Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Record Store Day, Derry-Londonderry

Rapidly rising stars Little Bear lead an all-star musical cast in Cool Discs

The good vibrations carried over from, well, Good Vibrations seem to have passed into Derry-Londonderry's sole remaining independent record store on Record Store Day. Even before the bands have arrived, punters are browsing through the CDs, DVDs, vinyl and memorabilia in Lee Mason's Cool Discs with curious, intrigued and even excitable looks on their faces. Whether they're contemplating their next purchase, chatting about music or catching up with a friend, they are quite clearly revelling in an atmosphere that's no longer taken for granted in the age of a recession and digital music revolution.

Can they trust the five bands on show to make their day an even more memorable one?


Perhaps the best word one can use to describe Rory Moore and Strength is "experimental". They're a three-piece, or on this occasion, a two-piece that you can't quite pigeonhole. They've a sound reminiscent of Talking Heads, with sprinklings of Joy Division and The Style Council, minus the drums.

On the whole, it creates a bizarrely retro effect which comes off more positively at the beginning of the set than at the end of it. Moore's depressing keyboard electronica is tougher to warm to than his jazzy, groovy and sometimes funky bass solos, despite the overall consistency of his powerful, echoing vocals. But it's versatile and admirable nonetheless, a performance just about worthy of the band's name.


From the moment you hear a very Paul Casey-esque guitar riff as a warm up to the set, you know you are going to hear something very different from what fans of The Clameens were used to in their previous incarnation.

I was fortunate enough to be present at what was deemed to be their final gig in Derry's Bentley Bar in December 2011. I likened what I heard at the time to The Kinks and Snow Patrol, commending both lead singer Sean Breslin's "smooth diction" and the band's guitar playing. Well, Breslin's diction certainly remains intact, and the guitars - enhanced by the arrival of new bassist Ryan McGaughey - are stronger and tighter than ever before. But nothing here will remind us of Ray Davies or Gary Lightbody. It is as if the band have undergone a literal regeneration.

The determined Hayden Diver repeatedly hits a cajon box, creating a convincing "drum effect", while Breslin, McGaughey and fellow guitar man Ethan Diver are extremely in sync with one another. It's like watching The Rockettes play guitar, except it is classy rather than unnerving.

"Every song that we do normally involves a lot of heavy tuning", says Breslin as the set draws to a close. With those words, and the punters' positive reactions, the band's general commitment and genial presence are not in doubt. It really would seem that the only way is up for this Derry-Londonderry quartet.


Sullivan & Gold may not really be called Sullivan & Gold - in reality, their names are Adam Montgomery and Ben Robinson - but in every other way, their names are not deceptive. For their harmonies are extremely reminiscent of possibly the most famous "S & G" of all - yes, you guessed it, Simon & Garfunkel. Even Robinson's demeanour can be likened to Paul Simon's in the video for "You Can Call Me Al".

Their tried and trusted melodies create a mellow effect which evokes memories of The Beautiful South, albeit minus the extremely edgy lyrics, and Crowded House. It gives one the feeling of enjoying a cup of herbal tea, and in an atmosphere mainly dominated by electric guitar, that's not a bad thing at all.


There's little to say about Chris McConaghy - aka Our Krypton Son - that hasn't already been said by both pundits and locals. He plays with such calmness, coolness and confidence that you regret he can't play more than four songs today.

What's particularly noticeable this time, especially in signature tunes "Sunlight In The Ashes" and "Catalonian Love Song" is his strong musicianship. His tunes are extremely well suited to electric guitar, and, like Ocean Colour Scene, he shifts effortlessly between acoustic and full band sets. Imagine the acoustic and original versions of OCS's 1990's hit "The Circle" side by side - different-sounding, yet just as effective as each other - and you get the idea of his overall effectiveness.

McConaghy finishes the set on a humorous and poignant note, inviting Sullivan & Gold to join him for his Roy Orbison tribute, "How Long Must I Dream". If he was still alive, "The Big O" would surely have been pleased to hear it.


When Little Bear crowd into the corner of Cool Discs, it's near impossible to move in the store.

With due respect to Two Door Cinema Club, Little Bear's appearance on the Glassworks stage at Other Voices Derry in their place did and continues to do wonders for the Derry-based band. They have since performed at Other Voices in London, and will feature at the Indiependence and Groove festivals later this year, amongst other things.

That they've packed the shop to the rafters is no surprise whatsoever, for those who saw them at the Glassworks earlier this year will know that they did more than support the "three gods" they were on stage with that night; they complemented them.

Today, Little Bear seem less experimental and more assured. Right from the start, McCool is making easily relatable jokes about the cost of switching cell phone networks, before using the band's own smartphones to create a very country & western, "whistling" effect that wouldn't sound out of place in a Sergio Leone movie. Shades of heavy angst creep into both "The Devil's The Songbird" and "I'd Let You Win", aspects of which could come across as slightly depressing in other hands. But in the hands and voices of McCool, Mark O'Doherty, Ryan Griffiths and Conor Mason, the tunes are really rich, varied and singable.

From "Night Dries Like Ink" onwards, the band relax and raise the mood and tempo of the set up a notch. But the overall strength and tightness of the band's sound remains, creating the most positive effect of the day. It's a fitting conclusion to the day's music, and another interesting chapter in the musical lives of these no-longer-so-little bears.

And... hang on, what's this? SOAK has crept to the back of the store to congratulate them! Now that's a tight-knit musical community for you...