Presented as part of the Volume Control project, Gigging NI were delighted to have been asked to provide a judge for this competition, showcasing eight, new, young and up-and-coming Northern Irish bands. There were big prizes at stake, with the winners receiving the chance to produce a professionally recorded single, and have a top quality photoshoot, mentoring, rehearsal time and a guaranteed festival slot next year.
The bursaries for the competition were very generously provided by the family of Conor Shaw. Conor tragically passed away from cancer at the age of 31 and was a well-known face on the local music scene; the bursaries set up in his name will go towards helping develop young musical talent in Northern Ireland for years to come. The evening was also raising money for Everyday Harmony, a Belfast-based music therapy charity.
Despite some truly terrible weather, the Oh Yeah Centre was packed, with each band seeming to have brought along their own army of family and friends to support them. The compere for the evening was Taylor Johnson, and the front man from Brand New Friend brought his usual humour and energy to the job. Each band had 15 minutes/three songs to impress both the crowd and the judges, and there was a wide spectrum of musical styles and sounds on stage across the evening.
Taohb Eile are an acoustic duo from Enniskillen with a single guitar and sweet vocal harmonies. Their style was quite folkie in an indie-pop way, with some ambient sounds in background adding a little depth. the vocals were generally really good, although they did struggle a little when tackling the really high notes.
Eilis Mulholland gave a solo performance that started out with piano and reminded me of local artist Rebekah Fitch, only without the drum machine. Mullholland’s voice had a breathless, husky quality to it which adds to the interest. Her song “Breathe” was quirky and different, and her final song, full of crashing guitar, lifted the whole performance.
Local three-piece Paul and the Meanie provided the first drums of the night and they treated us to a slow opening that exploded into huge riffs and rhythms at the chorus. There was a fair bit of jazz and funk in the bass overlaid with some driving indie rock guitar. They gave us at least one massive, screeching guitar break as well as loads of energy. The bassist and drummer were smart enough to hold things together while there was an emergency guitar change, but they took this in their stride.
Alder were harder to categorise; their slow pieces and intros sounded muddy, but when they picked up the pace they sounded way better. Their bassist was rock solid and held the rhythm section together. Their sound was somewhere between the Smashing Pumpkins and the Foo Fighters; slow jangling guitar intros leading into big thrashing choruses. The vocals were a little lost in the mix tonight but this was also apparent with other acts acts – it might just have been an issue with the venue.
Red House were certainly given a huge introduction by Taylor Johnson who noted that they were a band he would love to be a member of. Tonight they were loud, lively, and in your face from the start – all high tempo rock and roll/pop, and funnily enough not that dissimilar in some respects to Brand New Friend. There was some nice lead guitar work and their sound managed to be both big and well-balanced. I had previously heard them play a support slot at the Holywood Harmony Festival and the improvement since then was noticeable.
The Shankill Road’s very own Vale showed some very solid and talented musicianship across the entire band. I was instantly reminded of Californication by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers when they began, and that would probably sum up their overall sound. Restrained and always threatening to break out into something more dangerous and with more punch.
Gender Chores are an all-female trio who I really enjoyed, although I ‘d heard that this was very early days for them in terms of performing in public. They came across as fairly punky but loaded with some nice harmonies. The excellent guitar playing was the standout, but I felt that the lack of a bass guitar in the band left a hole in their sound.
The Fake Flirtations rounded out the night; they are a foursome that sound and look older than they are. You could imagine them playing stadiums and their lead singer/guitarist has real stage presence. In some aspects they were maybe the most accomplished and polished band of the night. Big hard rocky numbers, a couple of decent guitarists and a solid rhythm section would sum up their performance
So, eight young acts, three songs each – what were the results?
There was a very high degree of agreement between the public vote taken on the night and the thoughts of the judging panel. Red House took first place as well as the rather fetching (and very shiny) trophy, with Vale placed second and Paul and The Meanie coming in third.
Congratulations to Red House – they were my pick but it wasn’t an easy job; every act that went on stage brought something worthwhile to the evening and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing all these talented musicians again in the future.