gig review ~ blackstaff music presents... fionn crossan, search party, fox colony & red house

by 06:46

This week our reporter Connor Martin headed down to Alexander's Bar, Lisburn, to check out the latest Blackstaff Promotions  showcase...

On a blustery night here in Lisburn opening act Red House continued their upward trajectory  with an electric set. Their first song was a new one, 'Scorpion Woman', but it immediately slotted in with their growing body of original material. The standard of songwriting and musicianship in this band continues to amaze, particularly considering their age. 

I have to say, despite a rather subdued crowd, I moshed myself silly, only enhancing this young band's reputation for producing a fun, energetic live show. The sheer joy of making music shines through in every note they play. Second on the bill were Fox Colony, a three piece from Belfast. These relative newcomers impressed with their hooky and atmospheric pop punk. Like Modern Baseball, their songs seem to create a little world of fuzzy guitars, clattering drums and an angsty solidarity for the audience to really get in to.

Highlight of the set came through debut single 'The Weekend'. I look forward to seeing what happens as this band continues to grow in confidence... there is so much promise here!

Next up was punk-new comers Search Party. Lead singer Sean McDonnell broke a string during the first song from sheer enthusiasm. This band (who have just released the excellent EP 'Life is Art') have improved leaps and bounds since I last saw them. They are tighter, faster, leaner. Sean's voice has found new power, and new lead guitarist Ethan Murphy consistently manages to push things further than before. 

Bass player Ryan Pendleton has also come on, contributing a rock solid low end thump, particularly evident on the awesome 'Coming Alive'. Special mention must go, however, to drummer David Malone. A lesser musician might have phoned in such a sparsely attended show, whilst David did not. Put simply, he beat the hell out of the kit and I commend him for it. As Sean said at the opening of Search Party's set, "We may not have gotten all of Lisburn out tonight", but it was, frankly, their loss. 

Finally came headliner Fionn Crossan, remarkably composed and confident beyond his eighteen years. In a set which ranged between tranquil fragility and blustering folk, Crossan's alluring vocals and relaxed demeanor endeared him to the small crowd before a note had even been sung. Opening number 'Siblings' and penultimate tale 'Chased By Wolves' may have been set highlights, but Crossan's carefully chosen covers also made for some wonderful listening, particularly with his total reinvention of the Springsteen classic 'I'm On Fire'. 

As a debut headline show the Mallusk teenager could do no more, making it all the more frustrating that there weren't more people there to enjoy his maudlin tales. From this performance, a future of attentive crowds in much bigger venues looks almost a certainty; and with a debut  EP not too far into the distance, Fionn Crossan may just get there sooner, rather than later.

Connor Martin

single review ~ 'beluga' ~ the autocratic

by 04:27
The Autocratic
For fans of⁞► Muse, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers

The North Coast's reputation for producing riff-bashing three pieces is much like Barcelona's for producing world class midfielders. Pretty good. So the arrival of North Coast, riff-bashing, three piece The Autocratic should really come as no surprise.

A young band just starting to find their feet in the local music scene, already they have amassed a decent northern following; throwing themselves head first into those halcyon days of pub gigs and house parties. It's an initiation all the best have had to go through, and with a few headline shows already under their belts, the arrival of debut single 'Beluga' is a welcome one indeed.

Taking their lead from the likes of Axis Of and A Northern Light, 'Beluga's big chorus and punk-tinged verse's keep things upbeat; and whist the riff which draws you in evokes 'Favorite Worst Nightmare' era Arctic Monkeys, frontman Connall Ennis' distinctive vocal ensure the band's authentic sound remains just that.

As a debut release, 'Beluga' sounds bold and confident. The drumming is tight, the chorus is memorable, and the solo running into the outro hints at much bigger things to come. For a young band right at the start of their musical careers, all the signs point skyward for The Autocratic.

Just as Axis Of look to hang up their guitars for the foreseeable future, The Autocratic's arrival ensures the musical circle of life continues. The North Coast scene is alive and kicking.

Taylor Johnson

track of the week ~ 'galway rain' ~son of the hound

by 03:21

Son of the Hound
For fans of⁞► The Pogues, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen

Michael McCullagh is a story-teller at heart. A troubadour in every sense, whether regaling us with tales of  doomed sea-captains or Native American wanderers, a closer look will reveal the dedication at the heart of Son Of The Hound's music; a dedication that his won him more than a few admirers in both Northern Ireland and beyond.

New single 'Galway Rain' is a happier departure from last single 'Pilgrim'. There's still that blue-grass celtic charm which has carried on from his Meb Jon Sol days, but there's a breezier edge to the guitarist's words here, a lighter touch. He sounds, dare we say it, happy? 

In a genre so often littered with pain and suffering, political rebellion, or even just a good old fashioned punch-up (cheers for all that Shane MacGowan), 'Galway Rain' treads the road less traveled, and sounds all the better for it. Lyrically it's more Van Morrison than anything else, and that's not just because of the chorus' mention of "Brown eyes shining in the Galway rain". McCullagh sounds at peace here, flowing through his folk-pop melodies with ease, as if he's running on pure instinct.

With each new release Son of the Hound continues to thrive. 'Galway Rain' is a song to dance to, singalong at the top of your voices and ultimately, to remember the good times.

We'll drink to that.

Taylor Johnson

news ~ jessica hopper announced as keynote speaker 'women's work festival' in belfast

by 08:13

One of the most important voices in modern music journalism today has been announced as the keynote speaker at an upcoming Belfast based festival.

The "Women's Work Festival" is a series of events designed to celebrate women's crucial role within the music industry and to encourage a new generation of girls to pursue careers within music. This year's keynote speaker, Jessica Hopper, is the current editorial director for music at MTV, having previously held roles at Pitchfork and Rookie Magazine.

Her unmissable talk will take place in the Oh Yeah Music Centre, at 3pm on the 6th of March, and is set to cover important issues such as the international conversation around inclusivity in the music industry and  what is changing within it. 

The festival will kick off with a unique evening on Friday 4th with broadcasting pioneer Annie Nightingale, who recently celebrated 50 years in music and will end with a music showcase featuring some of the most promising acts of 2016 including Saint Sister, Jealous of The Birds and Katharine Philippa. 

Further details can be found at;

Taylor Johnson

news ~ jealous of the birds to release debut album

by 08:05

Well, the cat is well and truly out of the bag now. One of Northern Ireland's best kept secrets looks just about ready for SOAK-styled admiration beyond these shores, and after the way teenage songwriting-wildflower Naomi Hamilton has handled her musical career since the release of lo-fi debut 'Capricorn' last year, you'd swear she's been craving it all her life. Except, she hasn't; and one listen through the sepia-toned wanderlust of debut single 'Goji Berry Sunset' confirms this.

Jealous of the Birds is not singing for anyone other than the girl in her bedroom, lost in her journal. Or the awkward new kid, desperate for that last period maths class to finish so they can get home. This is thoughtful music, inquisitive and bold. It's a nostalgic sound, with the details left blank. A colouring book that only you can fill in. "Your name, fizzes on my tongue...damn that name".

When you then get down to the actual music, Jealous of the Birds again leaves you warm and starry eyed. Gentle folk blends smoothly with that haunting whistling refrain. On Capricorn it sounded great, here, as the lead single from her debut album 'Parma Violets' it sounds better. There hasn't been a lot added or taken away from the original, but nor did it need it. 'Goji Berry Sunset' feels like a very personal letter from an old friend.

Parma Violets is out April 8th. What an extraordinary journey this young artist has ahead of her.

Taylor Johnson 

ep review ~ 'no oil paintings' ~ no oil paintings

by 04:04

EP Review
No Oil Paintings 
For fans of⁞► Of Monsters and Men, James Vincent McMorrow, Farriers

From the opening chords of 'Exodus', the debut EP from No Oil Paintings has me hooked. I am a huge fan of these guys and have seen them many times, so it is sacrilege that I haven't reviewed this until now. The self titled EP is a gem of a record. A delightful mix of harmonies and an eclectic din of various instruments sets these lads apart from the mainstream. Banjos, guitars, percussion, strings descend on your senses in a perfectly gentle yet powerful way. For you all who don't know them, (insert condemning emoji here) No Oil Paintings are a four piece folky, country bluegrassy treat hailing from sunny Belfast with the delightful Sean Doone on 5-string Banjo/Acoustic Guitar/Vocals, the ridiculously talented Chris Kelly on Dobro/Electric Guitar/Vocals, the ever lovely James Doone on Bass/Mandolin/Vocals and everybody's favorite smiling drummer George Sloan on Drums/Vocals. Formed coming up to two yeas ago, the lads have been hard at it gigging at most of our festivals and an awesome residency with Openhouse Festival last summer, roughly coinciding with this release.

The first track of the EP is 'Exodus.' Lyrically gorgeous and wrapped in a perfect composition, this track is one of my personal favourites of any No Oil Paintings works to date. Delicately leading you in to the track with a gorgeous banjo invitation then kicking up a notch as the band join together instrumentally and harmonically to make you smile and want to get up off the sofa and have a wee dance.

'Orphans Lullaby' is stunningly gentle. Full of heart with achingly beautiflul lyrics sung with the ever stunning tones of Chris Kelly. A haunting, deep and emotional song bursting with hope and compassion, you would have to be dead inside not to be moved by this track.

Stepping up a tempo with lead vocals from Bronagh Broderick, 'Secrets' is the third track of the EP. This is exactly what you want from your folky bluegrass ensemble. Flawless story telling vocals dominate the air with an attack of melodic strings and percussion hitting all the right notes in all the right places. This is a heart-beat-faster-toe-tapping-tell-me-more tune from this delectable band.

Closing on 'Rise' this EP does not disappoint from start to finish. With a head shake inducing opening vocal, Chris yet again nails it with his distinct gruff tone and pure loving it fashion. Anyone who has seen No Oil Paintings live will know exactly what I mean, a completely impassioned front man who is engrossed in his music and art and its contagious.

A multi-talented, multi-instrumental band doesn't come around very often and each member has performed long before No Oil Paintings existed and that is clearly evident, tight, harmonic and down right catchy tunes eak from this band who have barely hit their second birthday, what will come in the new EP and album is exciting me, my little socks are ready for blowing off.

Rebecca Armstrong

track of the week ~ 'sierra leone' ~ the late twos

by 02:41

Track of the week.
The Late Twos ~ Sierra Leone
For fans of⁞► Babyshambles, The View, DMA's

Over the past three/four years, The Late Twos have carved out a reputation as Belfast's premier lad-band. Their catchy tales of all night partying, streetlight romances and adolescent debauchery has proved the soundtrack for many growing up in the city. Head to any house party and you're likely to find a Late Two's tune being belted out on someones dodgy speaker. They've even been name checked as influences by a number of local bands, all hoping to leave a similar mark. With this in mind, you'd think the five lads who make up "The Twos" would be pretty pleased with themselves. You'd be wrong.

'Sierra Leone' is the sound of a band entering the next stage of their musical journey. Whilst it would be easy to grind out the same ska-tinged indie that made their debut EP so lovable, the band have changed the game here. The clue is in the name really. For any fans expecting a song about a lads holiday to Western Africa (yes we googled it), you'll be left a tad gutted here. What we find instead is a thoughtful anthem about the treacherous living conditions of one of the most dangerous countries on the planet. The fact that they've managed to build it around one of their most memorable chorus' since debut 'The Late Twos', is a testament to their songwriting abilities. The guitar solo from the ever-reliable Ryan Bennett around the three minute mark, is beautiful. This tune sounds big, bigger perhaps than anything they've ever done before.

Careful not to loose the songs sentimental feel, we hear some light synth running through the chorus, a first for the band. We also hear a borderline emotional Matty Legge, if not quite ready to burst into tears just yet. A setlist regular for a while now, 'Sierra Leone' is already a fan favorite for the Late Twos faithful, whilst for those still on the fence about Belfast's adidas wearing, buckfast-loving, indie rogues, it could prove to be the only invitation necessary to join their house party. Four nights straight and they're still going strong...

Taylor Johnson

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