The Portrush Brawl, featuring Good Friend, A Bad Cavalier, Two Glass Eyes, Sons of Burlap and Pocket Billiards
Monday 29th December 2014- the Atlantic Bar, Portrush
2014 marked the 8th annual Portrush Brawl, which, in the spirit of tradition, was hosted by Team Fresh at the Atlantic Bar, and this year, was in aid of the Welcome Organisation (a Belfast-based charity that reaches out to the homeless and vulnerable, and is a cause which is definitely worth checking out and supporting: follow the link below for more information on how you can help).
The North Coast/Newcastle Upon Tyne based Good Friend kick off proceedings, with an energetic fusion of old-school post-hardcore and regional punk(think Black Flag meets Dropkick Murphys, but with sharper guitar effects, and no pipes). Playing a series of hearty, hardcore tracks, and providing a preview of their (then unreleased) single, the riff-fuelled “Irish Goodbyes”, Good Friend are a solid choice of starter.
Newcomers to the live circuit, brainchild of ASIWYFA’s Niall Kennedy (and super group, of sorts) A Bad Cavalier produce a slick, joyous, almost glam-influenced set. Every song is a highlight, so for fear of gushing, my personal favourites include: “I Miss My Mind”, which is wonderful, with cheerfully syncopated, yet contagious, driving rhythms; “Olive Tree”, filled with crafty lyrics and infectious electro overtones; and finally, the hook-filled “Coast On”, which boasts expertly constructed layers, full of crashing vocals and waves of harmonious synth and guitar effects. Not a bad start at all for A Bad Cavalier; with their brilliant, meticulously rehearsed repertoire, this performance is even more impressive upon taking into account the fact that this is only their second live outing as a band.
Acclaimed for their visceral, cerebral alt-rock stylings, the superlative Two Glass Eyes are next to take to the stage. Their set blends old fan-favourites, such as the soaring “Mend” and the heart-rending, gnarled “So Old”, with explosive new tracks (which are as yet unreleased, but likely to be featured on their upcoming album) that are full of rumbling bass, pounding, no-holds-barred breakdowns and vocals that veer between hardened and explosive. Evocative of early Deftones, Two Glass Eyes are an intense, brilliant unit that certainly know how to pummel a crowd into (deserved) awe, and are well worth keeping an eye (be it glass or otherwise) on in the year to come.
Having heard only positive things about the rather elusive Sons of Burlap, and given the nature of the other acts, I, for some bizarre reason, anticipated some variation of local, possibly heavily bearded, rock outfit. Despite my expectations being proved wrong in almost every respect, I was not, by any means, disappointed. Having honed a truly unique style, with firm roots in traditional Irish music, but with folk-tinged, Eastern European sensibilities, you’d imagine that such an ambitious musical venture would serve only to divide an audience (a word to the wise: you’d be wrong. I’ve scarcely seen a more tightly concentrated mosh pit assemble).
Upon the band breaking into “Caravan”, I recount it being the first time in my life that I’ve overheard a flute solo being referred to as “killer”, “insane” and “f***ing amazing” non-ironically, while narrowly avoiding being kicked in the head by a passing crowd-surfer. Even if (not just figuratively) killer flute pieces, acerbic fiddle and percussion that’s frenetic enough to fuel a week’s worth of Armenian weddings aren’t your thing, I strongly advise that you never pass up the opportunity to see Sons of Burlap play live. They might not necessarily be synonymous with traditional, but they certainly are with raw, compelling, musical energy.
Heading the bill are Belfast-based ska-punk outfit, Pocket Billiards. They are possibly the ultimate feel-good outfit; the 9-piece waste no time in breaking into their unique strain of energetic ska, with an inclination towards riff-heavy sensibilities that are normally more typical of rock. “Belfast Town” epitomises this, bursting with clever lyrics that have the potential to cut close to home, blaring trumpets and a veritable crescendo of punchy guitar tones harmonising beautifully with the brass section. Their sense of dynamics is second to none, working the audience further into a fervent, heaving mass with songs such as the driving musical force that is “Dirty Money” and the aptly named “Last Chance to Dance”. As members of the crowd are passed overhead at random, writhing, mere inches from inflicting a multitude of fractures, I’m sure that it occurs to everyone that this is a musical initiative that is truly deserving of its name. However, thankfully, no significant injuries are obtained by any party, and as the pit gradually dissolves, it marks another fantastically successful year for the Portrush Brawl; long may it continue.