KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE..
E T EXPERIENCE THE SOUND OF BELFAST
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Saturday past I was at the Oh Yeah Centre, as the city centre music hub celebrated a decade of motivating talent from Northern Ireland. As part of the celebrations, a bunch of acts played short sets – everyone from Tim Wheeler (performing ‘Oh Yeah’, of course) to Therapy?, Duke Special and Tony Wright. Holding it all together was Taylor Johnson, a 22 year old musician, scenester and social butterfly from Castlerock. Within about 20 seconds of Taylor bounding onstage with a fizzy introduction to the first act, my wife turned to me and said – “that guy is after your job”.
By “job” I guess she meant talking up local music, regularly hosting these type of events and generally being someone who attempts to represent local music in a good light. While Taylor could do any of these things fantastically well, I reassured her that it wasn’t a concern. I wasn’t being cocky. The only reason my job is safe is because Taylor will be preoccupied with the small matter of…. becoming a rock n’ roll superstar. Something that is – I would imagine – more of a priority.
You see – this week Taylor’s band – Brand New Friend – signed a record deal. They joined the likes of Frank Turner and Against Me – both huge acts – at the extremely well respected X-tra Mile Recordings. They’re one of only a handful of local acts in the last few years who have actually got to this point – and while this has all happened relatively fast – it’s richly deserved. I’ve written about Brand New Friend before – they’ve been causing something of a stir for the last year or so. Sporadic support slots, festival appearances (notably Electric Picnic and One Big Weekend) and single releases have gradually gathered a small army of besotted fans. They make instantly catchy, short sharp indie-pop – inspired by the likes of Modern Baseball and Blink 182 and onstage – they’re just about as engaging as it’s possible to be. Taylor plays each show like he’s headlining Glastonbury. Lauren – his sister – is effortlessly cool on keys, vocals and quirky dance routines. They’re a formidable duo and half of your new favourite band.
Next up for Brand New Friend will be endless touring, writing, recording and – perhaps in a year or so – a debut album. At which point they’ll become a new band again – in that they’ll be officially unveiled... to the world. After that, nothing would surprise me. One way or the other – Taylor will be a star. And when he’s done being a rock star? Well – the likes of myself – will have to make do and retire….. Short and sweet – scuzzy and jangly – all four tracks on that debut EP are gold. The title track from his second record is joyous, fun and lyrically curious. As I write, the city is a mess of unmissable gigs – as Sound of Belfast takes over for its annual programme of showcases and industry events. As you read – we’ll be at the tail end of the festival – with a couple of key events well worth a nosey. Rock and blues two piece Bonnevilles are one of the best live acts in the country – and they play Voodoo tonight. Over at The Oh Yeah centre – there’s a showcase featuring three hugely promising acts – Roe, The Wood Burning Savages and Sam Wickens. Two of the three have played Glastonbury – which says it all. The ‘big one’ is the NI Music Prize tomorrow night – our own version of the Mercury Music Prize. Twelve acts are nominated – three of which play on the night (Arborist, Joshua Burnside and Robocobra
Quartet). The overall winner is then announced – but the focus always remains on the nominated records, rather than whichever happens to be voted the ‘best’. And those twelve records really do showcase the colourful and impossibleto-pigeonhole ‘Sound’ of Belfast – and beyond. The vocal was recorded on an iphone in Neil’s hotel room. How come it ended up so beautiful?
ELECTRIC Brand New Friend CHARISMATIC Frontman Taylor Johnson