Happy People Have No Stories

20 10 2010

This morning I got a promo of the new Therapy? live album (‘We’re Here To The End’) in the post and it reminded me that I didn’t post up the tribute piece I wrote on the band for the Belfast Telegraph, so here it is in all its glory.

 I’m sure I’ll be reviewing the record somewhere, so will also put that up here too (as well as the live review from their beyond awesome Belfast gig last week) and here’s a cheeky look at the back cover for anyone who can’t wait until Nov 8 when it’s officially released.

Anyway, here’s the piece from the paper.

Happy People Have No Stories

I first fell for Therapy? at the tender age of 13. In many ways it was a long-distance love affair for me. While the Larne/Ballyclare-born three-piece were touring the world and preparing to unleash their seminal second album ‘Troublegum,’ I was residing at home in Newry, dutifully keeping an eye out for their appearances on TV and trying my damnedest to play along to their song ‘Innocent X’ on the battered old bass guitar I bought in a pawn shop in the ever so glamorous Dundalk. Still, the fact that I was too young at the time to see them up close and personal in the Ulster Hall mattered as much as intelligent conversation in the Big Brother House. As long as I had my copy of their debut album ‘Nurse’ and the ‘Shortsharpshock’ EP I was that rarest of things-a happy and contented teenager.

The year was 1993 and it was an odd era for music and youth culture in general (both in Northern Ireland and beyond). The big-haired so-called cock rock scene seemed to be rapidly wilting as the weeks and months sped by and to quote one old dinosaur-the times they were a-changing. Fed up with watching their peers prance and preen during their never-ending guitar solos, Therapy? opted to provide us with three minute slices of lunacy served up with a side order of perverted punk rock bravado instead and the moment they released the ‘Shortsharpshock’ EP out into the wild on March 8 ’93 is, for this writer, one of the most important cultural events in our country’s history.

Reaching number nine in the UK singles charts and number two in the Irish equivalent, the four track opus featured lead single ‘Screamager’ and saw Mssrs Andy Cairns, Michael McKeegan and Fyfe Ewing grace Top of the Pops, the Word and many other mainstream TV shows, becoming the first band from these shores in nearly two decades to make the rest of the world sit up and notice. Not only were those raucous (and sometimes ramshackle) first performances an utter revelation for  millions of outsiders, but you can literally pin-point the exact moment on that first TOTP appearance where a generation thought to themselves-“Hold on, this being in a band lark looks fun. I want to do that too.” How do I know this? Well, because I was one of those people. In those days there were dozens of garage bands all over the UK and Ireland playing dodgy versions of Therapy? songs and by the time they released their breakthrough album ‘Troublegum’ a year later, they had quite rightly became hard rock royalty and metamorphosed into a bona fide phenomenon.

Without sounding too cheesy about it, the trio also gave hope to generations of people from Northern Ireland too. They proved that you don’t have to change your sound or style in order to do what you want and you can succeed on your own terms. They shone a spotlight on our country for the first time since the 70s too and deliberately went out of their way to help the likes of Ash, Joyrider, Throat, Snow Patrol and many others cut their teeth and ultimately kick-started a resurgence in local music that has carried on to this very day.

This year sees Therapy? celebrating their 20th birthday. It’s an achievement which many (including members of the band themselves) thought would never happen, but this writer is proud to see them still making amazing albums, still touring the world and affectionately acting as the Godfathers of the NI music scene. The odd band member may have came and went since those early gigs in the Art College, but with the addition of drummer Neil Cooper in 2002, Andy and Michael have never sounded stronger than they do today and with albums as good as 2009’s ‘Crooked Timber’ they’ve ensured that kids will continue to carve their crude-looking Gemil mascot into school desks and lockers for a long time to come.

Perhaps the only downside to the Therapy? tale is the fact that they never seem to get the recognition they deserve on home turf. From a fan’s perspective, it can get quite galling seeing the same old faces receive accolades year in and year out for “services to NI music,” but you also get the impression that the hugely humble and down to earth trio would feel a bit bashful if they did get a gong or two. Still, that doesn’t mean we should all forget about the impact the band have made over the last two decades and this disciple of their Church of Noise salutes them. So much for the 20 year plan, eh lads?

To pre-order the new Therapy? live album ‘We’re Here To The End’ click on this link http://www.globalmusic-shop.com/shop/catalog/details?shop_param=aid%3DBLAST+001%26





Girls Girls Girls

7 05 2009

I fucking love Girls Aloud. A few weeks ago I was charged with the task of defending them in the Telegraph ahead of their gig at the Odyssey and here’s a reprint.

In Defense of Girls Aloud

I first fell for the all too obvious charms of Girls Aloud back in ’02. At the time, the band were formed right before my eyes by way of Pop Stars: the Rivals and, much to the chagrin of train-loving cheesy song merchant Pete Waterman, his boyband One True Voice never stood a chance when Louis Walsh’s five-piece (Kimberly, Nadine, Nicola, Sarah and Cheryl) belted out ‘Sound of the Underground’ for the very first time.

 Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re already assuming that my affection for the feisty pop band lies in a deep rooted (steady on!) appreciation for their gravity defying mini-skirts and pins that Bettie Page herself would have been proud, but you’re wrong. You see while admittedly the charms of Kimberly et al is as obvious as a high-waisted trouser joke round Simon Cowell’s gaff, it’s the band’s unique sound that gets this writer all hot and bothered.

 Up until Girls Aloud, commercial bands were a boring breed. Seemingly content with churning out covers of Bee Gees songs (courtesy of Stock, Aiken and Waterman) these translucent pop idols never put much thought into their music and were more concerned with pulling a cheeky pose for Smash Hits magazine and telling pre-pubescent girls they “love animals and stuff” than singing a song that make people want to dance. Girls Aloud changed all that. From their very first single, the quintet hit the ground running and ‘Sound of the Underground’ shocked everyone with its fusion of drum and bass, surf guitar and lyrics that made very little sense (but sounded oh so right).

Thanks to their writer/producer Xenomania, the band had a style all of their own and over the last decade they’ve rewritten the rule book on what you can and cannot do on a pop record. It also helps that four of the girls have really distinctive voices (sorry Sarah) and can take lyrics like “Baby, I miss you, so tell me, is she really that beautiful?” on ‘Whole Lotta History’ and sing them so passionately it would make Mr T break down in tears and blub like a baby.

And while the girls themselves have little in the way of musical training (bar childhood singing lessons and hands on experience performing throughout their youth) their keen ear for a tune has aided them in choosing some pretty stellar singles in the past and the final decision of which tracks they actually sing rests of their heads, proving they’re not merely songbirds for sale. Begrudgers may mock the idea of them working with a producer and giving little input into the actual songwriting process, but considering some of the best pop bands in the world had a similar sven gali behind them (the Supremes, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes etc) I genuinely don’t care where the songs come from-just as long as they’re good.

I often find when I tell people of my love for Girls Aloud’s songs they look at me like I’m that dude who worked at the chicken factory on the X Factor. For some reason, there are a fraction of people who think it’s uncool to listen to hook-laden harmonies and inventive song structures simply because the teeny boppers like them too. Well it’s their loss, because Girls Aloud have been making some of the most exciting music in the last few years, splicing genres, experimenting with styles and generally never putting a Jimmy Choo clad foot wrong. So, ladies and gentlemen, I can unequivocally state with pride that I’ve been a Girls Aloud fan from day one and if you can’t hear the sheer genius of tracks like ‘the Promise,’ ‘Love Machine,’ ‘Something Kinda Ooooh’ and ‘Call the Shots,’ well then that’s your loss. You should probably go and share your feelings with Pete Waterman. I hear he has a lot of time on his hands too…

 Edwin McFee





Russell Brand

5 03 2009

At the start of the year I was asked to write an opinion piece on Russell Brand in the Telegraph. Here’s a reprint…

In Defence of Russell Brand

My first meeting with Russell Brand happened nearly a decade ago. One night I turned on my telly and glaring back at me was the rake thin, then lank-haired cockney talking to clubbers who were far from sober on MTV. I’ve always hated pill heads with a passion and to this day am mystified why anyone wants to go to a sweat-drenched disco and imbibe drugs that make you want to chew your own face off, so watching Russell take the mickey out of these characters won me over instantly.

            A few years afterwards, Brand was booted off MTV for baring little Russell to the masses and then coming to work dressed as Bin Laden the day after September 11. His sacking turned out to be one of the highlights of his career as he landed the gig of presenting Big Brother’s Eforum (which was later renamed Big Brother’s Big Mouth) and, coupled with a new wardrobe which made him look like a Dickensian dandy and an O-Zone layer be-damned hair-do that defies gravity, he finally infiltrated the masses.

            As I’ve mentioned before in 24/7, punk rock was my first love, so seeing the comedian slowly put the establishment’s noses out of joint just made me love him all the more. Russell’s brand of comedy is dirty, edgy, salacious and smart-arsed, but most of all it is laugh out loud funny. Hell, he even made the turgid, long past its sell by date Big Brother seem entertaining. I also love the fact that his carefully constructed image and mannerisms have made him one of the few iconic figures of the naughties. When people look back to this frankly p*ss-poor decade they’ll immediately be drawn to Russell and his ludicrous barnet first and foremost.

These days Brand is so on the money even the yanks have caught onto his style of comedy. Yeah, he basically portrayed a caricature of himself in his Hollywood hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but why fix what isn’t broke? Possibly my favourite Russell moment happened last year during the infamous Manuel-Gate saga though. As we all know Brand and Wossy made a few naughty phone-calls to former Faulty Towers star Andrew Sachs saying our Russ has had his way with the actor’s grand-daughter and though slightly tasteless, it wasn’t the end of the world in this writer’s opinion. What was most interesting was the aftermath of Manuel-Gate with the whole nation publicly dissecting his character. For a comedian with a new series of Ponderland airing that week on Channel Four, it was a stroke of genius and as his hero Oscar Wilde once wrote “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Incidentally, when this writer was at the Download Festival last summer I found myself being chatted up by the one and only Georgina Bailie backstage too. Anyone got Manuel’s number?

Anyway, I digress. Russell Brand has helped define a decade. Men want to be him and women want to be with him and it’s about time that we have a comedian on TV who is genuinely dangerous and provocative instead of the countless stream of sanitised panellists clogging up our airwaves. As far as I’m concerned he can keep on offending the moral majority for as long as he likes. His hair does look daft though.

 

Edwin McFee





And So I Watch You From Afar

13 02 2009

Well it’s Friday afternoon and after finishing up my Kaiser Chiefs interview and Teenage Kicks column, I’m nearly done for the day. But before I go, I thought I’d post up my interview with ASIWYFA that ran in the Belfast Telegraph the week before A Little Solidarity. The main reason I’m digging out this one from the archives is due to a lovely blog written by Naomi McArdle talking about my good self  on Hot Press.com and as we’re both huge fans of the lads I figured why not? http://wordpress.hotpress.com/offherrocker/2009/02/13/blog-edwin-mcfee/

Right, I’m off to lie in a crimpled heap

And So I Watch You From Afar

I’ll always remember the first time I saw North Coast four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar play live. It was a couple of years ago and their brand of post-apocalyptic instrumental noise was going down a storm as part of the now sadly departed local music festival belFEST. Fast forward a couple of years and the boys have only gotten better receiving rave reviews from the NME, Kerrang, Hot Press, Rock Sound and many, many more as well as getting some praise from Gary Lightbody onstage a few weeks ago whenever Snow Patrol played in the Empire. Yes folks, pound for pound ASIWYFA are probably the most exciting band to come from these shores in a long time and as the months fly by they’re only going to get better. But not everyone “got” their hernia-inducing sound in those early days, as guitarist Tony Wright explains.

            Our early shows were very different to how they are now,” says Tony. “Over the course of half our shows we’d be playing three or four tracks, real long crescendo-based nonsense. We were outsiders really and didn’t know too many people in Belfast, but we would always got a random poet or singer who would say ‘you need a vocalist and I’m f*ckin’ great.’ We still get those people now, but we always politely decline their offer.”

            “I think if we could do it all a little differently, we’d maybe have held off launching the band until we knew exactly what we wanted to be playing, which we’re a lot closer to now,” offers guitarist Rory Friers. “We’ve never said ‘right, no singer,’ but we don’t need one now. I think we’re all dead excited about were its going.”

            And so they should be, because after a year of hard slog on the road putting on incendiary gig after incendiary gig, ASIWYFA have made both the UK and Ireland sit up and take notice. At the moment the band (completed bassist Johnny Adgar and tub thumper Chris Wee) are working on their first full length album but in the mean-time they have the thunderous slab of wax that is the This is our Machine and Nothing Can Stop It mini album out in the shops to keep the faithful happy.

            “We’re flattered people think that we’re one of the most driven bands in the country,” says Rory. “We work so hard for this, but it’s a pretty natural thing for us too.  Coming from the sticks you had to really do it yourself to get anything done. We kinda have a rule to accept as much help that’s offered, but to depend on none of it.”

            “Yeah we’re definitely driven because this is all we have ever wanted to do,” continues Tony. “I think the same drive is apparent everywhere you look though. You only have to go to a local rehearsal space and hear the amount of bands working really hard and that keeps us going too.”

            Of course Tony is being typically modest with this statement as how many other bands do you know of that get run over and hospitalised then play a show straight after?

            “Yeah, that story is true,” he laughs. “It happened last year and I was drunk, got hit by a cab, woke up in hospital with a drip hanging out my arm and then sneaked out the next morning. The guys met me at the gates and we high-tailed it to Derry for Fighting With Wire’s album launch where we played a killer show. I had a bad headache afterwards though. That aside, my personal favourite show was our first EP launch [Tonight the City Burns] in Auntie Annie’s. We were expecting 20 people and ended up selling the place out. I think for us it signified the fact that we could take the band a lot further than we first thought. That was a year and a half ago and here we are about to play the Mandela Hall and I’m bricking it.”

            Ever since the band formed three years ago in “the middle of nowhere” (according to Tony and Rory) they’ve been ticking achievement boxes in double quick time and this weekend marks possibly their biggest venture to date-their own music festival. Taking place in the Mandela Hall, Speakeasy and Bunatee in Queens Student’s Union, the bash is called A Little Solidarity (named after their song and current career highlight A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way which featured on this year’s Oh Yeah album) and boasts a shed-load of Ulster’s greatest bands all playing together. The line-up includes the mighty Fighting With Wire, the hotly tipped General Fiasco and the sublime Two Door Cinema Club among many others and it’s an event which is close to ASIWYFA’s hearts.

            “As with most things in And So I Watch You From Afar-land, the idea for the festival came about after Tony and I spent one of our usual nights sitting up smoking too many fags and discussing our grand schemes. I remember saying to Johnny Black [vocalist/singer in LaFaro] outside the Limelight that ‘we’re gonna do a show in the Mandela next year’ and he was like ‘lets do it then.’ That was that really.”

            “It’s an extension of the show we did last year called Tonight the City Burns, which was all about collaboration and the strength of the scene,” adds Tony. “We wanted to take it up a notch and get as many heads involved. The scene here is amazingly strong and there’s too much great music that we don’t want to go unnoticed.”

            Once the idea for the festival was put forward, it didn’t take long for the boys to put a bill together and in a show of scene spirit it ended up a matter of trying to fit everyone in rather than struggling to find willing participants.

            “Putting A Little Solidarity together wasn’t hard to do at all,” insists Rory. “These bands are down with the cause, everyone has each other’s back, it’s not ASIWYFA’s show plus support-it’s everyone’s gig. There’s no messing about with this lot. The hardest bit was havin to somehow select who was playing. We could have done two weeks straight.”

            For the first time in many years, the NI music scene seems refreshingly free of sniping and back-biting and, while ASIWYFA will hate to hear it said, much of this is down to their positive outlook and efforts to unite everyone. They feel that it’s hard enough for a local band to get the breaks they deserve so why make things harder by engaging in endless feuds. Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to play their gig tomorrow as if their lives depended on it. They’re still got a point to prove.

            “We’ve actually got a decibel contest between ASIWYFA and LaFaro,” jokes Tony. “That’s why we opted for the Mandela Hall-they’ve a bigger PA. For any of you gamblers out there, the smart money’s on us.”

As well as bands playing for your aural pleasure, there will also be exhibitions, a speed networking panel for local musos to get some face to face time with industry types and competitions for studio time too. Basically if you’ve ever had any interest in music whatsoever, A Little Solidarity should be your only port of call this weekend.

“We’ve tried to make the festival as pro new music as possible, so we have loads of opportunities for some younger bands to meet people and get their music out there,” says Rory. “We have a speed networking session with some great industry people from NI and the UK, we have demo drops, free studio time, choice slots for new bands, reviews and airplay up for grabs, gigs on offer and generally just a lot of people who are there to support who’s gonna be killing it next year and beyond.

“As for our own ambitions over the next five years, all we want to do is write, record, tour, write, record, tour,” he concludes. “We always said that if we could pay rent and eat from playing music then we’d need nothing else, so I’d say if we could be doing that in five years and getting to see some cool places we’d be laughing.”

 

 

A Little Solidarity takes place tonight and tomorrow. Tonight’s show features LaFaro, Desert Hearts, Pocket Billiards and Axis Of and kicks off at 7pm in the Speakeasy. Tomorrow afternoon from 1pm-6pm in the Speakeasy is Two Door Cinema Club, Mojo Fury, Team Fresh and Yes Cadets. Later that night in the Mandela Hall We Are Knives, Panama Kings, General Fiasco, And So I Watch You From Afar and Fighting With Wire all play and doors are at 7pm. Tonight’s gig and tomorrow’s matinee show are £5 in, the main event in the Mandela Hall is £9 and limited two day tickets are available for £12. For more info click on www.myspace.com/andsoiwatchyoufromafar

 

Edwin McFee

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/music/news/band-thatrsquos-helping-to-unite-the-world-14063971.html

PS-Thanks to Naomi for the nice words.





A Little Solidarity

14 11 2008

Just a quick one about the A Little Soldarity local band fest this weekend. Curating the event are the amazing And So I Watch You From Afar (check out my feature on the bash in today’s Telegraph-http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/music/news/band-thatrsquos-helping-to-unite-the-world-14063971.html) so if you can make your way down to it make sure you do.

The lads have just signed a deal with Smalltown America (http://www.hotpress.com/news/5032337.html) so congrats!