interview | betsy bailie

by 16:33

The relationship between sound and picture is an interesting one, two creative practices at once different and the same. Photographs tell the story we don't have to speak, as easily and diversely interpreted as a song. It is on this side of the creative fence Betsy Bailie sits today, though you'd be wrong in thinking that's the only string to her ever lengthening bow.  

If you've ever had even the faintest interest in Northern Irish music, chances are you've saw an image curated by Betsy Bailie. A freelance broadcaster, photographer and graphic designer, Bailie has built a portpholio celebrated and shared by the likes of Anais Gallagher, the BBC and an array of bands from across Britain and Ireland. She even spent some time on the other side of the musical trench, taking on violin duties in a pop-band. Now based in Manchester, Bailie hosts her own student radio show whilst studying Graphic Design at The Manchester School of Art.

As one of the youngest and most respected creatives in Belfast, does Bailie ever reflect on just how she reached this point? Encore NI was excited to find out as we sat down to chat...

Get the cool shoeshine...Bailie on film

Hi Betsy! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us. How have you been?

I've been good! I'm home for the summer after a rather eventful first year of University so I'm just taking it easy and trying to get to as many gigs as possible.

What was your first memory related to music?

I was surrounded by music a LOT as a kid - it was literally my dad's job. I remember there being CDs sent to the house 24/7, demos from local bands. But mostly my first memory of music being a positive thing that's shared, was when we'd listen to CDs in the car on long car journeys. I have a really specific memory of me and my sisters all singing along to "you go get the cool shoeshine" from the Gorillaz song '19-2000' on a road trip while the sun was shining. It's just such a feel good song and I have such positive memories related to it. I feel like that band soundtracked my childhood. The animation aspect made them a fun band for kids and our parents were big fans of Damon Albarn so it became a band we listened to lots. 

Was there a moment growing up when you realised you wanted to pursue a creative career?

For me, growing up, there was no other option. I did well in academic subjects in school, but it was never something I considered a career in. I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort but I have no memory of a specific moment where I realised it was something I wanted to do. It was just always kind of there in the back of my mind. I would always say that I wanted to be an animator or fashion designer or something like that when people would ask. I guess because both my parents were creatives and my oldest sister ended up going into Costume Design. For me, the question was always "music or art?" and I feel like I've found a way to incorporate both into my work. 

Do you have a favourite music-related photograph? I love Nirvana’s famous Rolling Stone cover, (with Kurt Cobain wearing the ‘Corporate Magazines Still Suck’ tee) and Liam Gallagher, arms outstretched in font of a sea of people, at Main Road in the mid-90’s…
One of my favourite photographers ever is Kevin Cummins and I love all the photographs he took of Joy Division and The Smiths. But my favourite photograph has to be the famous Joy Division bridge photo in Hulme, Manchester. It was one of the photos that made me want to move there. There's something so bleak about the photo. It definitely helped establish Joy Division's aesthetic. It made me realise the power of a photograph; how it can literally shape a band's image. Kevin Cummins actually claims he "saved Joy Division from being Bon Jovi".

He incorporated cold, austere, post-punk Manchester. The band matching the city. The whole idea of Joy Division being a 'black and white' band. That photo always makes me realise the influence and power photographs can have on bands.

Cummins famous image later donned the cover of Joy Divisions posthumous 'Best Of...' album. 

There doesn’t seem to be a band in Northern Ireland who haven’t at least tried to work with you in recent years, how does it feel having built up that reputation?

I don't really view it that way, I guess it's all happened quite gradually. But it does feel pretty surreal. I never really viewed myself as a photographer who did commissioned shoots. It started off as a hobby, a way of me preserving memories, documenting my friends/the local scene. When people started asking me to do paid shoots I was 17/18 years old and never really realised or considered it a way to make money/a possible career choice. As for reputation, it feels nice to have something to my name, something to be known for - other than 'that 16 year old who goes to gigs'. It feels like I'm actually contributing to the local scene which feels pretty good. 

Do you have a favourite photography session, or individual shot of a band that you are most proud of?

I love shoots when the band have lots of ideas and want to go somewhere interesting. The first that comes to mind is my shoot last summer with Wynona Bleach. They were full of energy and ideas and we ended up spontaneously driving to the international airport to take some photos in the waiting area. It was a location I never considered for a photoshoot but ended up looking quite cool. Another example is a shoot I did with Ferals in Portrush. It was a sunny day and we went to Barry's and the beach and ate ice cream. It didn't feel like work. 

Wynona Bleach

How has the scene changed from when you first began working in it?

When I was really young and used to hear about local bands and gigs through my dad and sister, it seemed like bands had more fire, determination. To really 'make it' - to make it out of Belfast. I feel like that's what's missing these days. Some bands are just happy enough playing gigs in the same venues to the same audiences week after week. 

The scene has also changed in terms of photographers. Everyone's a photographer these days. It's become so much easier for people these days to take nice photos. It's killing photography as a career. Everyone's just doing it as a hobby. Sometimes that's hard. Who's going to pay me to shoot a gig when people will turn up with cameras anyway? It's one of the reasons I started shooting on analogue film cameras. Going back to basics, what true photography is really about. It's a style that you can't get from a phone camera or a cheap digital. It's time consuming and takes a real creative eye to get a good shot. 

You haven’t just been behind the lens, you’ve also been in bands and experienced that side of the coin. How do the two compare for you? Do you think the infrastructure is there for bands to survive?

I loved being able to experience playing gigs on stage, it's a feeling like no other seeing people watch you play music. But it definitely takes a certain type of person to have the confidence to do it. I was 17 years old when I was gigging and used to freak out just before we went on stage. I prefer being the observer, being behind the lens, helping and watching bands grow. The two definitely need each other. I wouldn't be where I am without the bands sharing my posts, and likewise. That's what makes music so great, there's so many other jobs surrounding it. So many jobs for people to do to all help out. Would Joy Division or New Order have been the same without the Kevin Cummins photographs or the iconic Peter Saville record sleeves? No. Artists help shape bands. And bands give artists jobs. The infrastructure definitely helps both parties to survive.
Find your purpose...Ferals in black and white

Let’s rewind things a little bit. As a very young teenager you started your journey through the Volume Control program in the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast, running all ages gigs. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself if you could talk to that teenager?

Go to as many gigs as possible! Network, talk to people, make friends! I was a very shy and anxious teenager and missed out on some opportunities to connect with people similar to me. I also feel like I was in such a rush to get out of Belfast, experience the mainland. But I would tell myself to appreciate it more. Appreciate those times I played in a band, the times I watched bands grow, the times I had the chance to talk to some interesting people. 

You recently moved to Manchester to study Graphic Design and immediately worked your way into hosting your own radio show. How has that experience been for you?

It definitely has pushed me out of my comfort zone. But I think that's important for young people. There's nothing like moving away for Uni and throwing yourself into new things to really grow as a person. Sometimes Belfast can be a bit of a bubble and living in Manchester for almost a year has made me realise there's more out there. But it's also made me appreciate Belfast more. Appreciate the close-knit music scene and all my friends back home. It takes a while to settle and you really need to work to put your name out there in a new city. But it definitely is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone and have new experiences. I am thankful for Hive student radio society in Manchester for allowing me to explore an interest of mine. I think that's what University is all about - exploring all possible interests and networking. I'd encourage anyone to move away for Uni, or just join as many societies as possible. Join pole dancing!
Anything new that interests you. Life is too short.

It’s difficult to talk about the radio without mentioning your Dad, Stuart Bailie, who for years has been a driving force behind some of the UK’s most successful bands.  Has he been an inspiration for you?

Yeah, for sure. It's always a great comfort to me knowing that I have a role model figure in my family. Someone to look up to and ask for advice every now and then. He definitely inspires me to try and make a name for myself in the local scene, like he did. It's sometimes hard for me to realise just how much he's done and is still doing in Belfast, because to me he's just my dad; but every now and then I'll read something he's written or a photograph he's taken and be like "wow, I want to be that good". And I know I can because I have the Bailie blood! He never stops as well - once he's done something great, he's onto the next big thing. 

He has made me realise the commitment and work ethic you have to have as a creative freelancer. 
Adored...Stuart Bailie with Ian Brown of The Stone Roses

As your clientele and reputation continue to grow, your spare time seems to have vanished! Do you have a plan of what your next creative step is?

My main goal at the minute is to keep working hard at University and get my degree. I wanna build up my graphic design portfolio while I'm home for summer and just create as much as I can. I'm going to be the station manager for Hive Radio starting September too which is very exiting. Making contacts and connections in both Belfast and Manchester is a goal for me. I also have a dream of displaying my photography at some point. Either in a zine/publication or as an exhibition. But right now, I just want to continue doing what I'm doing.

Finally Betsy, you’ve saw the NI scene evolve rapidly over the last few years. Can you name a few newer acts you’re excited about, and a few more established acts you’ll always love?
There's a few young bands I've seen recently, for example Vale and Xiola Blue. They've excited me and I think they're the next generation of musicians coming up. Problem Patterns and Gender Chores are two very exciting bands at the minute. They've got the punk fire. I recently saw them live at the Problem Patterns EP launch in which they had a 'Prom' theme. They really make their live gigs an experience. I do have a few favourite more established acts though that I always love to see live. Jealous of the Birds, Brand New Friend, Joshua Burnside. Bands I have grown to love the past few years. I always try to catch them when they're gigging. 

Interview by Taylor Johnson

interview ~ daniel donaghy ~ gin palace

by 05:55

Bursting with energy upon the release of their debut EP, Gin Palace lead guitarist Daniel Donaghy sat down with us to talk world domination, his evolution as a songwriter and their whirlwind journey up til now...

Hi Daniel! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us. How’ve you been? 
It's my pleasure! I’ve been great, it’s been a busy year for Gin Palace and we have an EP coming out, so I can’t complain.

To a lot of people, Gin Palace will feel like an overnight success story. Did you expect to have such a buzz around the band so quickly?
 Absolutely not! The support we’ve had right from the start has been incredible, we couldn’t have expected anything like it but we’re feeling very lucky for the support.

I was lucky enough to have been there at that first sold out headline show in McHugh’s basement last year. The energy in the room was palpable, how did it feel having so many people singing your lyrics back to you?
That gig was an amazing night for all of us. To have people singing our songs back to us at our first ever gig was almost unbelievable at the time, I think we’ll always remember that one.

There’s a real sense of something building around the band at the moment, do you feel that yourselves? 
Yeah we really do, there’s a certain energy in the group that we’ve all noticed and we’re really excited for what’s to come.

At your headline Voodoo show you were joined by your little brother’s band Red House, a lovely gesture and another fantastic band. What’s it been like watching him set off on his own musical journey? 
 It’s been really cool to see, I’ve been watching him develop as a musician for years now and to finally have the opportunity to share a stage with him has been wonderful.

It’s impossible to discuss Gin Palace’s future without delving a little into your history first. For those who have been watching your career up til now, they may forever link yourself and Joel (McCracken, vocals/rhythm guitar/brass) with your former band The Remedy. You started as kids, built a loyal following over the years and left us with ‘Different Class’, a proper tune, especially considering how young you were. What did you learn from your time in The Remedy? Have you given yourself a chance to reminisce since forming Gin Palace?
The main thing The Remedy taught me was that music should be about the fun of it. We were just a few guys having a laugh in that band, we never took ourselves too seriously and for me, that’s how music should be made. I think Gin Palace is a more developed outfit musically though, and I’ve really been enjoying the opportunity to experiment more with more diverse sounds. But I’ll never forget where I got my start!

Where do you feel Gin Palace fit into the current Northern Irish musical landscape and are there any bands from here that you’re into? 
I feel that Gin Palace have diverse enough sounds that we fit nicely on to a lot of bills on the NI scene. And there are more bands than I could name from Northern Ireland that I’m into at the moment, but off the top of my head I love what Paul and the Meanie are doing, we’ve gigged with them before and they always bring a great show. I love some of the sounds that Jealous of the Birds is making, and Wood Burning Savages have been bringing some of the best live shows around for as long as I can remember. And between Kitt Philippa, Strange New Places, Gender Chores, SOAK and loads others, I love how many LGBT+ artists are coming out of NI at the minute – it’s really cool to know that we have a diverse music scene here. And there are always the classics – I’ve seen Foy Vance, Duke Special and Emerald Armada live all in the last year and you don’t need me to tell you how great they are. I’ve left so many great bands out – the scene has too many class acts at the moment!

So the debut self titled EP is out now. You don’t mess about! What can you tell us about it?
You know us Taylor! I really love the sounds on the new EP and am super excited for everyone to hear it. It’s more musically developed than our first two singles with a good amount more of Joel’s signature brass, and I think it gives us a really good opportunity to showcase the slower side of our music whilst keeping the energy that makes our music what it is – I’m really looking forward to people hearing this side of our sound.

How important was it meeting Darren (Mercer, bass) and Josh (Lown, drums)?
Only as important as having a bassist and drummer! But to be serious, Josh and Darren have contributed so much to our sound – we very much write as a group with Joel as a lead songwriter, and so their contributions make the rhythm section what it is – if it grooves, you can guarantee that’s the work of those two.

Okay, picture the scene. We’re back in the Pavilion Bar, Ormeau Road. You look in the window and see 16 year old you and 17 year old Joel singing your hearts out, learning your trade, not even old enough to be in the place. What would you say to those kids? What advice would you give them?
Don’t push yourself so hard! When I was that age I thought I was going to be the best musician in the world before I even turned 18 – I had no idea how much learning I had to do. I only feel like I really know the ropes of live music now after doing it for 8 years, so I’d tell myself to chill out, enjoy it and not worry too much about knowing everything when you’re still young – you’re there to learn!

What gigs do you have coming up this Summer? 
I’m afraid I’ll have to keep that to myself, but keep yourself updated on social media – you’ll not want to miss what we have planned.*

Finally, what are your plans for the future of Gin Palace?
Keep gigging and making great tunes! After this EP we want to take some time away to write some new songs for you all, and we want to gig as much as we can over the summer as well. Then we’ll be straight back in the studio to record some lovely new music for you all – we don’t intend on slowing down any time soon.

*Since this interview was recorded Gin Palace announced a headline show at The Empire Music Hall, Belfast. See here for more details.

track of the week ~ ferals ~ 'twoseventyone'

by 04:46

For fans of: Biffy Clyro, Fatherson, ASIWYFA

For a band with such a mighty sound, North Coast boys Ferals have until now been content with crafting their songs in the shadows. Well no longer, as the trio of singles making up debut EP 'Always Watching, Never Watched' show a band ready for their turn in the spotlight.

Channelling the aggressive riffs that have come to define their home over the years (An Axis Of' stomp, ASIWYFA inspired breakdowns), Ferals fuse it with their own unique twist on the alt-rock formula, dominated by frontman Shane McMullan's vocals. He sounds totally at peace on these recordings, as if his songs have finally found their home.

'TwoSeventyOne' is a mature leap into the unknown for Ferals, littered with deceptively coy couplets about the girl who's 'just another dream...', before crashing out on a massive breakdown not dissimilar to the waves on the shore of their hometown.

Thundering drums and unrelenting guitar licks have been a staple component of every Ferals release so far, but what sets them apart from their contemporaries is their absolute refusal to sacrifice melody as a result (see 'The Low'). The band that burst onto the scene with 'Brendan Rodgers' last year already look like something from a distant chapter; in a short space of time Ferals have evolved into a wiser beast. More Pep Guardiola, than the Leicester City man.

Taylor Johnson

single review ~ the mannerly hoods ~ 'woodstock'

by 15:04

For Fans Of: Babyshambles, General Fiasco, Circa Waves

As 2/5's of Belfast's cheekiest purveyors of indie-dance The Late Twos, David McMaster and Ryan Bennett have filled nearly every venue in the city, treaded every boardwalk and drank every pint going in the process. 'Woodstock' is the debut single from their  wonderfully named sideproject 'The Mannerly Hoods', which see's the duo retaining the loud guitars and earworm chorus's that saw Belfast fall in love with them the first time around.

Coupled with a brilliant video, 'Woodstock' isn't an ode to the legendary 60's music festival, but perhaps the even more legendary Woodstock Road in East Belfast. It's here The Mannerly Hoods excel, honestly and without pretense painting a picture of their native city that blows the Summer of 69 out of the water. Jangling guitars cascade through a frenetic and clever pop verse, leading to a chorus left in your head for days after a first listen.

Sharp, witty and brimming with energy, as introductions go 'Woodstock' is a perfect start. The Mannerly Hoods charming cheekiness, and ear for crafting a pop tune has been well honed over years of serving the indie scene. One suspects this new project won't be short of more gems like this, and long may they continue  to produce them.

Taylor Johnson

single review ~ 'keep your head up' ~ rachael boyd

by 06:00

For fans of: Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, Radiohead
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Rachael Boyd is a genius.

Sometimes there is no other word for it. Having made her name playing alongside the likes of Joshua Burnside, Rews guitarist Shauna Tohill and more recently the runaway success story that is Ciaran Lavery, the young multi-instrumentalist boasts an impressive CV. With a sound as eclectic and difficult to pin down as her's, it's no surprise that the music has (so far) been better recieved in random pockets of appreciation all across the world than in Britain or Ireland. Take the incredible 'Back In Your Box', a lowkey release from early 2013 that has gathered over 26,000 hits despite virtually no plugging from the virtuoso violinist. There's comments in Italian, Chinese, Russian and even without Google translate, the '<3's give away that Boyd's compositions translate across the water.

 'Keep Your Head Up' follows a similarly rich formula, encompassing lush string arrangements with lofi hip-hop beats, creating another universal piano ballad.

Whilst it is unlikely we'll ever see kids blasting 'Keep Your Head' from their I-phone speakers at a bus stop, you may well  hear it paint the sonic background to a Cannes Film festival prize winning piece.

Taylor Johnson

ep review ~ 'coping mechanism' ~ steady decline

by 06:35

For fans of: Neck Deep, The Wonder Years, State Champs

Rarely will a brand new band emerge onto any scene as fully formed as Steady Decline.

Formed at the tail end of 2016 by four friends with a pop-punk shaped hole in their hearts,  the Dublin band announced themselves to the world with a cool name, logo, merch, a seven track EP/Mini album and an Irish tour literally within their first week of existance; with such rapid fire enthusiasm, could their music live up to the hype? Taylor Johnson listened to find out exactly that...

For all the exquisite attention to detail surrounding Steady Decline's start to life, 'Coping Mechanism' embodies everything they're about far more than any finely tuned music video ever could. Opening with the appropriatly named instrumental 'New Beginnings', this record is designed to feel like a gig, with everything from the tension building intro, to 'Battlescars' anthemic finale being taken into consideration.

Singles 'Front Porch' and 'Stay The Same' have an irrepressible swell, punchy verses each time leading to choruses which seem to get bigger with each passing guitar solo. Dual vocalists Oscar Hackett (Homecomings) and Jack Wright (Dream State) have an A Plastic Rose appeal, as both frontmen carry the same heavy weights in their head, the same longing. Together they work brilliantly, the effect instant.

The full throttle pulse of the title track keeps emotions running high, as Wright concludes that if he wants to drink the night away, he will. ("Fuck what your friends all say, this is my coping mechanism!"). Sounding straight out of Neck Deeps 'Life's Not Out To Get You', 'Start Over' see's more love laid to waste, more chances lost as Wright admits, "I wrote you once a week, but I could never send it..." and an outro reminiscent of his acoustic beginnings in much loved Galwegian band Dream State.

'Erase Me'  is the emotional pinacle of a record surrounded by pain. A change of pace from what we've heard so far.  It's a giant singalong waiting to happen, as Wright once again bares his soul for all to hear. It leads quite delicately to 'Battlescars', a tune that teases the smallest bit of light to shine on 'Coping Mechanism's dark shadows, before stripping it away. Brooding and heavier than the rest of the record, 'Battlescars' is Steady Decline's mission statement.

Whatever is thrown at them on this journey they are about to embark on, whatever they must deal with, Steady Decline will not stop moving forward...and they'll have the scars to prove it.

Taylor Johnson

ep review - tyrannosaurus wrex - 'fromthecarpet'

by 07:21

For fans of: Damien Rice, Joe Purdy, The Tallest Man On Earth

The ambient sadness of 'Fromthecarpet', the debut release from Tyrannosaurus Wrex, resonates long after the final chord has rung out on this quietly brilliant collection of demos.

The side project of Brand New Friend and Sea Above's Aaron Milligan, Tyrannosaurus Wrex's introduction to the world was made as subtly as the music itself; no fuss, no grandeur, just delicate songs with nods to The Tallest Man On Earth, Jose Gonzalez and Glen Hansard throughout.

Take the hypnotic waltz of opener 'Greens For Blues', a heartrending lofi trek through the deepest trenches of the human psyche, as we witness it's author battling his own brain. Beautifully, Milligan balances the desolate with hope, leaving just enough light in to break the darkness.

"After all I'm still me, still the same person I've always been, still the same blood running through my veins, the same heart and the same old pain"

'Phone Call' at times feels so personal, it seems an intrusion to listen on. We hear more haunting guitar work, layered over an acoustic lead and Milligan's hushed, entrancing vocals. We hear more solace in others, as he sings "Please keep answering my calls, I just wanna know you're there, don't have to say anything at all...". 

Closing the EP is 'Different', a song more in the vein of his alt-rock roots in Sea Above. Yet more complex guitar work is given room to grow in what is undoubtedly the most anthemic track on 'Fromthecarpet', yet that doesn't make it any less personal than the EP title suggests. We hear reflections on a battle won, but a war years from conclusion.

"Doing well, coping, sleep tonight, here's hoping..."

For an unofficial, bedroom demo, 'Fromthecarpet' hits incredibly close to home. 

Taylor Johnson

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