Tom McShane is hosting a unique recording session and you’re invited!

1 07 2010

**As originally published on – July 2010**

This Saturday, Tom McShane is recording his new album. He’s also playing two shows. The exciting bit is that he’s doing both at once. He’s opening the doors up and inviting the public to be a part of the creative process, the best take from each of the sessions will make it on to the final version. Each attendee will be credited in the liner notes and receive a special individual copy of the album once it’s mastered that will display their name.

I had a chance to catch up with Tom to find out how he’s feeling ahead of the big day on Saturday: “I’m so excited now but until last night, I was really nervous. We’ve commandeered the whole ground floor exhibition space and we’ve turned it into a giant recording studio.”

So the nerves are gone, everything’s prepared and everyone’s ready to roll, as Tom tells us, “We weren’t 100% sure how we were going to control the noise levels within the room but after a little experimentation by Rocky O’Reilly and Ben McAuley from Start Together we got there. Also, last night was the first time the string players played with the band. I’ve done a lot of work with the two separately but it was a real relief to hear it all come together so perfectly last night. We have a full dress rehearsal (figuratively speaking, we won’t be playing in spandex and sequins or anything) on Friday so that will be the last element in place.”

It’s a shame that there won’t be spandex or sequins. Maybe that’s an idea for another time. But where did this idea spring from?

“The idea was born out of a long process of thought which followed an abortive attempt at recording an album in 2008. The process of overdubbing and dropping in for retakes was stale for me and I think in general I’d grown disillusioned with my approach to making music in general. So I eventually decided to put up or shut up. I embarked on a trip across the USA with my guitar, trying to get gigs as I travelled and played music to as many people as I could. While on the trip I visited Sun Studio in Memphis and the RCA Victor studio in Nashville and I was really inspired by those places. I was overwhelmed by the idea of how it must’ve been to record like they did back then.”

It’s a bold idea, but one which Tom expects to be rewarding, both in terms of the live experience and the final results. “Once I’d decided that I wanted to record it live, it was a very small jump to think that it would be even more exciting to include an audience in the process to try and capture some of that special energy that exists between a musician and an audience.”

So how’s it going to work? “I definitely don’t see it as being a conventional performance”, Tom tell us. “The band isn’t going to be pulling shapes or anything, we’ll be pretty focused on our takes but I don’t see there being a barrier between the performers and the band. We won’t be on a stage, all the instruments will be spread out around the room and the audience will literally be right in the middle, with the album being created all around them. It’ll be a relaxed, conversational vibe between takes and the audience will be involved in the process every step along the way.”

It’s definitely an exciting concept, and the album will always bring back memories of the day for those in attendance. It’s also a pretty clever idea – as more people download music for free, artists are having to come up with more creative ways to get people to part with their cash. “I think that is very much the case”, Tom agrees, “I mean, I still buy albums, but I think we’re in position now where the majority of music listeners don’t. I guess you could argue that what I’m attempting could fall under the ‘Recorded Music as Experience’ heading, but I don’t really think of it in those terms; my aim is mostly to make things more interesting for myself and to make the most exciting music I can. I very much hope we’re offering the music listeners who make it on the day something that they can’t just download off the internet, but also I hope what we end up with a superior product than it would’ve been if it was recorded conventionally and that listeners who weren’t at the recordings will be able to enjoy, what is in the end, a much better record.”

So the main thing is that it’s fun, and that the end result is the best that it can be. It’s the way things ought to be done, really, so take heed if you’re starting out – have fun and make it good. Tom’s got some more advice: “Learn to listen to criticism. If someone takes the time to think about and comment on your music, you should at least consider what they say, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Not all criticism will be informed or relevant but you can’t make that call unless you’ve thought about what’s been said. Similarly, listen to praise without letting it go to your head. No matter how good people tell you you are, you’ve always got to try to be as good as you can be.”

Tom’s Album Recording Sessions take place this Saturday, 3rd July in the Oh Yeah Music Centre, Belfast. Session One: 2pm, Session Two: 7pm, £9 per session (including album pre-sale).

Tickets are available online and from the Waterfront Box Office.

Let’s put The Limelight back in the limelight

22 06 2010

**As originally published on – June 2010**

I started a blog recently listing the Top 5 venues in Belfast when the news came in that the one(s) that I had pencilled in to top the list had just gone into administration. It was pretty shocking news, to me at least; the bars and venues that hosted the majority of my boozy times since starting University almost a decade ago, aren’t actually rolling in it after all. Wow. I know I don’t go as much as I used to now that I’ve got a full time job but I thought they’d cope.. I didn’t drink that much, did I?

The pub chains, CDC Leisure Ltd and Tarwood Limited were appointed an Administrator on 15 June. The business includes Auntie Annie’s, Katy Daly’s, The Limelight and The Spring & Airbrake. The venues will continue to trade as normal while they “assess all potential future options”. The directors of the companies bought the venues for a reported £13m in 2007. Belfast musos are in shock – there’s a Facebook group to join (‘Save CDC Leisure!’), talk of a ‘rally’ and a benefit gig – it’d take quite a few benefit gigs to turn around a company that was bought at that price, but the fact that people care so much is testament to CDC Leisure.

Indeed, I’ve organised events in CDC venues and they’ve been nothing but helpful and easy to work with. And the pubs themselves are amongst the few in Belfast where it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or what you look like, you can go and have a laugh, there’s no pretenses and no hassle. Not to mention the sheer number of bands that have played there over the years, you name ’em, they’ve played there – The Strokes, Oasis, Franz Ferdinand, Jeff Buckley, the list literally goes on and on and on. I remember one of the first gigs I saw there was Ash in 2000, when they were supported by a little known indie band from Bangor, Snow Patrol. Not that I actually saw Snow Patrol that night, I was still outside trying to formulate a plan to get past the bouncers while they were playing. Oh, to be seventeen again.

It’d be a HUGE shame if these venues stopped trading. Aside from the fact that they’re top boozers, CDC also organise a massive number of top gigs in Belfast – not just in their own venues but throughout the city – so the live music scene would be significantly worse off without them.

So if you were thinking about picking up tickets to a gig, now’s the time to do it. And if you’re like me and used to spend several nights a week in the Limelight as a student, maybe it’s time we had a reunion and did it again, not just for nostalgia’s sake, but for the sake of live music in Belfast.

Deadonmusic launch new website

10 06 2010

**As originally published on – June 2010**

Deadonmusic are a one-stop Belfast shop for musicians who predominantly work with unsigned artists and have several years experience in getting musicians noticed in the press, online and at their live shows – whether you’re looking for a swish new website, merchandise, poster designs or even if you’re looking for a gig in Belfast, Andy and Scott can help you out.

They’re primarily involved with the alt-folk/country scene, having organised shows for acts such as Basia Bulat and David Ford, but they’ve also recently set-up the online presence for Belfast’s premier redneck-rockers, Lafaro, too, so they’re into all sorts. Andy and Scott have established themselves as two of Belfast’s most reliable muso’s, not only working independently (including running a weekly country club called ‘Outlaw’ in Belfast’s oldest pub, McHugh’s) but also helping out with shows for some of Belfast’s top festivals such as the Open House, Cathedral Quarter Arts and Belfast Nashville Songwriter’s Festivals to name a few.

Deadonmusic have just re-launched their own website, after sprucing it up and giving it a Gok-style makeover. Having just finished admiring his handywork, resident web-urchin, Scott, gave us a few minutes of his time to tell us a bit about what it takes for unsigned bands to succeed, “There’s a lot of hard work involved – if you’re serious about your music and willing to put in the effort with promotion and really up for a dynamic live show then you could go far!”.

So if you’re a Belfast band and you’re wondering how to go about getting your first gig, here’s some pointers from Scott as to what Deadonmusic look for when putting a line-up together, “We’ll not necessarily look for how many Myspace friends you’ve got or what your friends are saying about you but we will listen to your tunes, check out any pics and videos you might have and do a bit of Googling, so an online presence is vital when dealing with promoters, the press or just about anyone else these days. We’ve got a little helpful list of do’s and don’ts over on the contact page of our site. If you think you’ve got what it takes and we think you’ve got what it takes then let’s go!”.

Sound good, aye? Dead on.

The next Deadonmusic show features Ben Glover, Thom Southern and The 1930’s in McHughs, Friday 18th June 2010.

You can check out the brand spanking new Deadonmusic site and get in touch with Scott and Andy by visiting:

Captain Kennedy release a ‘worthy’ single

1 06 2010

**As originally published on – June 2010**

Captain Kennedy are a 7-piece indie-folk band from County Armagh who’ve been slowly building a name for themselves over the last few years, having released EPs and shared stages with the likes of Mumford and Sons, Foy Vance and Laura Marling to name a few. They’re gearing up for the release of their forthcoming album, See You When I See You, with the release of the single, No Friend Of Mine, but this single is as important for a little boy called Brian Kerr as it is for Captain Kennedy.

Brian is suffering from a terminal illness called Fanconi’s Anaemia, and it’s his wish to go to Florida with his family to ride the big roller-coasters. The Brian Kerr Wish Fund has been set up to make his wish happen. This cause is one close to the heart of Captain Kennedy as Brian’s cousins Stephen and Laura are members of the group, and as a result, all the proceeds from the sale of their single will be donated to the Brian Kerr Wish Fund.

The single itself is a catchy, retro piece of laid-back, emotive Irish folk with melancholic vocals and a simple but engaging melody; it’s a perfect song to kick back in your rockin’ chair in front of a blazin’ fire with your pipe and slippers. And maybe a nice bowl of stew. It’s heart-warming yet wistful; the soundtrack to a dreamy Ireland of days gone by.

So it’s not just a worthy cause but a great song too, so do your good deed for the day, pop along to Bandcamp and do your bit.

For more information on The Brian Kerr Wish Fund (including other ways of donating), visit the Facebook group:

Band Of The Week: No Mean City

25 05 2010

**As originally published on – May 2010**

No Mean City have managed to create quite the buzz in the six months since their inception, having toured with My Passion, self-released their debut EP and played extensively around Ireland, included a recent ram-packed first headline show in their hometown, Derry. They’re currently battling for the chance to play at some of the UK’s big festivals through Red Bull’s Bedroom Jam competition, having already made it through to final stage and played a set live from their bedroom on an online broadcast which featured them alongside mega-metallers, Trivium.

Their non-stop efforts look like paying off, then. Leading lady, Jilly, recently took some time out to have a chat to us about how the band came together.

“I’ve been singing since I was about five and entered many competitions including ‘X Factor’ and ‘I’d Do Anything’. They weren’t very good for my confidence so I turned to modelling and acting instead. I then fell in with some friends who were gigging in Derry, they had me guest and it gave me a thirst again. I put the word out and ‘Hybris’ drummer Brian put me in touch with Paul (guitar) and Joe (bass) who were searching for a front-man at the time. We had a jam and had our first 3 tracks written within the week!”

So their search for a front-man found them a striking front-lady instead and No Mean City got straight to work in a frantic manner which they’ve continued ever since. Their formation was thanks to fateful meetings and their band name followed in similar fashion; “I have a favourite poetry book I’ve always keep handy for inspiration. I decided to play the old blind fold/open a page game – up popped a poem by an Irish poet called Patrick McDonagh containing the words “no mean city”. It stuck out for all of us, it was an instant agreement, it was fate.”

Their music is a raucous mixture of heavy riffs and pop-hooks citing influences including Refused, The Mars Volta and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to name just a few. Jilly is an enigmatic front-lady; she is very much like a Northern Irish Karen-O, confident and quirky in the best kind of way, whilst the rest of the band provide a technically proficient and boisterously rockin’ backdrop to complete the dynamic. It works well.

Their progress so far is, however, largely down to good old-fashioned graft, as Jilly re-affirms when we ask if she has any tips for new bands; “The key is perseverance and promotion! It’s so hard for new bands coming through at the moment as people don’t have to look for music any more. Just keep working hard and when it seems like you’re banging a brick wall, don’t give up – sometimes you will feel like it, when you’re constantly playing to ten people but it will pay off!”.

It’s sound advice; hard work will be rewarded *if* you’re good enough. You can decide for yourself if No Mean City are good enough by checking them out on myspace, and if you like what you hear, vote for them in the Red Bull Bedroom Jam competition. I’ve already voted and I think you should too. If they manage to win, it’ll be no mean feat for No Mean City.