It’s not often that a night out turns into a chance to review the bands you are going out to see, but with a plethora of gigs happening in nearby Belfast, PlanetMosh just didn’t have enough hands at the pump to cover an evening of rock and rollery in my adopted hometown of Newtownards.
This evening sees a wide selection of bands brought together under the Rock Therapy NI banner – a local promoter keen to put on quality gigs and also bring out the latest of the younger talent this wee country of Norn Iron has to offer.
It’s a shame that, as we qualify for the first time ever in the Euros (football carry on that we are quite passionate about), tonight suffers from a lower than usual turn out at the Ivy Bar. But the crowd are fired up and looking forward to a good evening none the less no doubt helped by the always warm welcome from bar manager Marty Coney.
Not Today [left] kick off things after taking many a route to get here from Omagh, which ain’t around the corner and some of them travelling on the not so impressive local bus network to reach here – amps and guitars hauled along all in the name of duty. It’s a pop punky start to the evening, a young band with developing musicians throwing in some original tunes with a good handful of covers from their influences. Their own tunes range from punky riffers to more delicate sounds of an early Big Country jangle – which may touch upon what the Skids were previously doing. Darragh Kelly throws in some nice melodic lead under the verses, where Ayrton McGurgan sings like a more fired up and youthful Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol.
Next up is Erosion [right], a newly formed band from Belfast but with some seriously well versed players in the set up. This is only their second gig: I did see the debut and have already noticed improvements in the delivery. The sound is crystal clear, thanks to the impressive Levels PA sound guys and every instrument is cutting through. For a band with a frontman that is behind the drum kit, the focus is on the tunes – no David Coverdale like mic swinging going on here. ‘G.A.O.G’ fires up the Erosion engine with a Mastodon like groove, dual guitars laying down a seriously heavy beat and the first taste of some luscious dual vocals. Two separate guitar tones make up a pretty hefty roar as a Strat and SG make the riffs rain forth. Martin Donaghy shines on lead guitar, throwing in lightning fast solos or cooking up a wah pedal stew with tone to kill for. Mark Stewart’s vocals sit upon a deadly mix of 80s thrash from the giants like Testament and Megadeth while other influences from the Alice In Chains corner really mix things up. Highlight of their set is closing tune ‘The Eclipsed’, with its infectious jig like intro that leads in a thunderous song with many twists and turns.
After a break of two or so years, Window Seats [left] make their return to the live stage and their debut in Newtownards. ‘No Show’ pounds the listeners to attention straight away with its angst dripping intro that slides into the main song that a jealous Red Hot Chilli Peppers would admit to have been searching for this sort of groove for years. There is no easy pigeon hole to place this band as the songs ‘Movement’ and ‘Forget Us All’ take us on tangents of Foo Fighters melodics and Jayhawks vocal harmonies. Throw in some weird guitar effects and funky basslines, there is certainly plenty to chew upon. As the band move into ‘Juliette’, vocalist/guitarist Jude displays some impressive finger picking on the guitar and the reason why a Telecaster provides such great sound and tone. Set closer sees the band fired up delivering spit and venom in a caustic tune simply named ‘Rat’. Squealing notes and some Queens Of The Stone Age riffage mark an impressive return to the stage for the quartet. The band do raise the roof by punching Telecaster headstocks into the plasterboard ceiling above in the dramatic finale.
Closing out the night is a revised version of Rosco’s Riot [right]. An ever improving machine of southern rock riffs and sleazy vocals. Volume levels go through the roof, which was suitably raised earlier by Window Seats. We are back in more meat and two veg barrel chested heavy rock and the band rip through ‘Gyspy Eyes’ with thick stomping riffs that only double humbuckers can handle. Bob Weir lays down train track heavy bass lines courtesy of a Lemmy-approved Rickenbacker. Tim Knox’s vocals remind me of another local band, the now defunct Black Freeway, but with a little more of that southern sleaze that makes bands like Blackfoot and Junkyard so damn good. The band really do worship at the Southern Rawk altar as ‘Twisted Families’ brings in a Pride & Glory stomp and its heads down and dandruff shaking everywhere as ‘Lie Lie’ conjures up the spirit of Ronnie James Dio with Molly Hatchett as his backing band. The band aren’t always on full Riot mode though, as ‘Girl’ slows things up with some nice acoustics and the foot on the wah but delivering a soulful lead to accompany the whiskey soaked element of this bluesier song.
A mighty fine cover of the Free classic ‘Wishing Well’ is up next, but this is definitely a version that tips its Stetson in the direction of Rickey Medlocke’s smokingly cool version on the Blackfoot ‘Strikes’ album. New drummer Craig Taylor lets ‘Ards know he has arrived by punching out a volcanic drum solo before the band rejoin covering a WASP song that Led Zeppelin thought they wrote called ‘Black Dog’.
‘Sweet Midnight’ sees Bob load one into the cannon for Tim to take centre stage in another face melting solo. After running out of songs for the hungry crowd, another run through of ‘Wishing Well’ makes sure all the punters go home with huge smiles on their faces.
- Guest review by John Allen, guitarist with Baleful Creed.
- Photographs by the author.