Friday, 25 July 2014


The Playhouse Theatre in Derry-Londonderry hosts two nights' worth of local musical talent

Derry-Londonderry's Jammboree festival, the brainchild of John Ross, is one of the high watermarks of Music City 2014. Inspired by the success of the North By Northwest Festival the year before, Ross has set out to bring "the best of the North West" together in intimate, amiable surroundings for a lively, lyrical, laughter-filled weekend.

For two nights, an eclectic buzz surrounds the Playhouse Theatre as Ross's project comes to fruition is a sometimes calm, sometimes charged but always positive atmosphere.

Strabane quartet Those Ghosts, in their words, set about like most "garage bands", attempting to "string together some ideas and parts into coherent songs". They've since earned sufficient praise and a loyal following, although neither translate into a large Gallery Stage audience so early on Friday evening. What they do offer is solid "warm up" music, defined by good on stage chemistry, sound vocal enunciation, clear drum beats, and, almost unsurprisingly for up-and-comers, a clear 1980s influence. It's a promising start but the best is yet to come.

A grim looking Eoghan O'Hagan, otherwise known as His New Atlas, takes a leaf from the book of Radiohead for his set. Visibly slightly teary, his emotional input and sonic variations are a quietly entrancing combination.

Next door, on the Community Stage, Jessica Doherty brings delicate fragility and winning innocence to Ellie Goulding-esque compositions. Her intentionally strained soprano tone is rather moving.

Rhinos, a duo consisting of comedian Paul Currie and lady drummer Laura Totten, are a roaring, riotous rampage of raucous riffs and endless laughs. Expressions, impressions and explosions of unsubtle but unifying sound are key to their Gallery Stage appeal. They bring in a fairly good crowd too. Amidst this wild, hilarious hectoring, the lustful, longing and almost luxurious tones of Susie-Blue come across as a calm, cooling oasis on the Community Stage. One only wishes she could sing for longer.

The "classic" Alex Turner-esque "She's Got My Heart" announces the welcome return of 2013 success story The Clameens. Even with only the microphone to accompany him, lead singer Sean Breslin's vocals are as crisp as ever, if not crisper. Their on stage comfort, soulful synchronicity, singable, footstomping refrains and homely humour successfully earn this "comeback" set loud, deserved applause at the finish line.

Such an applause is sadly not forthcoming for the similar sounding Hurdles next door, but time is on their side and things will surely improve for them. Meanwhile, back on centre stage, rollicking country rockers Ard Ri are seeing out the night at a tempo worthy of the best dance halls in the Old West.

Saturday night's entertainment begins in literally Wyld (sic) fashion; the pulsating power of prancing, pouting, persistent leading lady Jilly St John and her Wyldling collective, featuring Glenn Rosborough, are performing under their name for the last time. Glad to be back on stage regularly again after an unnecessarily prolonged period, St John announces that the band will "step things up a gear". And step it up they do. Despite their oppressive appearance, they subsume the crowd in remarkably friendly fashion. St John's affected robotic movements are deceptive; she is anything but stiff, her loud vocals and range of expressions truly inspiring.

Gabriel Paschal Blake
's eloquent, crisp vocals surround well timed drum beats, creating a steady, relaxing atmosphere worthy of this fresh faced performer's promising set. Blake sings as if he is traversing a torturous path along the road to maturity, hoping that emotional expression and fan appreciation will soften it for him. And, with a bit of luck, so it should. The strings of female accompanist Claire Cuffe give the performance greater breadth and depth, before it ends on a slightly surreal note; the blinds in the Playhouse room open slowly as the final number draws to a close. By the time they are fully open, Blake takes a bow and leaves the stage. It is as if someone said "Let there be light", and Blake and his band responded accordingly.

The best sound of the night up to this point comes from John Deery and the Heads. The band, who supported the Beach Boys during the Legenderry Maritime Festival, have a versatile, experimental nature and smoothness in their vocals that draws people together.

Meanwhile, at the Community Stage, easy-listening tunes from Connor Hutcheon, Darrell Coyle and Quentin Wylie are keeping punters happy, though best of all is probably the lovely indie folk of Karen Kelly & Simon McCafferty.

When Wyldling's Glenn Rosborough returns to the Gallery Stage, along with his band mates David Kirby and Jilly St John, they are a completely different beast, providing good humoured, well seasoned pop with a nifty beat and standout bass riffs. This paves the way for PORTS, The Artists Formerly Known As Little Bear, to dominate proceedings. Gloom, cast in downbeat blue lighting, floods the room throughout their second number, "In Summer", crowd favourite "Second In Line" brightens both room and mood, while "I'd Let You Win" providing the requisite emotional release. It's a mixture of temperaments that reaches a satisfying climax with the powerful refrain of "The Few And Far Between", proving that PORTS may have lost their old name, but not their charisma.

Last, but almost certainly not least, The Wood Burning Savages arrive ready to burn away the competition on a blaze of post-Glastonbury glory. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating for dramatic effect. But what's undeniable is that Paul Connolly and his band are the closest thing to a "natural festival band" we've seen this weekend. Their lyrics take a back seat to thunderous drums, roaring guitar solos, tenaciously overlapping harmonies and a fine stage presence. And they have achieved all this by simply defying convention and being themselves. It's not all high tempo either; when Connolly deliberately slows down the pace and asks everyone on the floor to "grab a slow dance partner", one can only watch on and think, this is what it's all about. The true essence of a festival captured in a pair of utterly rewarding nights in an intimately theatrical hub.