Bearded’s Guide To… Belfast

It’s the end of the first month of 2012, and already Belfast is abuzz with new sounds.

Posted on Feb 2nd, 2012 in Features and Interviews, LaFaro / By Steven Rainey
LaFaro After spending much of 2011 in a flurry of activity, the post-hardcore crunch of LaFaro made a welcome return to the city streets, packing out the hot and sweaty confines of Auntie Annie’s for a taste of what they’ve been up to in their absence. Having lost one member, gained another, and hammered out their second album through extensive touring, the LaFaro of today is a four-headed riff-monster, melding the angular attack of the Jesus Lizard to the melodic sheen of Queens of the Stone Age. It’s not for everyone, and it’ll be interesting to see what they decide to do next, but either way, whatever they’ve got, the people of Belfast want a lot more of it.

It might not be particularly cool to say so, but the return of Snow Patrol to Belfast is a Big Deal for most folks, and the world straddling indie titans have long made a point of supporting the scene that they emerged from (not counting their Scottish roots, depending on what viewpoint you take…). Headlining three nights at the Odyssey Arena, the band have thrown the stage open to a few local luminaries, getting the opportunity to prove themselves on Belfast’s biggest stage. Whilst the gigs themselves are some of the most well attended the city has seen for a long time, local acts like the piano driven melodrama of Rams’ Pocket Radio and the melodic guitar anthems of A Plastic Rose fared well on the big stage, surely winning a whole wealth of new supporters in the process. With Gary Lightbody leading the crowd in a chant of “A PLASTIC ROSE”, it seems likely that the hard-working four-piece may have found their natural habitat.

February is traditionally a quiet month, but there seems to be something in the water this year, as almost every night of the week is peppered with a selection of choice gigs. Van Morrison is coming home, but those of us who prefer something a little more intimate are well catered for. Sea Pinks are the featured act of the Go Bang! club night in The Pavilion on the 4th of February, and their lo-fi indie stylings have already won them a whole lot of love. The side project of Neil Brogan from the much vaunted Girls Names, Sea Pinks are an altogether more melodic affair, ditching the reverb-laden sound of the day job in favour of a lightly shimmering sunshine sound. It hits all the right reference points, from Felt to The Popguns, and has just enough stand-offish attitude to keep the indie hipsters happy.

On the other hand, if polished, FM ready alternative rock is your thing, then Derry’s Fighting With Wire will be tearing up the stage at Radar in Queen’s University Students Union on the 16th. The band have been in a state of transition for a while now, having released a well received debut album in 2008, getting into bed with Atlantic Records, then presumably getting out of bed with Atlantic Records, and then going into semi-retirement as frontman Cahir O’Doherty took up temporary bass duties in LaFaro. Now it seems like it’s business as usual for the emo-friendly four piece, and the Radar gig is sure to be something worth seeing, even if it’s only to see what will be the target of O’Doherty’s legendary ire this time around. If you’ve been unpleasant to him in any way for the last two years, you might want to sit this one out.

A stellar line-up of Robyn G Shiels, Verse Chorus Verse and Best Boy Grip will be showing Lavery’s Back Bar exactly why so many people are running out of superlatives to heap upon them. Robyn G Shiels doesn’t need this kind of gig, being arguably the finest songwriter this country has produced in living memory, but it’s a nice reminder of why we need this man so much. The man’s words can break hearts, bruise feelings, and chill bones, and he does it without breaking a sweat. With a surplus of talent, why the entire world doesn’t start screaming that the man is the greatest songwriter in the history of existence is a mystery to me.

But nipping at his heels are two burgeoning talents in the shape of Verse Chorus Verse and Best Boy Grip, two men hiding behind aliases probably because it allows them to hit the emotional target that little bit more accurately, without losing a little of themselves in the process (something that has never bothered Shiels). Verse Chorus Verse is the alter ego of Tony Wright, latterly of the instrumental powerhouse And So I Watch You From Afar, and his new guise features him swapping the polyrhythmic assault of his old band for an acoustic guitar, three chords, and the truth. Very much in the mould of his beloved Joe Strummer, Wright speaks from the heart, opening himself up to the audience in an attempt to bring about some kind of shared emotional connection. It’s performing without a safety net, but when he hits home, it’s with devastating intensity.

On the other hand, Best Boy Grip, aka Eoin O’Callaghan has been quietly carving a niche out for himself as the thinking person’s songwriter of choice, having released an outstanding EP called Barbara, as well as delivering a few spectacular performances around the country. Hailing from Derry and armed only with a piano and an acerbic wit, his songs specialise in sweetly grabbing your attention, before hitting you with a piercing emotional sting. With lyrics that can just as easily make you laugh as they can cry, Best Boy Grip has quickly made a reputation for himself as one of the most vital artists in the country.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of what’s happening in the city at the moment, and there’s more than a few key releases on the horizon, but that would only spoil the surprise. For the moment, sit back, pick your poison of choice, and let Belfast pick the tunes. We won’t disappoint you.