live review ~ a plastic rose ~ button factory, dublin

by 06:35

This week Encore NI traveled down South for the triumphant return of Belfast's adopted sons A Plastic Rose, as they took to  the stage at the Button Factory in Dublin, supporting Irish legends Turn. Since their move across the water to Nottingham last year the band's stature has continued to grow, the release of new single 'This Side Of Winter' unsurprisingly capturing the attention of many big names and regularly gaining airplay on the likes of BBC Radio 1 in the process. It's been a long haul, but one which has made the lads recent rise all the sweeter for the dedicated and passionate 'APRmy', which has also recruited a new legion of fans to add to it's Belfast core. As the lads took to the stage for the last time in a remarkable 2013, it seemed fitting that our own Taylor Johnson was there, headbanging along to every word...

To see A Plastic Rose in a venue such as The Button Factory in Dublin is becoming a rarer and rarer experience. The relative intimacy of the venue, coupled by the bands position in the support slot, is one which will almost certainly be confined to the memories of the lucky few who can say they were there before long, as our boys are on the cusp of album number two and with it, a further push into the mainstream consciousness. Opening with 'Camera.Shutter.Lifes' pile driving first track 'Build From The Ground Up', APR set the tone from the opening thrashing guitar strum. Even without the orchestral effects provided on the album and at their sell out 'Farewell Belfast' gig, the power and passion was not lost as the band eased into top gear. Fan favorite 'All You Know & Love Will Die' also captured the audience, lead guitarist Ian McHugh's vocal as fierce as ever. New single 'This Side Of Winter' showed the lads radio friendly credentials, from the flawless opening vocal melodies to the incredibly catchy chorus. What's incredible about the single however, is how they've managed to capture the pure essence of their earliest work and channel that enthusiasm and energy in to a track bursting with hit potential.

The bands on stage presence was as effortlessly cool as you'd imagine, when thanking Turn for the use of their instruments while there's was back home, McHugh noted that bassist Troy Heatons bass was in fact his Nieces. 'Which will make it all the more special when we destroy the gear at the end of the gig'.

The first of many songs taking influence from the ocean, the hauntingly beautiful '...And The Sea', was delivered in perfect balance. From the pristine, maudlin intro to the big hitting chorus, every aspect as captivating as a band headlining a major festival. Certainly, it was performed with as much enthusiasm.

Another fan favorite, 'Boy Racer', highlighted the tightness and raw efficiency of the groups rhythm section, Heaton's bass playing taking center stage for the explosive breakdown, while drummer David Reid never missed a beat, in a floury of pure energy.

Perhaps the highlight of the set came late on however, as the big hitting 'Kids Don't Behave Like This' brought the audience to a sea of waving arms. Frontman Gerry Norman was in total control, as his pitch perfect vocal was screamed back to him by the now manic audience which had gathered tight to the front of the stage. Then, in an act of incredible showmanship, he gave one lucky fan the opportunity of a lifetime, bringing them on stage to sing the final electrifying chorus to a Dublin crowd well and truly in the hands of the band before them. If further evidence was needed of A Plastic Rose's humility and pure love for what they do, this was it. The fan on stage was certainly given a moment he will never forget and the loving audience appreciated it just as much. True ecstasy, it's not difficult to understand why A Plastic Rose are the band of the people.

This was followed by a beauty from the incredible 'The Promise Notes' EP, 'The Metal Man'. Wrapped in a storm of melancholy guitar, you could feel every ounce of emotion from the captivating lyrics of isolation and longing for the Atlantic ocean. As near silence fell for the mesmerising refrain of 'So Ill waste my time, like you said, like you always said, and I will shine, my light, into the sea' you truly felt at one with the band. Album closer 'Suns A Shadow' then provided an uplifting ending, as Belfast's favorite band thanked the crowd for their time and left.

Although they may not live on these shores anymore, you could feel the love and adoration of the people for a band on the verge of more major success.

As Gerry Norman declared mid way through their brilliant set, 'We're A Plastic Rose and we're from Belfast'; and with A Plastic Rose, you know they'll never forget that.

Taylor Johnson

small but massive...a year in review ~ top 10 songs of 2013

by 17:09

To cap off a fantastic year for local music, Encore NI has narrowed down, in no particular order, our list of the top ten songs of 2013. Agree with our choices? Let us know!

10. The Wonder Villains ~ '33'

During a year of cementing their position as one of the countries hottest prospects with successful gigs across the country, indie-pop masters The Wonder Villains released this gem in a floury of trademark energy and excitement. Undercut with a beautifully arranged synth hook, '33' is an anthem that spans all age-groups, filled with uplifting lines of 'staying in' and having 'rockshows'. With a debut album already in sight, it wont be long before everyones favorite villains are more than just 'a big deal where they come from'. Expect big things in 2014.
For fans of | Alphabeat | Blondie | MGMT

9. Aaron Shanley ~ 'Skyline Of Matchsticks'

Floating in amongst an album of understated beauty, 'Skyline Of Matchsticks' is Aaron's ode to the simple things in life. A stunningly serene vocal is complimented by a soft, folk guitar. Perfected by a harmonica overlay that highlights a mature and mellowed twist, to add to Shanley's beautifully crafted acoustic prowess. Listen closely and you can hear the subtle influences of a young Neil Young. The album itself, 'Bedroom Tapes: Swiss Cottage Teal Roses' is arguably Shanley's best to date. Stunning.

For fans of | Donovan | Neil Young | Badly Drawn Boy

(Track 4 Below)

8.  Pretty Child Backfire ~ 'If We Can Last The Summer'

Though written sometime towards the end of 2012, 'If We Can Last The Summer' has technically not yet been released, and due to it's incredible live reception throughout 2013 it seemed to be impossible to leave it out of this final list. Encapsulating Pretty Child's fast paced, catchy indie riffs and combined with frontman Mark McAllister's trademark emotive delivery, the tracks harmonious interludes and poetic lyricism has captured the hearts of many. Long may it continue into 2014.

For fans of | Bombay Bicycle Club | The Wombats | The Maccabees

7. Foy Vance ~ 'Joy Of Nothing'

The title track from this years 'NI Music Prize' winning album has been an overlooked piece of genius from Northern Ireland's answer to David Gray. A delicate ballad, 'Joy Of Nothing' stresses the importance of reflection and clarity, in an age clouded by the strain of 21st century life. With lines like 'Calling the doves and fighter planes, sharing the sky like it's nothing strange', Foy's triumphant chorus is executed to perfection, as a soaring falsetto vocal highlights his incredible range and leads to an atmospheric finale. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the big hitting 'Closed Hands, Full Of Friends', this fantastic song is a superb addition to an album you imagine will only be appreciated more as time goes on.

For fans of | David Gray | Paul Brady | Bruce Springsteen

6. Tired Pony ~ 'The Ghost Of The Mountain'

Another title track, this time from Gary Lightbody's Tired Pony and their second album. In a release that should have elevated the Snow Patrol frontman to near legendary status, instead was all too often simply panned as another trademark Lightbody release, with REM's Peter Buck thrown in for good measure. What a shame that was, as 'The Ghost Of The Mountain' bursts at the seams with the sort of lyrics that should stand the test of time for decades. Here we get a rare glimpse into the secretive frontman's clouded mindset,  'I'm not a man, just a shadow, just a fragment, just a ghost' echoing in your head for days after the first listen. A beautiful track from an excellent album.

For fans of | Stephen Fretwell | Kodaline | Ian Archer

5. More Than Conquerors ~ 'When The Well Runs Dry'

A firm fan favorite, 'When The Well Runs Dry' is a piledriver of a track from More Than Conqueror's debut album 'Everything I've Learnt'. Running on pure adrenalin, the track has all the hallmarks of a classic rock anthem. Complete with an invigorating breakdown and encapsulating over-driven guitars, the beauty of the song lies in it's flexibility. The band have regularly performed the track acoustically for various live sessions over the year and the result is as hauntingly melodic as the original at times and would not look out of place on an alternative Deaf Havana album. A rare accolade for a passionate rock and roll band.

For fans of | 6 Star Hotel | You Me At Six | Deaf Havana

4. SOAK ~ 'Explosion'

Captivating from the outset, the 2013 City of Culture's favorite songstress Soak again showed her incredible maturity beyond her years with the release of 'Explosion'. Soaks transcendent vocal glides through a melancholic backdrop of sad guitar, as she perfectly captures the pain of teenage heartbreak with breathtaking honesty. Tours with 'Bombay Bicycle Club' and 'Tegan & Sara' has capped an extraordinary year for her, which will only get better in 2014.

For fans of | Lisa Hannigan | Martha Wainwright | Gabrielle Aplin

3. Echo Raptors ~ 'Change My Way'

From the opening notes of Vincent Caddel's shimmering guitar it's clear that Belfast's Echo Raptors are on to something special. Looking to raise the art of Brit-Pop from it's 90's resting place, 'Change My Way' is the anthemic scream from the terraces that the people of Northern Ireland have been waiting for. Brimming with confidence and earning rave reviews in the process, Echo Raptors are the pin-up boys for Belfast's indie resurrection.

For fans of | Oasis | Cast | The Verve

2. The Late Twos ~ 'The Late Twos'

Possibly the closest any band have came to emulating the Arctic Monkeys early adoration, The Late Two's have burst onto the music scene in an explosive year for the band. The pick of an already beloved back catalogue of original songs is this self titled track from their debut EP. Driven by that wonderfully catchy opening riff, 'The Late Two's' is another track that alludes to the carefree abundance of youth, tinged with 90's nostalgia and an attitude to boot. Having developed a reputation as one of the countries best live bands, the lads from East Belfast are at the forefront of an adoring legion of mods and 'mad fer it's'. Enjoy them while you can, The Late Two's may not be our hidden gems for much longer.

For fans of | Arctic Monkeys | The Libertines | Manic Street Preachers

1. A Plastic Rose ~ 'This Side Of Winter'

As A Plastic Rose's dynamic frontman Gerry Norman took one final glimpse at the adoring crowd before him at the bands 'farewell Belfast' show he made a promise. A promise that, no matter where they were in the world they would be proud to wave the flag for their adopted city of Belfast. A year on and the countries favorite sons have kept their promise and then some, releasing new single 'This Side Of Winter' just in time for the big freeze. Packed with as much APR trademark energy as physically possible, this big hitting single sent waves across the UK, gaining consistent airplay on shows such as BBC Radio 1, the likes of Huw Stephens amongst others were keen to proclaim their new found love for one of the hardest working bands in the business. Filled with raucous guitar and a beautifully melodic vocal, 'This Side Of Winter' bridges the gap to APR's upcoming second album fantastically, showing a more radio friendly edge without ever sacrificing their fantastically crafted indie in the process. With a spell binding Ian McHugh guitar solo to boot, this may be the single that launches the band into the mainstream. One things for sure though, the Belfast boys from Sligo will never change who they are, and that's why we love them.

For fans of | Biffy Clyro | Nirvana | Weezer

Taylor Johnson

'ban the bomb, free the banned its!'

by 15:53

Neil Young once proclaimed that he was proud to keep on rocking in a free world. For years, like Neil Young, the local Northern Irish music scene did the same, celebrating our diverse and eccentric talent like no country before us. That is, until very recently. In a country, however briefly, recently transported back to it's violent past with an attempted terrorist attack in Cathedral Quarter, it is to be assumed that our local music scene would come together to unite in unison in the face of discrimination and hate. Instead, for the simple crime of throwing lettuce into an unexpected audience, local punk hero's 'Bunny & the Banned It's' have lived up to their name and been black listed by a large majority of Belfast's music venues. This has outraged many and confused many more, as the band are now a thriving part of our music scene, as well as having developed a cult following in the process. Today Encore NI urges the people of Belfast and beyond to stand up and unite in the face of this outrageous decision. We want to see as many venues reverse their decision to ban the band as possible, to highlight that in a time of political discontent music will always be a unifying force, rather than a divisive one.

We say "ban the bomb, free the banned its!"

We hope you will join us.



encore introducing...'the croons'

by 12:33

As it's coming to the end of a very successful year for Encore NI we thought we'd like to feature something rather different on the site. Here Taylor Johnson takes a first listen to a demo from a young Mancunian 4 piece looking to make waves in 2014. Already armed with an obvious determination and edgy attitude, this week Encore NI  introduces 'The Croons'.

Cradled under the gentle rain of a grey Manchester sky sits a lonely train station, frozen in a simpler time where rock and roll was a way of life and the only dream was to get out of the city. It is a powerful image from Britain's past and the appropriate single artwork to a track slowly beginning to reignite a  nostalgic passion long forgotten in the baron wasteland of the 'UK Top 40'.

The track in question is the debut demo single from young Manchester 4-piece 'The Croons', a ready made indie anthem with a captivating back beat and startlingly well developed sound called 'Train Tracks'. Released inexplicably into cyberspace last month, 'Train Tracks' is a song that seeks to captivate from the off, a raw distorted guitar riff acting as the catalyst for a driving bass drum intro that builds to the songs central hook. Brimming with passion, the effortless vocal delivery at times is reminiscent of a 'Beneath The Board Walk' era Alex Turner, as the band easily step into the sort of singalong chorus The Strokes would be proud of. Subtle guitar overlays help to add a rock and roll flare to proceedings as the hypnotic drum beat never once threatens to falter.

Lyrically, The Croons natural charisma comes to the surface, as the chorus's hook  'Leave the train-tracks along my back' can't help but leave you singing along. The lads cheeky references to young love and the freedom of youth are written cleverly and delicately, with lines like 'She don't want no devotion, just enjoying the motion' easily overlooked, yet brilliantly intertwined.  As the song flows to it's pinnacle a Libertines-esque guitar solo serves to highlight the bands musicality and natural ability.

A final refrain of the chorus brings the song to it's conclusion, as The Croons first release bows out as confidently as it began.

In all, 'Train Tracks' serves as a perfect example of the undercurrent of raw passion that still remains in the pop dominated musical landscape we live in. The Croons could well be the band your kids will one day start to believe in. Until then, Train Tracks will keep them dancing.

Taylor Johnson

If you like...The Strokes, The Libertines, The Jam...You'll love The Croons.

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