So you and your band have toured the highways and by-ways of the North, played every watering hole, tiny pub and bandstand that would have you, when suddenly the Gods of Rock ask: ‘Fancy playing support for The Stone Roses or Foo Fighters?’
That is exactly the scenario 16 of Northern Ireland’s finest bands found themselves in this month thanks to Tennent’s UnTapped.
The UnTapped battle of the bands competition saw 16 local acts shortlisted from over 300. Judges attended a total of four heats, two in Belfast and two in Derry’s Bound For Boston bar, Waterloo Street.
Those playing the Derry heats were A Northern Light, Best Boy Grip, Mojo Gogo, Rachel Austin, Droids, Morning Claws, Pretty Child Backfire and Two Glass Eyes. Derry bands Mojo Gogo and Droids certainly brought the most eager support with them but fellow Derry act Best Boy Grip clearly stole the show.
First to take the UnTapped stage, this seven piece incarnation of Eoin O’Callaghan’s band barely squeezed their considerable talents into the one place.
O’Callaghan’s tender lyrics and superbly crafted songs offered substance with more than a dash of style. In fact this set list shows Best Boy Grip have already developed their own sound and a strong identity to match.
Best Boy Grip proved a solid opening to a solid line up on Thursday night at the Waterloo Street venue.
Mojo Gogo and A Northern Light were certainly crowd pleasers also. Their head banging, foot tapping material was certainly hard to resist.
The material offered by A Northern Light would find a home with any Green Day fan and, if you’re not a Green Day fan maybe this outfit could change your mind.
Mojo Gogo had certainly studied the rock and roll revision guide on how to front a band. The Derry/Donegal outfit aced the test. A stage dive in the Bound For Boston is always worth watching.
Despite these impressive performances the other two acts, Best Boy Grip and Rachel Austin, edged it in terms of originality.
Ms. Austin was the one act I hadn’t heard before. On this evidence she has more than one new fan though.
Armed with an electric guitar and loop pedal only, the American-born singer constructed multi-layered compositions that many larger bands would sell their drummer for.
Anyone who can take a pig snort (you had to be there) and build a rocking song from that one little noise is, at the very least, very entertaining.
Certainly Austin is not only an artist with a bold vision, but one with the talent to see that vision to fruition. Though she bemoaned the fact her band had not accompanied her to the heat, on the strength of this performance they weren’t missed. The stripped back solo set was in contrast to the other eight acts on offer. Rachel was the only solo performer at the Derry heats.
Mojo Gogo on the other hand were far from stripped back. Loud, brash and ready to strut, is perhaps the best description of their stage show.
Mojo’s fun-filled 25 minute set entertained non-stop. They attracted the largest number of fans on the night who certainly left happy.
As Thursday’s heat concluded, the judging panel of BBC Radio Ulster’s Rigsy, Material MC Paul Rice, and Charlotte Dryden of Belfast’s Oh Yeah Music Centre and yours truly, felt overwhelmed by the awesome talent on show as we retired to evaluate what we’d seen and heard.
With my head already fit for bursting on how to select a winner from four great bands, Thursday night’s gig did little to help.
Droids, Morning Claws, Pretty Child Backfire and Two Glass Eyes were, I must confess, largely unknown to me, but again all proved hugely talented and entertaining.
First on the bill were Morning Claws. The band complained about the drive from Belfast and it certainly seemed to have affected their own enjoyment of the evening. Personally I can’t see how any band could play ‘happy songs,’ of which Claws have an abundance, without smiling. In fact I would suggest that the only people not smiling at the end of the Claws set, were the Claws themselves.
Speaking of smiling, the lead singer of Two Glass Eyes brought a grin to the faces of all, albeit through a little misfortune.
The lead singer/guitarist broke a string in the first song. Borrowing a guitar from Droids (what great guys they are) his anecdotes ensured many more fans had been won before the three piece outfit had even finished a song!
Thankfully their musical output was as endearing as their persona. This heavily grunge-infused rock reminded us why we were happy to wear crappy looking checked shirts in the early 90s in the first place. If this is grunge 2012, I loved it.
Surprisingly Two Glass Eyes weren’t the heaviest band of the two Derry heats. That honour belonged to Droids, a band I could see as providing perfect support to the Foo Fighters, anytime, anywhere.
The eight bands who played Derry will also be judged against eight from the Belfast heats. Among the front runners there were, Strabane’s Gerard i2. The County Tyrone rapper seems to have caught the attention of plenty.
In short the eclectic mix of shortlisted bands provided a fantastic snap shot of what constitutes the Northern Irish music scene at the moment. Fresh, determined, self assured, talented and above all entertaining.
Personally speaking, Best Boy Grip, seems most likely to take advantage of a larger platform for their material.
What larger stage can you have than supporting The Foo Fighters or The Stone Roses? I just hope my vote of confidence hasn’t killed their chances outright.
The UnTapped results are due in early July. Tennent’s Vital sees The Foo Fighters and The Stone Roses play Belfast on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 August.