Live Review: Portrush Brawl, 29th December 2014

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).

http://www.homelessbelfast.org/

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.

Live Review: SOAK, 7th November 2014

SOAK with support from Gabriel Paschal Blake

Friday 7th November 2014- Christ Church, Derry

If you aren’t familiar with “SOAK”, you probably haven’t seen too much but the underside of your rock for a while. The Derry-based Bridie Monds-Watson, who goes by the pseudonym “SOAK” (a portmanteau of “soul” and “folk”, despite it being difficult to pigeonhole her music based on such broadly defined trace elements) recently embarked on her “B a NoBody” tour, which encompassed venues of varying capacity in both the UK and Ireland. The penultimate show in Christ Church, Derry, was the first date that she had played in Derry for almost a year, and put a definitive end to the recent dry spell that the city had been experiencing.

As neither of us are overly familiar with Derry, upon my plus one enquiring of the venue “Are there like, pews?”, I made the mistake of laughing confidently. However, after two hours of resting rigidly upon a wooden pew, my joints and I were certainly no longer laughing. As it turned out, Gabriel Paschal Blake, a lyrical acoustic act hailing from Letterkenny, wasn’t much in the form for mirth either. His songs regale rambling tales of woe that would rival a lot of early (and overly emotive) LiveJournal entries. Boasting misleadingly cheery titles such as “My Father the Undertaker”, Blake’s songs are, admittedly, brimming with emotional depth and lyrical prowess beyond his years.

His stage presence transcends the stage (in the sense that he sporadically leaves it in order to engage further with the audience) and his vocal delivery doubles as a crash course in theatrical melodrama. What his songs may lack in conciseness is compensated for by his (almost worryingly raw) enthusiasm- unfortunately though, his highly ambitious reach just exceeds his grasp. I feel the need to point out that posing questions like “Does everyone die the same way?” for a few (fairly extensive) verses only to eventually conclude that, on second thoughts, “Not everyone dies the same way.” is possibly not the best formula for building rapport with an audience.

Taking to the stage with minimal preamble and a quiet confidence, SOAK exudes natural ease and ability, and chose to kick off the proceedings with “Explosions”. It is a gentle, understated opening track, and oozes ambience, with lulled arpeggios and her murmurings of “your heart” resounding continually off of the dimly illuminated walls. The atmosphere verges on ethereal, between her otherworldly music and black-clad, nymph-like stature, which is only accentuated by the purple and green candlelight.

Followed by the wonderfully wistful “Sea Creatures”, her vocals are delicate and harmonise beautifully with the earnest acoustic melody, all of which again contrasts sharply with the fluid, arresting lyrics. Coming from anybody else, “I prayed for you/And you know I don’t like Jesus” would most likely be written off as an attempt at being knowingly self-conscious, but when it’s coming from SOAK, you can’t help but be drawn into empathising with her lightly lilting plight.

The lesser known tracks, “Worry” and “Blind” are also rather well received by the enraptured audience- SOAK could easily remain silent between songs and still win over any crowd, but instead, she chatters with great ease, conveying her sincere appreciation and dispersing snippets of information about her recent tour and each individual song.
Next up, and setting the scene for some serious soul-searching, is the beautifully melancholic “24 Windowed House”. We are privy to hearing that it was written with the intention of stepping back and looking at someone by means of “different parts of them, like they’re a house, and you’re looking at them and bits of their personality through like, different windows”. The song is, despite its unusually ambitious concept, pleasantly articulate: brooding in nature, but open in its evident affection for the subject. Her delivery is nothing short of stunning: the crystallised sweep of her vocal range combined with the soulful strumming on her acoustic is absolutely mesmerising, and a pleasure to behold.

Having recently hit a whopping one million plays on Spotify,“B a noBody” is a no-brainer of a crowd pleaser. It is recreated live with no difficulty whatsoever, which is something of a rarity for any current artist, and only demonstrates further her infallible talent. The song alludes to something of a paradox, in that SOAK seems to take a variation of pride in being a self-proclaimed “nobody”, when in fact, she is considered not only a somebody, but one that is certainly of note, by fans and critics alike: she recounts having fans steal the black helium balloons from the previous night’s show in London; being invited to a Burberry launch party; and more recently, has received a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2015.

The emotive “Blud”, which was dedicated to a friend who recently passed away, was declared to be the last song of the evening. It is evocative of Beach House, and would have been a rather fitting ending to such a heartfelt set. However, needing little persuasion (in which the crowd are more than happy to indulge- I highly doubt that this is a church that has echoed with chants of “One more tune!” prior to this evening), SOAK obliges with a much appreciated encore.
Featuring “Reckless Behaviour”, which is “probably” going to be her next single, but regardless of release date, is bound to be a sure-fire hit. Filled with clever hooks, and complete with a rather catchy refrain, it is definitely a release to look forward to.

Finally, switching up her acoustic for an electric guitar, “Oh Brother” runs in a darker, but nonetheless thrilling, vein. Frankly, it is bewitching to witness a talent so versatile, and yet so distinctive. Upon seeing her perform, the fact that SOAK has become so well established in a relatively short space of time is of no surprise, especially when you take into consideration her incredible natural ability. She is an artist truly deserving of the surrounding hype, and her musical prowess is already remarkable- it is simply an added bonus that she will only continue to hone her existing skills, as both a performer and as a songwriter, and that Derry is fortunate enough to be able to lay claim to having produced such a brilliant young talent.

Live Review: Rainy Boy Sleep, 24th October 2014

Rainy Boy Sleep with support from Chelsey Chambers
Friday 24th October 2014 – Mason’s, Derry

Having recently signed to Universal, this is the penultimate Northern Irish show for the singer-songwriter Rainy Boy Sleep. Promoting his new EP, “Ambulance”, he is effortlessly straddling the transition from renowned local artist to a major act, continuing to strike the balance between larger venues and more intimate ones.

With no announcement, Chelsey Chambers took to the stage. Her strength lies in her vocal performance, with her self-styled strain of country-pop making for easy listening. Performing tracks such as ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘A Million Homes’, it is obvious that her song writing is highly personal, and is brimming with pleasantly relaxing harmonies and hooks. Despite her quietly confident performance, she leaves the stage with little ceremony.

After a brief amount of fine tuning, Rainy Boy Sleep stepped up to the mic, kicking off with an unreleased and acutely melodic song called ‘Jeanie’- it’s a solid start, but so far, nothing out of the ordinary. However, the wonderfully witty ‘Yours Truly’ takes on a new depth in such an intimate venue; never has writing letters to dead girls seemed so hopelessly romantic (or plausible) a concept.

By the time he reaches the ode to platonic love, ‘Shopping Centre Song’, he has well and truly broken into his stride. The self-assured swagger with which he performs has become even more pronounced with the addition of some shiny new backing tracks (courtesy of the prolific dance producer, Reuben Keeney), and is nothing short of endearing, making him even more engaging to observe. The wonderfully melancholic ‘One After One’ follows – it is something of an oxymoron in that it manages to be powerful yet subdued, beautiful but haunting all at once, all of which are indicative of a truly great songwriter.

The lead track from his forthcoming album, ‘Waiting Games’ is a sweet, agreeable, but somewhat anaemic offering, serving primarily to showcase his dizzying vocal range (and presumably, is intended to appeal to both radio stations and his hoard of female fans). ‘Your Face’, penned at Glastonbury 2011, fulfils a similar purpose, and from anybody else, such a song would surely be praised; however, it lacks his trademark acerbic twist, and is verging on being overly sentimental, which is nothing short of a pity when his capacity for being sharp is otherwise so evident.

Thankfully, the bite re-enters his performance in the shape of the charmingly self-deprecating ‘Stupid Boy’, but for me, the show is stolen by ‘Manchester Post’, which has been revamped to the point that it is barely recognisable. A track which admittedly, I previously found underwhelming, is now stunning in the most unexpected way- it is punchy and danceable, and despite its genre-bending tone, lends his self-defined label of “folktronica” some real meaning.

The set is rounded off with the crash course in duality that is the title track of his recently released EP, ‘Ambulance’. The notably dark subject matter (which just happens to be violence within an abusive relationship, since you asked) is presented in a jaunty, playful, almost joyous way, complete with a children’s choir on backing vocals. The contrast between the uplifting harmonies and the brutality of the lyrics is at no point either inappropriate or misleading: it is truly clever, which is even further evidence that Rainy Boy Sleep is a musical talent that is not to be underestimated by any means.

A compelling set from an intriguing artist, the only disappointment of the evening was the lack of audience turnout, but he even managed to turn this to his advantage: instead of feeling (relatively) sparsely populated, the room felt full of excitement and bated breath. It’s difficult not to feel rather privileged, as seeing a performer as truly stellar as Rainy Boy Sleep in such an intimate venue is a rarity, especially in the face of his surely imminent success.