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