Happy New Year everybody! I hope you had a good one. On the eve of Good Friday literally a dozen of people went out and had a big blow out to ring in the financial New Year! That’s right, it’s time to bring out the accounts book again and review all the figures of not only the last quarter but the financial year as a whole! Personally I can’t wait. However upon hearing this news, two things popped into my head. Firstly, we are a quarter of the way into 2012 already!? And secondly, it feels like a good a time as ever to sit down and look back at what a year it has been in NI Music so far.
Nothing brings in a new year quite like a relentless hangover and for most of us 2012 began with the sounds of two new acts in particular still ringing in our ears. Debut EPs from newcomers ‘Best Boy Grip’ and ‘Katharine Philippa’ were the stand out releases from the end of last year with tracks such as “Monster and Me” and “Whiter Than I” continuing to receive heavy radio play for most of the early weeks of the 2012.
Fresh cultural festivals, world class sports stars, premier music gigs? This can’t be a Discover Northern Ireland advert I’m watching? But it was, and all to the soundtrack of our own ‘Silhoutte’ (aka Shauna Tohill). The 2012 campaign has been a huge success with the video receiving over 100,000 hits on Youtube (compare that to just 3,000 for the last ad) and the track “Can’t Keep Up” became a mainstay on mainstream radio playlists. It’s been a good year for Shauna so far. She was also chosen by Gary Lightbody to sing with the band for the whole of Snow Patrol’s European tour after her performance with them at the EMAs. This included sharing the stage at their three sold out shows at the Odyssey Arena. It did not stop there as she played bass every night for Rams’ Pocket Radio as they too caught the eye of Mr Lightbody and were promptly taken around europe as support. Great to see Gary and Co. promote our local acts with such an incredible opportunity.
And in Europe we stay to cover January’s Eurosonic festival from Holland which this year focused on Irish acts. It was a mixed bill with Rams’, Cashier No.9 and LaFaro representing the North. Radio 1‘s Huw Stephens on hand to have a chat and play a live track from Peter McCauley’s Rams’ in a week where the band’s first single “Dieter Rams’ Has Got The Pocket Radios” was play listed by Radio 1.
They were not the only band from the province to get on that list this year with the ever lovable ‘Wonder Villains’ getting day-time play with their catchy pop tune “Zola”. The single received praise from both Greg James and Fearn Cotton, with Huw Stephens having the Derry quartet in for a live session during February. As a thank you, the band baked the Welsh DJ a cake with his name on it. We shouldn’t have expected anything less from them. Oh and released their second single “Ferrari”, another bubble-gum pop track which grows on you more with each listen.
Let’s talk releases. We had a fair amount new music coming our way in the first 3 months of 2012. On the album front ‘The Jane Bradfords’ lead the pack with their brilliant LP “100 Miles of Broken Pavement”, an album that received Chordblossom’s first 5 out of 5 review. The only other release to receive the same bragging rights was ‘RunawayGo’ with their stellar self-titled EP of alt-pop tunes featuring “Electric”, “Alligator” and the stand out “Delicate Man”. New Derry band ‘Droids’ then took everybody by surprise with supreme effort “Astromech and Protocol” – a brilliant debut.
Further highlights included the third EP of ‘Rams’ Pocket Radio’s “Trajectories” collection, finally releasing “1+2”; and if there is a better track than “1+2” released all year then we are in for a real treat as the EP’s title track is an absolute gem. Other EP’s of note were a rough and ready, Mojo Fury inspired 4-track collection from Lisburn rockers ‘Deadlights’ called “Rewind. Restart.”. ‘A Plastic Rose’ then provided “Build from the Ground Up” – an album preview that teased a much more intense sound from the band. Then finally a personal stand-out, “Forget Saving Earth (The World Is Ours)” from the maiden city’s ‘Exit Pursued by Bear’ – a band many are looking forward to seeing more from.
Local big hitters ‘General Fiasco’ continued to keep themselves busy with another UK tour twined with the release of “Don’t You Ever” – their second EP since 2008’s “Buildings”. It was another strong effort from the lads, particularly “Daylight” and the title track “Don’t You Ever” – the former being a song that feels like it was plucked straight from one of the latest Kings of Leon records. They teased us with updates from the studio throughout the early months of 2012 as they recorded their second LP. It was then confirmed in March by No Dancing Records that it was finished, with the band stating through Facebook that the album would be called “Unfaithfully Yours” and will be released in June with two shows in Belfast to help launch it. Maybe it has just been the natural progression of the band, however the change in ‘General Fiasco’s sound since ex-Panama Kings guitarist Stuart Bell joined them has been unmistakeable. Be it his influence or not, this is a much more mature, flowing sound which might just be what the band needs to take their brand of indie-pop to the next level. I have a lot of anticipation for this release.
It is of course the time of year where we all get hot under the collar in prospect of our summer ventures as most of the big festivals announce their line-ups. Belsonic were the first to jump the gun with the announcement of their nine gigs which return to Custom House Square, Belfast in August. To be fair it’s a diverse line-up with acts ranging from Skrillex to Tom Jones. However the announcement of the shows passed with a muted ‘so-so’ reaction. The consensus being that bar the popular dance acts there didn’t feel like there was any stand out artists on the bills. Perhaps nine shows at thirty quid a pop will be a bridge too far. Thin Lizzy/The Darkness feels like a unique gig, with Bangor’s ‘Two Door Cinema Club’ seeming like a popular choice as they return to an NI stage. They will be joined Thursday 23rd by Noah and The Whale and the fantastic Dublin four-some The Cast of Cheers. This is highly recommended.
After mixed success last year, Northern Ireland’s biggest festival ‘Tennent’s Vital’ had critics to answer. Rumours were strife in the lead up to the announcement with Coldplay and Snow Patrol the main contenders as headliners due to their tour schedule and pop appeal. The Stone Roses let the cat out of the bag an hour early on their Facebook page with Florence and the Machine set to join them on Day 2 (22nd August). To say the T-Vital faithful were upset would be an understatement. Outrage ensued on social networking sites as the main question being “who?” exactly the Stone Roses were. If it wasn’t clear before it seemed that Ian Brown’s returning troop of Mancs were not exactly to the taste of Vitals’ majority younger demographic. Have organisers made a mistake in not bringing in a Pop superstar to replace the Eminiem shaped hole from last year?
Calm was ushered in as music fans waited with baited breath to hear who the other headliner would be. There had been whispers of the Foo Fighters for weeks, but many didn’t dare to dream. The announcement will go down as a major milestone for music in this country as truly one of the top rock acts in the world comes to town to play what will undoubtedly be the biggest gig of the year. The Black Keys will join them Tuesday 21st August in storming bill of adrenaline pumping guitar music. The two days at Vital this year has a world class selection of headline artists which feels like is aimed at a much more mature “Reading/Leeds” type NI crowd. Unfortunately ticket sales are not as impressive as last year which, to many has come as a shock with the move to Belfast and the Foo Fighters first Ulster show seeming like big draws. Furthermore with the lack of Oxegen this year as a distraction for people’s cash, perhaps the feeling of many is to wait and see what else organisers have up their sleeve for the other slots on the bill. MCD Promotions might have to get the wallet out and bring in quality acts such as Ed Sheeran or Twin Atlantic to garner the sell-out crowds they are aiming for.
Moving towards the local festivals, with no word from Glasgowbury so far this year – Pigstock came in and laid down a fantastic selection of local acts that once again showcased the tremendous amount of local talent we have in NI. 1st and 2nd of June in Killinchy is set to be a great weekend of music. Fresh off the release of their new album, ‘Fighting with Wire’ will headline on Friday night with the excellent ‘More Than Conquerors’ beefing up the bill. Saturday has performances from provincial stalwarts ‘RunawayGo’, In Case of Fire, Gascan Ruckas and Pocket Billiards. Then headliners at the “Gem Saloon” and the “Engine Room” stages are Not Squares and LaFaro creating an interesting divide in festival goers and a tough call for fans who like a bit more spice to their music. Dubliners Squarehead and electro artist Mmoths lead into Saturday night Main Stage headliners Mojo Fury. These alternative rockers are crowd favourites and one of the best live acts in the country, a perfect way to close proceedings in Co. Down.
The biggest shows of 2012 so far were easily the packed out Snow Patrol gigs at the Odyssey, once again proving the undoubted connection the band have with their hometown crowd. On a local level the North West continued to show that it can more than hold its own against Belfast when it came to hosting top quality shows. However it was Belfast that hosted the most talked about show of the current year as new venture Gifted Live beamed RunawayGo and others around the world live on the web from the Empire. It was a top quality production that turned quite a few heads by its ambition. Overall it was a brilliant night with interviews and acoustic recordings, on top of the great performances from Arc Royal, Draperstown’s indie-rock act Pretty Child Backfire and the stunning set from RunawayGo.
Other mentions must go out to Rainy Boy Sleep who supported James Morrison on his UK tour before cancelation due to illness, and Mojo Fury who also was a support act for InMe during their UK tour (however they headlined the Belfast show on St. Patrick’s Day!). This tour also saw the debut of Venue Mouse, the vloging mouse that gave us an insight into what was happening on the road and in different cities. Recently he has been suspiciously quiet; let’s just hope we haven’t seen the last of the cotton marsupial.
Finally Window Seats capped off a great start to the year for our local acts with their brilliant comic book themed music video for “Local Superhero” receiving play on many rock music TV channels. It’s been an interesting start to 2012 with a lot more to come. We have some great releases to look forward to and the festival season is just around the corner. So get those sunglasses out and pack the tent because here comes the sun! (Hopefully!)