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Review: Denver McCord, Railway Bar, Cookstown

Most musicians will acknowledge that it’s getting increasingly difficult to get people to come out and support live gigs. If you’re lucky enough to live in a big city, things might be slightly better, but certainly out in the sticks, support for the live music scene can be disappointing to say the least.  That was not the case this week though, when Denver McCord packed out Cookstown’s Railway Bar – midweek!  For the last six months or more the Cookstown Rock & Blues Showcase, founded my music lover John McVitty, has been doing its bit to fetch people out of their homes and into live music venues, at least in this little patch of the province.

Denver McCord

This week’s offering, rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, Cookstown’s own Denver McCord, was a revelation. I have long been aware of Denver, having many friends in common, who are always rabbiting on about what a fantastic musician he is, but until Tuesday night, our paths had never crossed.  Much like Santa Claus or Keyser Söze, I was beginning to wonder if he really existed, since I seemed to keep just missing him.  I finally fixed my eyes upon him in The Railway Bar and the myth, realised, has exceed my expectations. 

The sound check in the Railway Bar was lengthy, but the crowd as they began to drift in, evidently thought it was worthy of a listen. And it was remarkable to see so many people arriving on a Tuesday night, historically the deadest night of the week. The Rock & Blues Showcase is quickly gaining in reputation and many of those present had travelled quite a distance to be there.

Sound check over, and after a brief support slot from Justin Meechan, Denver opened up with “All the Way” from his 2015 album Confessions, Questions & Tales. At the time, the album was incredibly well received with several tracks achieving regular airplay on local radio. Stuart Richardson provided blues harp on this track, while Justin Meechan was on percussion. Those who know Denver well, tell me he’s a quiet and unassuming kind of guy. Not so on stage! He has serious classic rock chops!  With a deep resonant voice and guitar solos which betray his love of guitar heroes of various genres such as of Rory Gallagher or Kim Thayil. 

Cookstown Rock & Blues Showcase

Several other songs from his solo recording follow; the sprightly “How Long (‘til I See You Again?)” and “Sparkle and Fade” in which his voice is distinctly redolent of Eddie Vedder.  This album of self-penned tracks is a mature and diverse collection.  McCord himself has described it as, “an autobiographical soundtrack, cinematic in style and concept… 35 minutes of music featuring a variety of different styles and influences without ever straying too far from classic rock.”  In the intervening years since 2003 when Novice, the band he’d formed as a teenager, won the Northern Ireland Battle of the Bands, he has developed not only his style, but a reputation as one the most respected musicians around.

Denver is currently back in Einstein Studios with Frankie McClay recording his new single ‘Come Home’ which will be released in April and we got to hear one of the first live airings for that track. He has, he explained, plans to release a 10” EP in late 2019.  The song went down very well, and he was clearly overwhelmed by the hugely warm reception he received from his home crowd, repeatedly thanking the people and looking genuinely ecstatic.

In the midst of the set there were a few choice covers; Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These,” and a medley of numbers given the folky treatment; “Molly’s Lips,” “Pay Me My Money Down,” and Rory Gallagher’s “Going to My Hometown.”  As he picked up the mandolin he declared, “My head must be fucking cut, to play this thing in front of Donald Canavan”. This was met with a huge laugh from the audience who know that Donald is a renowned trad music teacher and that for miles around, if a kid plays mandolin, fiddle or whistle, it’s a fairly safe bet that Donald had a hand in it. But play the mandolin he did, and it was none too shabby.

Denver McCord

Justin Meechan joined Denver for the second time that evening to lay down the backbeat on “Get Your Act Together”, a kind of a fun do-si-do of a song. Having not really known what to expect from this gig, I was really enjoying the huge variety in styles we were spoilt with, for that was followed up with the funky and melodic bassline of “Destination Nowhere.” Given my well documented penchant for a bass guitar, this was one of my favourites of the evening.

There was another cover in the setlist, and the last thing I would have expected but it was nothing short of fab! In spite of this band having one of the greatest guitarists of all time, I would still never have pegged Denver as an Electronic fan, but his version of “Getting Away With It,” was spectacular! It was in equal parts surprising, and indicative of Denver’s versatility as a musician.

Reaching the end of the evening and leaving us with “Someday?” and “Real Eyes” and Pearl Jam’s, “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town”, Denver left the crowd wanting more.

Denver currently divides his time between his music and his day job as Assistant Technical Officer in Cookstown’s Burnavon Theatre but if this performance is anything to go by, I’d say the dream of being a full-time musician is looking ever more likely.  As luck would have it, he met bass player Gabriel Tarcsa in January of this year and they immediately hit it off, sharing a passion for playing music and a love of the same artists and together they are creating some exciting new music. Besides all of his other musical achievements, in the past two years Denver has also shared the bill with some pretty illustrious names, opening for the likes of Texas singer-songwriter Eric Taylor, Thin Lizzy legend Eric Bell, Johnny Fean of Horslips and Newry’s favourite sons, The 4 of Us.

Denver McCord rocks the Railway

I asked Denver how he felt after the Railway Show and he waxed lyrical about the response he received from people of Cookstown; “It was phenomenal, I had so much fun. It has been almost two years since I performed a full set and the support in my hometown was overwhelming. I cannot thank everyone enough for a packed house on a Tuesday night, it really was an amazing night.”

Keep an eye out for that EP later this year, and for live gig announcements here.

To find out what’s coming up next in the Cookstown Rock and Blues Showcase, follow their Facebook page here.

Photographs courtesy of Apex Music.

My tastes vary - live in concert I've seen (amongst others) Bob Dylan, The Cure, Morrissey, Johnny Marr (sadly never The Smiths), Van Morrison, David Byrne, Counting Crows, John Prine, Chris Smither, Erasure, They Might be Giants, The Verve, Ben Folds, Georgie Fame, Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright and Loudon Wainwright III. This decade, a lot more home grown talent, with the likes of Duke Special, Brian Kennedy, VerseChorusVerse, The Bonnevilles, Tony Villiers and the Villains, The Hardchargers, and The 4 of Us. Favourite gigs include Prince in Cork in 1990, Trip to Tipp ’91 & ’92, David Bowie’s Reality tour in 2003.