Time is relative. For some, it passes slowly and as inexorably as the tides lap against a shore. For others, it speeds past like a bullet from a gun, bearing down on its inevitable end. For Northern Ireland’s hardest working hard rockers, The Answer, the past decade has been something of the latter experience (as frontman Cormac Neeson revealed in our recent exclusive interview).
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of the quartet’s iconic debut album, ‘Rise‘: it was an album which certainly lived up to its name, as it catapulted the then four young lads from County Down into the international spotlight and onto stages all over the world, mainly thanks to a support slot on AC/DC’s epic ‘Black Ice’ tour. Now, the boys are putting their finishing touches to their sixth studio album, due for release this Autumn; but, before that, there is the certain little matter of that special anniversary to be marked – and so it was that we found ourselves invited along to the last of three intimate club headlining shows in which that breakthrough album would be played through in its entirety – and not all of us were prepared for the twist in the tale at the end of the night… but more of that anon…
The task of getting the party started falls to mid Ulster rising sons Screaming Eagles, a band who have been making increasingly big waves on the UK and European circuit, especially since the release of their second album, ‘Stand Up And Be Counted’ on Off Yer Rocka Recordings last summer. And they do so in typically rowdy, rambunctious r’n’f’n’r style, with their Buckie-fuelled DC-meets-Zeppelin riffs threatening to raise the roof right from the off. Many of the crowd are still arriving as the bump and grind of the band’s self-titled anthem fills the room with typical irontown swagger, and most of those make their way straight to the front of the stage to join in the fun, proving that they are ‘Hungry For More’ as they sing along to every word.
It’s very obvious – especially from the amount of the band’s T shirts being worn – that the Screagles are very much among friends, and Chris Fry doesn’t have to work too hard in the relatively cramped stage confines allotted to him to prove that he and his bandmates, while maybe not ‘Breaking All The Rules’, certainly have plenty of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul’ in their catchy, infectious take on the mien.
Ready For The Fall / Screaming Eagles / Hungry For More / Roadhouse Blues / Breaking All The Rules / Blood / It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ‘n’ Roll) / Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul
Earlier in the day, The Answer had found themselves in the hallowed surrounds of Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings, where they had joined with Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly for a unique acoustic set as part of ‘BBC Music Day’. But, it’s sweaty clubs where they crafted their art, and where they feel most comfortable plying same. And this is shown when they burst onto the Limelight stage just brimming with raw energy (even if Neeson’s momentum is stalled slightly when he runs into bassist Mickey Waters en route to his mic stand!).
In between playing the songs from ‘Rise’ in their published order, Neeson regales the audience with tales of their formative years: “we’ve been bothering Belfast for closer to 15 years,” he reminds us. There’s the story of the Saturday evening they played their first ever gig in the tiny bar next door. “The place was rammed and we thought it was great. Then, three minutes before we got up to play our first song, everyone left to see John Martyn play next door. I love John Martyn, but man he put a downer on our night!”. And then there’s the yarn about finding magic mushrooms in the garden of the studio where they did some of their early recordings: “My mum and dad are here, so I cannot confirm or deny that young Michael here and myself went around squishing mushrooms into empty crisp bags… let’s just say it was an interesting weekend…”
‘Come Follow Me’ heralds the first mass singalong of the evening, with the now swollen audience hanging on, and reciprocating, Neeson’s every word, as, stage right, Paul Mahon wrings every millimetre of passion and commitment from his guitar neck, with a succession of searing solos. The band (completed, of course, by the ever taut and precise James Heatley behind the kit) are very obviously enjoying recreating this landmark moment in their career, and the crowd equally obviously are enjoying being invited to come along for the ride. ‘Sometimes Your Love’, with its lugubrious bass rhythm and beautiful solo, generates another mass chorale, as does the always tempestuous ‘Preachin’ – even if Cormac does resist the temptation to join his congregation and bring them to their knees in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll redemption. ‘Always’ brings the main set to a somewhat mellow but nonetheless intensely passionate conclusion, with another Neeson-led mass singalong, before the four lads quit the stage at the end of this very special play through.
A few minutes later they’re back, for a surprising encore – and one which is very obviously cut short, quite possibly in terms of meeting the venue curfew, as a keyboard mysteriously sits unused on the left hand side of the stage: with fellow Ulsterman Keith Nelson (from The Quireboys, for those unfamiliar with the name out of context) in attendance, its a hint at what might possibly, and disappointingly, have been dropped from the set. However, ‘Keep Believin’ – the 2005 single which preceded the release of ‘Rise’ and was added to 2007’s special edition of the album – nevertheless ups the momentum again, before Cormac completely halts proceedings to announce that they are going to end the night with two tracks from the abovementioned new album.’Thief Of Light’ is a haunting, Celtic-infused, hymn-like ballad, while the title track, ‘Solas’, has a surprising darkness to it, especially in the rhythm and bottom end of the main riff, but overtopped with an elegiac feeling that is almost trancelike in its rapture – even if Neeson sounds just a little too close to Bono in the bridge section!
The Answer are a band who never disappoint live. In fact, they not only always satisfy – especially when on their home turf – but always add that extra special little twist to what they offer. Tonight was a hugely satisfying reminiscence on where this young band have come, how far they have progressed, where they stand at the moment and the continuing hope for their future. Here’s to the new album and the next touring cycle… like the last ten years, it’s going to be a helluva ride. \m/
Under The Sky / Never Too Late / Come Follow Me / Be What You Want / Memphis Water / No Questions Asked / Into The Gutter / Sometimes Your Love / Leaving Today / Preachin’ / Always
Keep Believin’ / Thief Of Light / Solas
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
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The tenth anniversary edition of ‘Rise’ is released on Friday 17 June and is available in 2CD hardback digipak, 12” hardback book, 180g vinyl and digital formats.
‘Solas’ is due to be released via Napalm Records in October.