live review ~ bushmills live 2014 ~ bushmills whiskey distillery

'Bushmills Live' is an intriguing concept indeed. It's a one day music festival with a difference, attracting some of the best bands around the planet and bringing them together to host an evening of exhilarating colour, warmth and whiskey in the tiny North Coast town of Bushmills. The venue? The famous old distillery factory of course. With an atmosphere as quietly electric as it was civilized, it created an interesting backdrop to one of the most sought after gigs of the year.

Opening the show 'straight outta Compton' (well, New York, which is close enough) came the brilliantly named Rubblebucket. A fascinating cocktail of indie rock and roll, big hitting orchestral  interludes and a front woman of radiating charisma, these Americans came to party and party they did. Thinking nothing of jumping off stage mid-way through their set and dancing with the distinguished crowd of friends, family and competition winners below, it didn't take long for Rubblebucket to leave their mark on an audience who could never be 100% sure what to expect. Single 'Came Out Of A Lady' bounces with the samba swings of Paul Simon at his finest, with an irrepressible groove, while 'Sound Of Erasing' really hit home Kalmia Traver's effortlessly brilliant vocal range over her bands controlled chaos, never lying far from the surface. The entire Rubblebucket experience is similar to that of one massive carnival. It's a never ending Spring Break, wrapped around a bright, infectious enthusiasm. This band sound like the finished package already and could be forgiven for resenting such a low billing at their first ever gig in Europe. Somehow, you imagine they were simply happy to be part of the celebrations.

Local lads Levity Breaks are a band of startling potential. Winners of the prestigious 'Bushmills Live Legacy Fund' (courtesy to Gary Lightbody and his Third Bar music label) the four piece have grown from strength to strength since the release of their 'Maudlin' EP in October 2013 and looked all the stronger for it. Playing mainly new material for their big performance, the band's winning formula of big hitting anthems with swirling guitars has clearly not been abandoned, as they showed just what peaked Lightbody's attention in the first place. Singer and bassist Marty McLaughlin's rough delivery and knack for a promising build up puts in mind a young Stuart Adamson, as does the bands military styled drumming and the sheer ferocity of much of their setlist. The slightly older single 'Broken Hands' again played a prominent role in the bands live shows, making a fitting end to a performance which will only further their resolve to break out of the confines of Northern Ireland.

London's Luke Sital-Singh has all the necessary components to be a truly big name in the world of acoustic folk-pop. His charming and vulnerable on stage demeanor mean he's already worked his way into your favor before he's even sang a note. You're almost willing the young songwriter to blow you away, like the living embodiment of the classic underdog story. Luke can have an audience on side within the first minute of a performance. Thankfully, he has the voice and deft touches of brilliance scattered throughout his hand crafted songs to more than match his humble nature. 'Nothing Stays The Same's singalong chorus will of course be it's main selling point, but allow the verse to wash over you first. They're perhaps even more enjoyable. So what's the problem? Well, essentially, there isn't one. Luke Sital-Singh is excellent and drawn some great comparisons to the likes of Bon Iver, Ben Howard and even Jeff Buckley. But this may prove a difficult brunt to bare in a folk scene already over saturated to the nth degree. Even the mentality of Ed Sheeran seems to have shifted from the delicate touches of '+' to the over produced pop swagger of 'Sing' for his new album.

Having said that, Luke Sital-Singh is not Ed Sheeran and towards the end of his performance he brought on the acoustic juggernaut that is Iain Archer alongside him. Between them they wrote Luke's debut album and to say Archer's track record is rather impressive is like saying Freddy Mercury could 'sort of hit a high note'. An understatement of massive proportions. Last year on the very same stage Archer's last protégé, an unknown lad from the mid-lands, played a blinder, similar to Sital-Singh. Things haven't gone too badly for him since...

Next on the bill came the small matter of Gary Lightbody's Tired Pony. The super-group, consisting of legendary REM guitarist Peter Buck, Iain Archer, with production duties falling to Jacknife Lee, were tonight joined by another local hero as Bronagh Gallagher stepped forward to duet with the bands front-man. Playing songs from both of their beautifully written albums Tired Pony were in fine voice all evening, never missing an ethereal beat and playing each song with the heartrending potency with which they were written. 'Blood's pulsating beat roused the crowd from their relaxed cocoon cast by Sital-Singh, while 'I Am The Landslide' saw Iain Archer's soothing tones take centre stage. 'I'm Begging You Not To Go's subtle wonder cast a stunning silence on the mesmerized crowd, even when Lightbody admitted it was about "Trying to sleep with a woman!" whilst simultaneously dedicating it to his Father for Fathers Day (a moment really not as weird as that sentence made it sound...). Clearly relishing being back on home shores, Lightbody was in great form, dancing to every song, bantering with the audience and literally jumping into the crowd at one point. It was a flawless exhibition of this countries greatest exports, making it all the harder to believe this was only their sixth ever full band show and their first in Ireland. To be there was nothing short of a privilege.

Following Tired Pony can be no mean feat, but it was one singer-songwriter David C Clements clearly relished. Having been hidden away in the hills of Donegal recording his debut album, the Belfast man has clearly honed his craft to breath-taking levels as he produced another performance worthy of taking note of. Clements biggest strength is his ability to create a peaceful serenity within his music, before shattering it to the ground in one sweeping falsetto, and it's clear that this is a talent that will be willfully exploited on his increasingly anticipated debut album. Another artist taking the opportunity to showcase mainly new material, Clements looks equally comfortable on his own, acoustic guitar in hand, or fronting a band. In a highly accomplished performance, he managed to set himself apart from the pool of songwriters through a boundless energy that more than justified his place as near headliner in this distinguished line-up. The future looks very bright for him indeed.

For a small section of teenage girls assembled at the front of the crowd the moment had finally arrived. The 1975 carry with them an air of nonchalance that, far from coming across as arrogance, instead reinforces the notion that this is a band in the heart of the tempest, the band for 2014 and they know it. Front-man Matty Healy of course steals the show for his casual flamboyancy, dancing around the stage at will, playing with amps and drinking various cups of wine without a care in the world. Few artists could get away with such a perceived lack of interest, but Healy can because when all's said and done, he is a writer of such catchy melody that he can alter a gig massively with a simple riff/flick of the hair or indeed 'hey!'. He has a manner which cannot be taught, a charisma of such narcotic hilarity it's as heartbreaking as it is enjoyable. Healy still possesses the razor sharp wit of a man destined to cover the walls of a thousand teenage girls bedrooms/facebooks, even if at times he can make non-sequiters The Mighty Boosh would be proud of. Commenting on the technical problems which dogged most of their set, ' This is a haberdashery of a performance!'. One must ponder what goes on inside the young Mancunian's head. 'Can any sense be made of what I'm about to say? No. Say it anyway, someone will make a gif out of it'. 

This, it must be stressed, is not a criticism of The 1975, simply an observation. Without the constant chaos which follows them, they may not be half as much fun as they are and songs like 'Talk', 'Sex' and yes, 'Chocolate', sounded as massive as they did at the bands Ulster Hall gig earlier this year and during their 'Radio 1's Big Weekend' set. For a band who struggled to draw in a crowd at The Oh Yeah Music centre only a few years ago, The 1975 have clearly progressed massively to be one of the biggest bands on the planet right now. Now they must step back up to the mark and produce a follow up to their mammoth debut and unfortunately, it may be here that their longevity will be judged.

The 1975 are the band of right now and they played like it. Let's see if they can stay there.

Taylor Johnson.

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