Friday, 20 July 2012

MUSIC REVIEW: Clipper Festival Concerts, Part I

Two open-air concerts were recently held in Derry-Londonderry’s Ebrington Square as part of the Clipper Homecoming Festival. But did the talent on show prove themselves worthy of the occasion? Si’s Sights And Sounds was there to find out...


A small flame burns near the Peace Bridge (in honour of the Olympics, perhaps?) as the light of day engulfs Ebrington Square. High temperatures and the strains of Christina Perri drift through the air as people of all ages slowly begin to gather in the former army barracks. They are clearly hopeful that the event’s proceedings will be as Legenderry as this newly born concert venue is becoming.

A suitably, almost expectedly confident performance from Best Boy Grip, aka Eoin O’Callaghan, opens proceedings. One of three acts this evening who will be playing at Glasgowbury 2012 (the others being Paddy Nash and Eagles Rock regular Paul Casey), the still rising local star continues to impress with the depth in his music. An accomplished pianist in addition to being a seasoned choral singer, O’Callaghan draws on his experience to create a sound worthy of, as critics have pointed out, Neil Hannon, Ben Folds and the Beatles. And the “Derry wans” who have so far populated Ebrington Square are more than happy to show their appreciation for such a talent.

Or should that be “talents”, for backing vocalist Shane McCaul, bassist Liam Craig, drummer Stephen Hamilton and violinist Niamh McGowan make their presence felt just as effectively. The standouts here are “Barbara”, a “cheery number about a promiscuous woman” (don’t be puzzled – that’s exactly what it is!) and “They’ve Come For My Head”, which features a piano and vocal worthy of Duke Special. So, is O’Callaghan Derry’s own Duke, minus the dreadlocks? Well, whether he is or not, “everyone in the city is talking about him”, according to the evening’s MC, Mark Patterson. And on tonight’s evidence, it really isn’t hard to see why.

Paddy Nash has been looking forward to this concert for weeks. He had previously told Newswire about the “exciting” potential of a “new shared space” like Ebrington Square, and he, Diane Greer, Rory Donaghy, Jonny Nutt and the rest of his “Happy Enchiladas” are more than ready to make the most of it. His cheery, postmodern old timey music features very relatable and amusing lyrics that strike a chord with just about everyone in the crowd. More than that, his choruses are jaunty, catchy and very singable. It’s a one note formula, but a winning one, as if The Dubliners had collaborated with Thin Lizzy to write “family music”, which could entertain, educate and be appreciated by all sorts of punters.

The Enchiladas’ final two songs leave the longest lasting impression. “The Moneyman’s Dead” provides the perfect opportunity for Ulster Bankers to vent their frustration at the recent crisis, and “Billy Bragg Jeans”, features the burgeoning talents of Nutt’s three young daughters. As the final refrain begins, Greer looks out towards the Peace Bridge, and one cannot help but feel warm inside and look towards a better future. Or, perhaps, a different planet.

It is indeed a different planet now for Paul Casey, with his recent nomination at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards gaining him an even larger audience. And it’s not long before the organiser of the event commands the Ebrington Square stage as well as his doppelganger, Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, commands the football pitch. His catchy, relatable tunes, especially “Something To Remember”, “Something’s Gotta Give”, “I Do” and “Wait” are a perfect fit for the occasion, and even if some parts of the set work better than others, there’s plenty of clapping and smiling faces in the crowd throughout. Kudos is due to Casey, too, for continuing to jam away during a technical glitch in otherwise excellent sound. What could have easily derailed a solid set is almost forgotten by the time Casey leaves the stage.

Note that I said almost; Mark Patterson can’t resist making a joke about the glitch! But it’s all in keeping with the good nature of the occasion, which continues as The Legenderry Clipper Crew receive a wonderfully warm and deserved reception from the whole of Ebrington Square.

Is Paul McLoone a showman or a show off? Take your pick. But there’s little doubt that this front man really knows how to lift the roof off a venue – metaphorically or literally – as both him and The Undertones provide the energy that the concert promised, but until now, did not quite have. Tonight, McLoone resembles Roger Federer, or even the Duracell bunny, with age seemingly unable to wither him. Better still, being back home appears to have given him an extra spring in his step.

Early numbers set a good tempo, with the likes of “My Perfect Cousin”, and “You Got My Number” clearly indicating that while Best Boy Grip may have been a better musician, Paddy Nash funnier, and Paul Casey more dependable, these guys have the most presence. If they lack truly memorable melodies – at their best, they remind one of Paul Weller and The Rolling Stones – the swagger in their performance compensates for this. The loudness and excitement on stage mirrors the loudness and excitement in the crowd.

It is left for the classics “Teenage Kicks” and “I Don’t Wanna Get Over You” to leave everyone strolling out of Ebrington Square knowing that they have truly witnessed an occasion worthy of its name – Legenderry.

And it’s not over yet...

(Video courtesy of Rory McSwiggan.)

(Click here for Part Two.)