Saturday, 1 June 2013

MUSIC REVIEW: One Big Festival Weekend

The excitement from a weekend of music has died down. Si's Sights And Sounds looks back at a pair of festivals that give Derry-Londonderry something to believe in again


"God, it's warm today!" So speaks Rion McCartney, the self-titled Robbie Williams of Creggan, as he steps onto Stage 2 of the Playhouse Theatre at the North By Northwest Festival. And while he may not look or sound like the star who surprised almost everyone at Ebrington Square on Friday May 24, his more self-depreciating presence is a welcome alternative. He, his three fellow Murder Balladeers and their localised country balladry are the perfect warm up for this two day exhibition of local bands and singers. In other words, it's "One Wee Weekend", a fine tonic for those music fans unable or unwilling to join in the more publicised party on the other side of the Foyle.
Girl-and-her-guitar act Laura B then steps up to the mike. Like a raw Bic Runga, her deliberately broken and bitterly sincere vocals come to the forefront. It's a good showcase for her possessively determined indie folk, a solid experiment on the pathway to what will hopefully be a more fuller sound in the future.

On the main stage next door, Conor McAteer and We Are Aerials begin their set with a blues-dominated rhythm before confidence envelops them, giving them an Undertones-esque presence. What the tiny crowd present will remember most from this small collection of songs is the cover of REM’s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It"; energizing, earnest, and elevating, it's undeniably spirit-raising.

If GRIM, aka Laurence McDaid, looks... well... grim when he begins performing, it's not his fault. For the issue, if there is one, isn't that his audience is small, but that he's living up to his name. Laurence McDaid's brand of quiet punk raises echoes of the angst-ridden suffering of Ian Curtis and the surrealist humour of Thomas Truax. It's a combination that's not for everyone, but makes a pretty strong impression nonetheless.

Intermission have enjoyed much success in the three years they've been together, and it's easy to see why; their sometimes Bon Jovi-esque sound is the best of the night so far. Glenn Rosborough's sharp, piercing vocals and Grahame Bradley's prominent bass playing makes everyone sit up and take notice, providing the ideal lead in to the harmonic indie collective otherwise known as John Deery And The Heads.

What follows is the composed sullenness of Our Krypton Son, most evident on "Sunlight In The Ashes" and the impressive "Season", and the heavy metal of LibidoSwitch. The contrast between the two bands could not be starker; if Chris McConaghy and his band come across as dependable, accomplished musicians, Andy Anderson and company's hardcore rock is a slightly unwelcome assault on all the senses. It's like Tenacious D on steroids, and even if they've approached the set list in the right manner, the timing and setting of the occasion are all wrong for them.

The exact opposite is true of The Clameens, who have the fortune to start playing just as the action at One Big Weekend is finished for the day. Their catchy riffs and inspiring chemistry, worthy of Franz Ferdinand in their pre-fame prime, create a real vibe in the small hall and leave everyone wanting more.

Less of a unifying effect is created by The Wood Burning Savages, but you do warm to their uplifting guitar rock, which contains elements of The Killers, The Stone Roses and even a little rap. Coupled with the Tribal Fire display on the walls that is drawing almost everyone's attention, they are the ideal lead in to Little Bear. By now, the hall is packed, and Steven McCool and his band (watch them perform at Other Voices Derry above) need only let the togetherness of the atmosphere and the catchiness of their songs speak for the occasion. It's the perfect conclusion to the evening for one of the North West's latest musical success stories – grounded, eclectic, easy to listen to and above all, positively entertaining.


Most of our day at the weekend's premier music event - with due respect to North By Northwest - is spent inside the Vital Venue, otherwise known as the In New Music We Trust stage during this short time. And the question we ask ourselves while many of the revellers are having a ball at the main stage is: can we trust in the "new" music we hear to entertain us? Time to find out...

We Are The Ocean, a very Feeder-esque four-piece Essex based band, earn themselves deserved applause with their prominent guitars and ballsy vocals. In between their set and the arrival of the highly-rated Miles Kane, "Bohemian Rhapsody", "I Feel Good" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are played by the Radio One DJ in residence. Whatever else, these surroundings are not going to lack team spirit, let alone teen spirit.

Kane strolls on the stage in a white-buttoned suit, keenly surveying and praising this audience. It would appear that the former frontman of The Rascals wants to make it clear that he will own the place for the next eight songs or so, and that he does, with a seasoned Britpop beat that reverberates around the Venue. A mixture of infra-red and bright white light flashes around the tent, recreating an Arctic Monkeys vibe that leaves almost everyone buzzing.

After hearing "Teenage Kicks" for the umpteenth time, I hear people remark on the maddening inconsistency of the Derry-Londonderry weather - "the weather's turned good" - before gearing up for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. There's few better ways to psyche one up for a gig like this than by hearing "Ghostbusters" and Will Smith... and the DJ duly obliges.

And absolutely everyone's minds are blown by the Seattle-based rapper and his entourage. Iconic images aplenty, from Lewis's trumpet playing to Michael "Wanz" Wansley's guest vocals, cement themselves in the eyes, ears and brains of a hugely excitable audience. But what will be remembered most from this performance - the best of the day - is not just the earwormy "Thrift Shop" (which is, indeed, "awesome"), but Macklemore's messages of peace and love, his ability to create so much from so little, and his unquenchable stamina directly following a fourteen-hour flight from his hometown!

According to our announcer, Londoner Jessie Ware "looks amazing, sounds amazing, dresses amazing and is amazing". And you would definitely agree with him on three of those counts. One's only slightly reluctant to gush over Ware 100% because following Macklemore is not an easy task. But when Ware enters the fray in an easily distinguishable red dress and spotted top, the heavy and rhythmic sound of guitars, drums and bongos surrounds her. Before long, we are won over by her sweet vocals, slinky moves and lovely manners. It's very bluesy indie soul with hip-hop, jungle and techno beats, a neat combination that maintains the strong feeling of togetherness established at the event.

It's a good job that plenty of enthusiasm is in place when Bastille arrive, for they need it to carry themselves through their decidedly mixed bag of a set. They've got power and presence, but their repetitive, samey repertoire does them no favours. What ultimately saves them is a slick dual cover of "Rhythm Is A Dancer" and "Rhythm Is A Night", and their closing number, "Pompeii", which sees everyone literally erupt with joy. The sight of the glitter pumped into the Venue, along with consistent clapping and a catchy refrain, is enough to make even a cynic smile.

As the evening concludes, sympathies lie with both Disclosure and Vampire Weekend, especially the latter. How can their taut, efficient and admittedly good music stand a chance against Chicharito's long-lost brother (yes, Bruno Mars, I'm talking about you), fireworks and an outdoor light show? Nevertheless, they acquit themselves admirably, and along with all the other artists in the Venue today and throughout the previous two days, they play an important part in making this a Big Weekend for both Derry-Londonderry and music fans worldwide.

All Radio One Big Weekend photos courtesy of the BBC and City Of Culture 2013. For more highlights of the Big Weekend, check out the official site. For more photos of the bands on show at North By Northwest, visit our Facebook page.