live review ~ 'the cellar bar's long goodbye' ~ cellar bar, draperstown

As the sun looks to finally set on the musical heritage of Draperstown's Cellar Bar, the feeling that the end of an era is finally upon us has grown ever more prominent, in a town steeped in musical history. After Patrick Glasgow's decision to call time on the famous 'Glasgowbury Festival', it seems the town that has for so long been at the epicenter of Northern Irelands local music scene has begun to move on, as the Cellar Bar too recently announced their decision to no longer host local music gigs. As sad as it is for the local musical community when I arrived last night for 'The Cellar Bar's Long Goodbye', a night of five bands for the outstanding value of £4, the locals were in great spirits, capturing the mentality of positivity and passion, that made The Cellar Bar one of the countries top venues for so many years. It was a brilliantly planned event, worthy of the occasion as one of the the famous bars last ever live gigs. No pressure for the musicians then...

The night was kicked off in definitive style as special guests 'Car Chase City' took to the stage. The band's infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy acted as the perfect introduction to the evening, getting the audience on their feet almost immediately. Car Chase City's unique take on American styled punk rock was very clearly embraced by this more rock orientated from the off, a feeling encapsulated by their reaction after an audacious Green Day cover went down a storm. The brilliantly titled, 'Dude, Can I Borrow Your Straighteners?' flowed seamlessly, the bands energetic performance at times just as enticing as the music. Highlights of an uptempo set came during the Blink 182 styled 'Home', that had the band at their full frontal best, standing on amps, diving around the stage and headbanging as if their lives depended on it. As the song blasted along to it's distortion heavy conclusion, two members of the audience ran on stage and proceeded to hoist the lead singer and bassist in the air, triumphantly shirking any and all safety regulations in the name of rock and roll. It was the kind of reckless abandon and spontaneous optimism that only the Cellar Bar can produce and the audience were loving every second of it.

Next on the bill was Belfast's most exciting alternative rock act 'Those Ghosts'. With an already fully formed wall of sound, the band captivated from the off, enticing the crowd with their own brand of melodic, riff driven stadium rock. Blasting through an incredibly tight and polished set, the Strabane lads turned out potential hit, after potential hit, with tracks such as 'Enemies' sounding like a classic, just waiting to make it's appearance on a Fifa soundtrack. With U2-esque soaring lead guitar coupled with Aodhan Doherty's stunningly unique vocal, you cant help but feel that 'Those Ghosts' have all the ingredients to add their name to the long list of great alternative rock bands emerging from Britain in recent years. Towards the end of the set they unleashed 'Evelyn', the resplendent jewel in the crown and they know it, cleverly dedicating it to The Cellar Bar and it's dedicated punters, a beautifully executed piece of frontmanship that had, for the first time, the whole bar singing along to the incredibly catchy chorus. Despite this passionate and exciting moment, the highlight of the set came just before it, as Those Ghosts introduced a new song to their ever growing set. The beautifully articulate and genuinely moving 'Not Waiting For The End'. Set to a melancholic and serene back drop of arpeggio guitar and with Doherty's delicate vocal capturing the raw emotive atmosphere, 'Not Waiting For The End' is quite possibly the best song the band have written in their short time. If they continue to create songs of that quality and honesty the future could be incredibly bright for Those Ghosts.

This was followed by 'Dog Will Hunt', a guitar driven three piece who describe their sound as 'heavy dance funk'. This unusual combination of rhythmic grooves, high tempo, upbeat riffs and angry screamed vocals got a fantastic reception, as well as creating a colourful and perplexing contrast, that shouldn't be attempted to figure out, but should instead, simply be enjoyed. Taking obvious influence from local punk rock hero's 'And So I Watch You From Afar', If Dog Will Hunt's manifesto was to get people dancing, create a mini, but by no means less committed mosh pit and play very, very loudly, then it was no doubt mission accomplished. A fantastic relationship with the audience and natural stage presence added a personal touch to a watertight set.

As Dogs Will Hunt played off their final riff, it paved the way for 'The Big Grizzly', an energetic, punk, metal three piece with an electronic edge. The band came storming out of the blocks, ripping straight into their set with all the vigor and passion of a band playing Wembly stadium. This was made all the more remarkable by the fact that, literally moments before taking the stage, The Big Grizzly's drummer (Sean O'Neill) was struck down by a disastrous case of 'Buckfast Disease' as the band looked like they would have to perform their unique blend of distorted-metal without a drummer. Luckily Car Chase City's drummer Phillip Crean had bought an earlier Big Grizzly EP and, in a bizarre twist of incredible luck, displayed the sort of  comradery that encapsulates the  spirit of the venue by agreeing to step in and drum the tracks from that EP. It meant having to completely change the gigs setlist and rely on a drummer they'd never worked with before, yet, it worked brilliantly. The Car Chase City drummer continued his fine form from the bands earlier set, to deliver a startlingly strong performance behind the drumkit. Charming and witty, Bill Woods bass playing and vocals never faltered, despite claims that a virus had left his throat 'Away with the fairies'. 'Get Loud' particularly stood out, as Anthony Captains frantic guitar work allowed Woods vocals to finally stretch itself, providing a melodic yet exhilarating performance. At it's best, it could even be reminiscent of an early Smashing Pumpkins. Cleverly structured, yet seething with anger. A high octane and fast paced set, The Big Grizzly turned a potential disaster into a memorable performance, but you get the feeling it couldn't have been achieved without Crean.

As the night progressed into the early hours it was finally time for the nights headliners, one of the countries hardest working rock bands, The Rupture Dogs. With an audience already fully committed to the Rupture Dogs cause, wearing their authentic t-shirts and discussing the possible setlist long before they'd taken to the stage, other than the momentous aspect of the occasion there was no pressure on the band and thankfully that's just how they played. It was a classic set from the veteran rockers, at times engaging, with dark and menacing guitar riffs, at times tumultuous, with passionately screamed vocals and doom laden, distorted bass riffs, but it remained captivating throughout and it was clear that The Rupture Dogs could have played those songs in their sleep. The enthusiastic and receptive crowd thrived off every syllable, as the band eased into proceedings effortlessly and easily. Years of touring have left them impeccably tight as a unit, the group were note perfect. The gig descended, understandably into madness towards the end of proceedings and as the final riff echoed out around the tiny venue, you couldn't help but feel the beginning of the end couldn't have got off to a better start. There's only a few more gigs left at The Cellar Bar and my advice? If you can, get to one of them. You wont regret it.

Taylor Johnson

Stand out band(s)? ~ Those Ghosts, Car Chase City

Stand out tracks? ~ Those Ghosts - 'Not Waiting For The End', The Rupture Dogs ~ 'Wake Up'

Keep up to date with all the bands on the links below;

Car Chase City
Those Ghosts
Dog Will Hunt 
The Big Grizzly
The Rupture Dogs

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