Bye Bye 09, It’s Been Great

31 12 2009

Yes friends, today is the last day of the year and indeed the whole decade. The “noughties” have been a decade of huge highs and lows. I started out in ’02 with people lining up to tell me it was impossible for a working class bloke from Newry with no contacts to make a living as a freelance journalist. It was a really tough few years with literally no money. I was living in glorified squats while dealing with the fact that at that time there were NO outlets for entertainment journalism in Northern Ireland and needless to say it was pretty stressful. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and helping launch the Belfast Telegraph’s weekend supplement 24/7 and giving a hand in founding Alternative Ulster magazine were definitely highlights from those shitty years.

I’ve been at this for 7 years now and in many ways I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. In early 2005 I was about to pack it all in as I (somehow) ended up interviewing every one of my heroes (bar Morrissey and Courtney Love…). While it was a huge acheivement for me, I was in a bit of a slump and left in a “what do I do now?” funk. Thankfully I gave myself a metaphorical boot up the hole and got on with things and the last half of the decade has been fantastic.

So what have been my highlights of 2009? Christ, I don’t even know where to start, but I thought it might be good to reprint my favourite piece I’ve written this year. So below is the final draft of my NI scene report for the NME. Enjoy and see you all next year…

United by Noise

A Northern Ireland Scene Report

Three decades ago, Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns first preached from his punk rock pulpit about an ‘Alternative Ulster.’ Since then, music in Northern Ireland has grown and mutated into a visceral and at times venomous beast with bands preferring to give the mainstream a sonic two fingered salute rather than court the industry coke-heads of London Town. You see, for years the Ulster scene has been brushed under the carpet in favour of more geographically friendly areas in both the UK and Ireland. Due to its well documented political Trouble, the media appears to prefer focusing on yet another report from Liverpool, Manchester or wherever rather than sending a scribbler to the formerly war-torn area because it just seems like a safer option. While it pains this writer to admit it, NI will always be haunted by the spectre of semtex and suicide even though it’s been relatively bomb-free for years, but this has ultimately made it’s music utterly life affirming. Every note counts and every song matters. Thanks to sites such as local music bible http://www.fastfude.org, bands like the Beat Poets and Ash-endorsed Oppenheimer can make music and tour under their own steam without relying on hand-outs from ‘the’, ahem, ‘Man’. If you want something done right you have to do it yourself afterall.

Right now there are a gaggle of great acts in NI. Leading the charge are And So I Watch You From Afar. The four-piece craft instrumental music that could easily soundtrack buildings tumbling, world’s colliding and large, green aliens landing from space and eating people’s brains. Plus, any band who can get run over by a car and play a gig later that night has our vote for life

NI’s finest purveyors of indie pop Two Door Cinema Club are also doing great things and peddle tunes that are as catchy as Chlamydia at the Playboy Mansion. Think Deathcab for Cutie embroiled in a knife-fight with Modest Mouse and you’re close.

Not Squares are currently getting local music critics’ collective undercrackers in a bunch and from a quick listen to thrash dance anthem ‘Vita Sackville West’ it’s easy to see why this Julie Ruin worshipping mob are making all the right moves. Their sound is a synth-laden cacophony of boy/girl vocals and shouts and their live show has more kick-ass moments than a night out with Joey Barton.

But it’s not just about hand-claps and keyboards in NI, probably the most historically prevelant scene has featured music from the ‘eavier end of the spectrum. Carrying on the torch from the likes of the Undertones and Therapy?, the Black Bear Saloon are the latest group to give us some new teenage kicks and they sound as venomous as an episode of America’s Next Top Model. The future of rock is in safe hands with this fearsome four-some.

Finally, if there was ever a band that summed up the true rebel-rousing spirit of Belfast then it’s the Tin Pot Operation. They adore putting noses out of joint, have wound up more people than Jeremy Beadle and best of all they’re not afraid to talk about politics and poetry. Their self-released slab of wax ‘Human Resources’ is a beautifully battered sonic manifesto and it sums up their home-town better than any empty-headed politician ever could.

It’s true that NI has had more than its share of ups and downs over the decades but 2009 looks set to be a break-out year for Northern Irish musicians who have been united by noise. Remember where you read about them first.

Edwin McFee





News from the North week 45

2 12 2009

This fortnight’s Hot Press is on the stands now so here’s a reprint of the previous issue’s NI bands column!

News

Words: Edwin McFee

On November 30, one of NI’s most promising acts the Beat Poets release their new EP ‘The Making’ via all major download sites and their official online store (www.thebeatpoets.com). The four track opus is currently played by U105fm and sees the four-piece from Warrenpoint showcase a softer side than we’ve seen before, opting to take their foot off gas for just a moment. The title track is a corker with the (slight) change in direction a welcome one and we heartily recommend you pick it up. The boys are also gearing up for the release of the debut album which comes out next year and features Greg (Manic Street Preachers) Haver, Dave (Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder) Way and Neal (The Answer, Fighting with Wire) Calderwood on knob twiddling duties and this writer for one can’t wait. On December 3 the band will also headline a special, one off showcase at the Spring and Airbrake in Belfast that aims to promote the best of the Newry/Warrenpoint music scene and the lineup features Ozzmium, Forgetting June, Indy Artworx, This Year’s Black and LTR and admission is only £6 so make sure you head down to support them all. Rumours of free Friar Tuck’s snack boxes and Timoney’s ice cream for those who turn up wearing Beat Poets t shirts have yet to be confirmed from the organisers at the time of going to press…

 Fancy the chance to support the high kings of indie synth pop Oppenheimer for their all ages show at the Spring and Airbrake this December 19? Well, all you have to do is email supportoppenheimer@googlemail.com with your band’s details and some MP3’s before November 30 and you could be the lucky winner. The only stipulation Oppenheimer have put in place is that your group must be in their teens, so if you’re in your 30s we advise that you shave off those beards, buy some guy-liner and pretend you’ve had a tough life. Don’t worry, Hot Press has your back. The winner will be announced on December 1 so good luck.

Congrats to local rockers Swanee River who have bagged the much coveted support slot for the Answer’s Ulster Hall gig on December 14. The band kicked more ass than Jean Claude Van Damme at this year’s Glasgowbury so if you’re planning to go to the show make sure you get down early to see them. Tickets for the Answer’s homecoming gig are selling fast, but there are still a few left and you can get your mitts on one for £17 courtesy of Ticketmaster. We’re already dusting down our leather jacket in anticipation.





News From The North Week 40

23 09 2009

As promised in a previous blog, here’s the NI news column from the previous issue of Hot Press, Vol 33 Issue 17

 

News from the North

Words:  Edwin McFee

This October sees the return of the Hard Working Class Heroes festival in Dublin and featuring in the line up once again are a whole host of NI’s finest. Taking place from Oct 16-18 in Temple Bar, the acts that are keeping the Northern end up are A Plastic Rose (who are seemingly everywhere these days), Cutaways, Escape Act, Here Comes the Landed Gentry (who are sure to be the highlight of the whole weekend), Kowalski, Not Squares, Pocket Promise, the Vals and Yes Cadets. Despite some noticeable exceptions, it’s a pretty great bill and we’ll be filling you in on more details over the coming weeks. For now keep checking www.hwch.net for more info.

The mighty fine Oppenheimer are busy in the studio at the moment, working on album number three and they’ve come up with a rather unusual request via their website (www.oppenheimer.co.uk in case you didn’t know). The duo (who sometimes aren’t a duo, but never mind all that) want you, Joe Public, to help write two of their new songs, as Rocky from the band explains: “There will be two songs on the next album that we will write about anything you want. Anything at all.  If you want us to write a song about the time your friend fell asleep in a taxi cab on the way to watch a boxing match, and then you slapped them in the face so many times they lost feeling in their cheek for month, we’ll do it! If you want us to write a song about the tall ships visiting Belfast once every nineteen years, we’ll do it! We’ll give you a shout out on the album, a free album, free Oppenheimer gig entries and other goodies as and when we make them.” So there you have it. Personally we’re hoping they write about a handsome young Hot Press columnist from Newry and if you’d like to hear that too, then email rocky@oppenheimermusic.co.uk pronto.

Finally this fortnight, the Thrones of Roll are releasing a new EP called ‘Video Store’ by putting on a gig on Oct 23 at the Black Box in Belfast. The chaps have also made a video for the title track and it was directed by Sean Duncan and you can have a butcher’s by clicking on the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vTI5aJ3hoQ. It features the band dressed up as iconic film characters and it’s well worth a click or two.