There are some artists who just love to play live, and seem to get itchy feet if they are more than a few minutes away from treading the boards of the stage. Just off the top of my head, I can think of two homegrown Norn Iron talents who definitely fit into that category: Pat ‘The Professor’ McManus and Ricky Warwick, both of whom have played this intimate little venue so far this year… I can now add to the list the name of the disgracefully talented young Yorkshire guitarist Oli Brown: not content with plying his own brand of blues, and winning zillions of much-deserved awards in the process, he’s also spent much of the last year out on the road with his rockier band project, RavenEye, criss-crossing Europe and the USA in support of the likes of Blues Pills and Slash, before returning to the UK for a slew of headlining shows, of which this – the band’s third visit to this part of the world in a little more than six months – was the penultimate.
Having sprinted (within the speed limit, of course) up the motorway and down country lanes from the Distortion Project fundraising gig in the heart of Belfast, Team PM arrive shortly after Selene have started their set. The Derry/Londonderry quartet’s high blown operatic sound seems slightly out of place in this tiny venue, swamping the room with its bombast and dense melodies. What is immediately clear, though, it that is almost a totally different band to the one I first saw almost exactly a year ago, when they were plagued by technical difficulties and, more than anything else, first gig nerves, especially on the part of singer Shonagh Lyons. In the interim, however, she has blossomed: confident and strident in her ability and delivery respectively. Her voice has grown and matured immensely in the interim and the band, anchored by Darkest Era drummer Cameron Åhslund-Glass, are tight and content to let the audience’s focus fall on the singer, as they carve out the dramatic soundscapes over which her voice soars.
As mentioned above, RavenEye have been touring almost incessantly for the past year or so: but, if there is any road weariness among the three musicians, they most definitely do not display it as they take to the Diamond’s intimate stage to deliver their particular brand of grunting, growling blues rock. Aaron Spiers’ deep bottom-ended bass and Kev Hickman’s passionate and expressive drumming, both of which provide the tightness needed for Brown to run riot on the fretboard but also exhibit plenty of freedom in their own right.
Early in the set, Brown introduces a new song, ‘Smoke’, which he describes as “one we worked out on tour” as “we’ve got an EP out but it’s only five songs and that’s not enough for a full show, so we gotta fill it out”. It demonstrates the fluidity of the trio, as they move easily through the gamut of the rock genre, from heavy blues to Pearl Jam-esque grunginess to hard-edged classic rock, such as on the Stone Temple Pilots vibe of another new song, ‘Hate’. Brown is a confident and charismatic frontman, so comfortable in the ability of his band mates that he even forsakes his guitar to let them take over on ‘Hey Hey Yeah’, before taking to his bassist’s shoulders for a literally head banging (off the ceiling) walk around the venue, then climbing on the bass drum and returning to the floor for another solo. Playing literally in the faces of the crowd, he breaks a string late in the set, and just nonchalantly rips it off and then quickly changes instrument without breaking his musical stride.
Yes, there are guitar workouts, but these are kept to a considerate minimum, and are very much in the vibe and context of the songs which contain them, and Brown allows his fellow musicians to stretch their own, not inconsiderable, muscles, but again completely within the context of the material. The result is a set which, although brief (well, by the standards of the Diamond, where some artists would play all night if we let them), is extremely well received by a crowd which, although small generates more atmosphere than any stadium. And the guitarist’s genuine humility is shown after he quits the stage… “It’s Saturday night, we’ve nowhere to be tomorrow – let’s drink”. And that he does, heading straight to the bar to hang out with the audience, drink beer and generally enjoy the craic.
Oli Brown has achieved a lot in his short career (he’s still only 25 ffs!) but there is no doubt that he will achieve a lot more. If he can do that while keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground (which shouldn’t be an issue given his DIY attitude), then he is a true star in the ascendant.
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
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