a great track with a bouncy chorus.
Predictably, ‘When Lou Was King’ starts out as a Lou Reed pastiche before giving the listener a simple but upbeat chorus that acts as a (dare I say) almost gospel number in places. It’s surreal, ambitious and (coming in at just over 3 minutes) succinct. More of this sort of thing please.
Referencing the notorious Tyburn Tree (a site notorious for public hangings) ‘Tyburn’ is another moody, Magazine number with a chorus straight from the Marc Bolan school (complete with tambourine). This is a song I’d like to see expanded, with the moody verses really drawn out in order to ensure the chorus injects some much-needed levity. As it stands, it works but a subject like the Tyburn Tree is one that deserves a bit more study, so it feels unfinished.
With some gigging to be done, they’ll find their feet soon enough. This, however, is a confident and assured release that is more than a match for any band gigging in Belfast today.