Go north if you want to catch to­mor­row’s tal­ent now

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

AHEAD OF the third Belfast Mu­sic Week, it’s worth tak­ing time to check the on­go­ing health of mu­sic in North­ern Ire­land.

Be­tween the cur­rent suc­cess of Snow Pa­trol and Two Door Cinema Club world­wide and the num­bers of new acts jostling for pro­file and po­si­tion be­hind them, mu­sic from up there re­ally does res­onate far and wide. We may harp on about Ire­land be­ing a small coun­try, but con­sider the size and pop­u­la­tion of the North – now that’s re­ally punch­ing above your weight.

What an event like Belfast Mu­sic Week does is to un­der­line and em­pha­sise what has been go­ing on in the city over the past 20 years. Scenes do not sim­ply ap­pear out of the blue. It takes time, ef­fort, sweat and heavy lift­ing be­hind the scenes to put the foun­da­tions in place. Sure, the bands have to write the hit tunes, hire the right man­age­ment and sign the best pos­si­ble deals, but you need a net­work with venues such as the Oh Yeah cen­tre to be there in the first place.

If last year’s Mu­sic Week pig­gy­backed on the MTV Euro­pean Mu­sic Awards in or­der to make a splash, this year’s event is re­ly­ing on a strong pro­gramme to at­tract at­ten­tion. There are head­line events such as the gig by Or­bital, play­ing the city for the first time since they were favourites at David Holmes’s Su­gar­sweet 20 years ago, and the pre­miere of Gregg Hous­ton’s Two Door Cinema Club flick, What We See.

But the real at­trac­tion of a fes­ti­val like this is the op­por­tu­nity it of­fers to catch the tal­ent of to­mor­row. Two new acts who come with an OTR rec­om­men­da­tion are Soak – a 16-year-old Derry girl, Bri­die Monds-Wat­son, who plays beau­ti­fully cast, folky pop – and Katharine Philippa – a Por­ta­d­own mu­si­cian and com­poser who spins min­i­mal, soul­ful, grace­ful sounds.

IT'S NOT THAT David Gedge is tired, but be­ing the sole mem­ber of an iconic 1980s gui­tar band for al­most three decades does tend to wear one down. As front­man of The Wed­ding Present, the band that Gedge formed in 1985, he has been al­most ex­clu­sively re­spon­si­ble for the in­put (there have been nu­mer­ous line-up changes over the years) and out­put (that’d be the nine al­bums re­leased since 1987’s Ge­orge Best, not in­clud­ing his re­leases un­der the Cin­erama ban­ner).

Not that he’s com­plain­ing, mind. Now 52 and in full re­ten­tion of the Leeds brogue that decades of tour­ing world­wide has failed to erode, Gedge is fully ac­cept­ing of his fate.

“I’m kind of ob­sessed with this now, I think,” he says with a laugh. “I think I prob­a­bly suf­fer from a men­tal ill­ness, or some­thing, be­cause I don’t even en­joy it that much; I find it quite hard and stress­ful, re­ally, to write songs and make records. But as soon as I get to a pe­riod where I’m not do­ing it, I do kind of crave it – I wanna start writ­ing songs, I wanna get into the stu­dio, I wanna get out on tour again. It’s like a self-per­pet­u­at­ing thing, re­ally. I’ve never felt oth­er­wise other than am­bi­tious to write songs and make mu­sic.”

It's no co­in­ci­dence that the cogs have been turn­ing on Gedge's band for so long, given his fear­less­ness in shak­ing things up. The band's sound has changed quite dra­mat­i­cally from the jan­gly bounce of Ge­orge Best to the stri­dent snap of their lat­est Valentina, – re­leased ear­lier this year – some­thing Gedge ad­mits is partly due to the afore­men­tioned “re­volv­ing door” pol­icy for mem­bers over the years.

“It’s weird, be­cause I al­ways feel a bit bad say­ing this – but if I’m hon­est, it ac­tu­ally has ben­e­fit­ted the group. It’s sad for what­ever rea­son when some­one leaves, but the band al­ways goes through a sort of re­birth pe­riod, and we’re stronger for it after­wards. I feel a bit mer­ce­nary say­ing that, re­ally, be­cause it makes me not sound like a nice per­son – but it does help the band. But even within those line-up changes, it’s been a big thing for us that ev­ery record had its own style, sound and per­son­al­ity. I’ve never seen the point of those bands who make a record and then make it again two years later. I know that’s prob­a­bly the more com­mer­cially vi­able way to do it, be­cause peo­ple don’t like change so much . . . and we prob­a­bly have lost fans be­cause we’ve changed so rad­i­cally over the years, es­pe­cially with the Cin­erama stuff. But, y’know, I've got no ex­cuses for that, re­ally, it’s just what I’ve al­ways felt was im­por­tant – just to keep try­ing dif­fer­ent ideas. There is ob­vi­ously an un­der­ly­ing sound to The Wed­ding Present, be­cause we are a gui­tar band and it is me singing, but that’s the only thing, re­ally.”

As keen as Gedge is to push on with new ideas, there’s also the past to con­tend with. Hav­ing played 1987’s Ge­orge Best and 1989’s Bizarro in their en­tirety over the past few years, now it’s the turn of their third record Sea­mon­sters, which the band are cur­rently tour­ing along with ma­te­rial from Valentina and a few other old favourites.

“At first, I wasn’t com­fort­able [with re­turn­ing to older records],” he ad­mits. “But

Soak: fine folky pop

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