OLD FANG: Gallery Circus & Travis is a Tourist

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If there is one group you can trust to showcase the freshest music from Northern Ireland and further afield, it’s the guys behind Belfast’s hottest new label, Old Fang. The Menagerie was a melting pot of energy, heavy riffs and unfeigned songwriting.

Travis Is A Tourist still feels like a new outfit after the precursory Colly Strings came to a crescendo, but after months spent performing, recording and travelling there can be no doubt that TIAT have achieved a nuanced and unique sound. Playing as a trio (Travis Gilbert – vocals/guitar, Richard Hill – vocals/bass, Thomas Camblin – drums), TIAT delivered songs both old and new – each with its own unique storyline and rhythmic progressions.

Travis opened with a short introductory song without the accompaniment of the rhythm section and later revealed to me that he had written it the night before the gig to capture his feelings at the time. I registered that I was in the presence of a songwriter with talent so deep-set that such lyrical brilliance can be churned out even with the looming pressure of a forthcoming gig. Damn, they only played seven songs in what felt like fifteen minutes (but in reality was probably double that). During TIAT’s slot I couldn’t help but forget that the band was supporting Gallery Circus and, of course, when a great band has to condense their usual set into one that spans only thirty minutes an inevitable consequence is that the audience is left yearning for more.

The fact of the matter is that the next time I get wind of them performing as headliners, I’ll be there. There was also a non-specific promise of new material due in autumn/winter of this year. From the songs I heard last night that were introduced as new, I predict that a second studio release from TIAT would see them shoot for the stars. LISTEN TO: “Shaking” and “Nothing At All” from their eponymous E.P.

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Apart from my usual pre-gig investigation Gallery Circus had slipped under my radar, which is why I again tip my hat to Old Fang for bringing GC’s magic to Belfast as part of their U.K. tour. The first thing anyone hears of a band is, of course, their name. I had caught myself wondering how exactly the two generic words, when put together, would relate in any way to GC’s sound. But, having seen their show, I can confirm that GC combine both the variety of a modern art gallery and the energy and passion of circus performers. Of course, a band’s name doesn’t have to aptly describe the band itself, but it’s always nice when it does.

Behind the name there are identical twins, Daniel and Graeme Ross, hailing from South Tyneside. Graeme plays drums and provides backing vocals and Daniel sings and plays a guitar which goes through a multitude of effects to create a powerfully heavy sound. Their playing was so tight-knit that there were times that not one drum resounded without an accompanying guitar strum. I pondered on whether this would be physically possible if GC’s personnel consisted of anything but identical twin brothers; nevertheless this fact certainly added to the magic of GC’s performance, which was one of the most energetic things I have ever seen.

Daniel’s vocals changed gear from sweet melodic cries to gut-wrenching, Zeppelin-esque falsettos frequently and without warning, and the drums followed a similar pattern. This added to the growing atmosphere that must have complemented an early White Stripes gig – one of hard-rock, energy and sweat. I half expected a gear bust up at the end. Some songs – befitting of the comparisons just made – draw on heavy experimental blues, whereas others have the complexity and ear-splitting harmonies of a Muse song (see their lead single, “Supercell”). The band did make room for soft and heartfelt songs too, but these often ascended into angry hard-rock mania after a few minutes (see specifically “Don’t Have To Think This Through”). This is not to say that their set was without diversification – the show was a mad blur of raw energy and passion by two musicians who are at the top of their game.

Studio recordings are hard to find, though I’ve heard that they have an album in the pipeline. But Graeme and Daniel consider their band primarily to be about their live performances – and rightly so. It seems impossible that two brothers can combine forces to produce such an insurmountable wave of energy with tempo changes much like a barograph recording a storm. Hopefully they will be back in Belfast before long, but given their growing popularity in Britain – and even across the Atlantic in Chicago, where they spent some time – it regretfully may be a while. Patrick Todd, GiggingNI.com