Friday, 20 July 2012

MUSIC REVIEW: Clipper Festival Concerts, Part II


The first thought that enters one’s mind as we return to Ebrington Square is, how on earth can tonight’s occasion match up to the previous night’s? Well, MC Siobhan McGarry is certainly convinced that it can. And before long, she succeeds in getting the crowd worked up, with the mere mention of Eoghan Quigg’s name being enough to elicit squeals from the front of the stage. His fans will have to wait a little longer for their idol to make his mark, though.

The James Peake Experience are on stage first, and Peake’s booming vocals, coupled with a warm, home grown sense of humour, are worthy of presence at the City Of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival. (No surprise, then, that he has featured at previous Jazz Festivals.) His mix of soul, country and western, in addition to a rather funny Ian Paisley impression, succeed in stoking up the crowd early on, with “Ring Of Fire” getting the loudest applause. There’s even room for a “special guest” in his set – after all, in Peake’s words: “Big American stars have to take preference” – and before we know it, Peake is on stage in the guise of Meatloaf, performing a highly enjoyable medley. It’s a surprising and novel way to finish a very entertaining set.

Next, Australian Matt Jennings and Inishowen’s finest, The Henry Girls, try to warm our cockles with an Aboriginal number and an Irish traditional number. It’s pleasant enough, and Lorna McLaughlin’s chanting is certainly memorable, but it amounts to little more than an interval act. With more of their own material, not to mention greater stage time and a more appreciative audience, both Jennings and the girls will do much better.

It doesn’t help, of course, that they have to compete with both the “coolest and hottest pipers on the planet” (as Siobhan McGarry puts it). The Red Hot Chili Pipers (not “Peppers”), who pride themselves on being “bagpipers with attitude”, fuse jazz, funk and pop together with bagpipes, keyboards and drums to create a roaring riot of rhapsodic rhythms, an effect worthy of a Scottish traditional disco. Coldplay, Snow Patrol, rock ‘n’ roll, you name it... it all gets a highly energetic and passionate treatment that leaves everyone in the square longing for more.

With so many egos littering the showbiz world, a touch of humility is always welcome, and Eoghan Quigg provides it amidst the deafening screaming of his devotees. Unfortunately, his modesty is the most welcome thing about his set, as he lacks both the presence and charisma necessary to really light up the venue. Oasis and The Script are given the Westlife treatment, and while Quigg’s fans can’t contain their excitement, everyone else seems nonplussed. But hey, at least he goes out on a high, with his likable version of Take That’s “Never Forget” giving the crowd, McGarry and himself some much needed extra impetus.

Such new found momentum is carried forward into the highlight of the evening, The Saw Doctors. Like The Undertones the night before, this is a band who seem made for large outdoor venues, except their style is more in the vein of the Hothouse Flowers and Goats Don’t Shave.

The contrast in the Derry weather – clouds behind the stage, sunset in front of it – is in tandem with the contrasting tone in the set, a mixture of rock, waltz and even clowning around that comes together to create a memorable atmosphere. Indeed, watching this set is like reuniting with old friends – all the biggest hits, especially “N17”, “I Useta Lover”, “Downtown” and “About You Now” are here, and with this sort of vibe, which culminates in a terrific quadruple guitar medley during the final number, their failure to play “She Says” can be excused. The firework display at the end of the night is the icing on a well-baked cake.

If no concert at Ebrington Square can quite have the impact of Peace One Day - what could? - then the Legenderry and Clipper Connections concerts have consolidated the Square as an ideal venue both for entertainment and for the community. We are indeed the music makers, and we really are the dreamers of dreams.

(Video courtesy of Rory McSwiggan.)

(Click here for Part One.)