Wednesday, 12 September 2012

MUSIC REVIEW: Culture Tech Festival Picnic

Si's Sights And Sounds presides over an afternoon's worth of musical entertainment in Derry-Londonderry's Guildhall Square

If Ireland's Stradbally Hall has Electric Picnic, then Derry-Londonderry has the Culture Tech Festival Picnic. The adverse weather conditions cannot deter a favourably sized crowd from making their way into the Guildhall Square to enjoy a series of up-and-coming artists... and one grand old "Duke" of Belfast.

Conor Mason’s country-indie style warms the cockles before Best Boy Grip overcomes a minor audio problem to play yet another reputation-enhancing set. It's interesting to hear his new material, which has a bit of a Monkees/Kinks vibe to it, but his sing along choruses don't quite jibe with the audience so early in the afternoon. The best moments of this particular set are when he knuckles down and reminds us just how accomplished a pianist he is, with "Barbara", the title track from his EP, being the highlight. His demeanour throughout the performance is very Brian Wilson, which leaves one wondering: should we rename him Beach Boy Grip?

Amidships are much harder to put their finger on. They begin playing with an energy reminiscent of Ash, but it's not long before you notice country and western, Britpop and even '80's elements in their songs. They sound like a band finding their voice, making the Guildhall Square a perfect place for them to both sell themselves and hone their musical style.

By contrast, Our Krypton Son have an overall more upbeat, thorough and lively sound; in fact, the richest sound of the afternoon so far. Chris McConaghy is clearly thriving at the opportunity to play in the Derry spotlight with a full band, and he doesn't waste it, with his versatile and catchy blend of rock, jazz, country and pop earning warm appreciation. He has a posture that recalls Liam Gallagher without the irritating pretence, an endearing "what you see is what you get" nature.

As the heavens open, it's suddenly a case of getting literally soaked both on and off the stage, as Derry musician Bridie Monds Watson, aka Soak, entertains us with her brand of soulful folk (s (oulful f) olk, geddit?). That is to say, a blend of downbeat music and an upbeat manner, a bizarre but effective combination that provides the perfect lead in to...  Scotch trousers? A can of Red Bull? A velvet cloth draped over a keyboard? Dreadlocks? A Belfast accent? It can only be Duke Special.

While there's not a lot of showing off from one of Northern Ireland’s most engaging performers today, there's still much to like. His keyboard twice falls off its stand, forcing him to play on the floor and eliciting more than a handful of laughs from the crowd, but he doesn't let it hold him back, with his vocals and piano playing remaining as commanding as they have ever been.

Along with lower-key versions of "Freewheel", "Last Night I Nearly Died" and "Salvation Tambourine", there's some new songs, some sing-along's, and a whole range of irreverent emotions for locals to enjoy. By the time the Duke concludes the set with a powerful cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", the sprinkling of the rain in almost everyone's face feels irrelevant.

(A little footage from the Culture Tech Festival, courtesy of Caroline Gilliland.)