My favourite musical memory of 2015 happened 3 months ago & I intended to include it here before now. It was a gig I didn’t want to miss & it became an epic 4 day adventure (man, I needed a holiday !). The connections I made with old & new friends were forged in music but this was more than a good night out. Any road up, it was certainly the “Best of” the year so I guess it’s about time…
On September the 10th the Derry musical family assembled at Sandino’s bar for the “Music For Free Movement” concert, part of the positive public response to the distress suffered by refugees fleeing the warring factions of the Middle East. It was not difficult for co-promoters Kevin Magee & Rion McCartney to fill the bill, many musicians in the area wanted to contribute to the evening. The hard part was stage managing the night to give as much time as possible to each act. Two stages featured over 5 hours of continuous music & it was not easy to catch all the great talent from the city showing out for a very good cause. I did my best.
It’s been over 25 years since I worked alongside & played out with a fine group of men from Ireland. 3 of them were in a band & I travelled around the country with Bam Bam & the Calling not only to see that they didn’t get lost but because they made great music. This new-fangled e-world put me back in touch with 2 of the guys & wonderfully the group was intact, back in Derry, still making their terrific racket. Bassist Joe Brown plays with a new crew, the Gatefolds. I was able to see their live clips, receive their CDs & help to spread the word by way of this blog. An opportunity to see both the Gatefolds & Bam Bam play on the same night was too good to miss. It was time to plan my first visit to Northern Ireland.
From home to Derry took almost 10 hours, a cab, a train, a bus, a plane then a bus ride from Belfast across some rather green & pleasant land. The gang at Cool Discs, an aptly-named record shop, provided a welcome & a place to put myself on solid ground. Kevin Magee took time from a very busy schedule to point me right (a shout to the Cafe del Mondo) in the Walled City. A long day was surely leading to a long night. Sightseeing could wait, it was the music that had brought me here.
First up at Sandino’s was Lost Avenue, the youngest band of the night. Derry’s rock tradition has the clang & clash of loud guitars & these guys fit right in. They deserved a bigger crowd & get them for their own gigs as their reputation grows. More great music followed while the venue, a classic Irish ballroom (easy access to alcohol is a clue) with a traditional rock & roll sticky floor, filled up with faces from my Facebook feed. Bernard & I had already bonded over our similar tastes in music & football. Jim Cunningham, the documentarist of Derry music, arrived with his camera. Jeanette & Ruairi are as delightful as I knew they would be. Later their band, Lady J, would absolutely rock this joint. Everybody was so welcoming (not always the case for me !), I don’t get around as much as I used to but I know that this must be the place when I’m in the middle of good people & good music.
So here are the Gatefolds, right onstage in front of me. Drummer Sean & guitarist Fergal were, until tonight, e-friends, singer-guitarist Jason & I had never met before & that didn’t matter. There’s my old mucker Joe on bass & I’m watching him doing what he does for the first time in over 25 years. The Gatefolds know that increased volume isn’t the only way to have an effect. Their spiky, still melodic, riffs insinuate themselves rather than batter you. The pop-psych guitar wash builds beautifully, there are times when I could happily listen to them stretch these songs for as long as they are inclined. I had seen the clips, have the few songs the band have recorded, this was better. In the last week the Gatefolds played to their largest audience yet while supporting the Undertones & I have received a new CD single. 2016 looks like being a good year for them.
I took a breather, caught an acoustic set by the Wood Burning Savages, a group I’ve known about for some time & a fine one. Sandinos was packed with shiny happy folk, some of them curious about a stranger’s story. Man, I like to talk but I was 18 hours into my day & the headline act, the reason I was out of my bed so early & had travelled so far to see were about to hit the main stage.
Bam Bam & the Calling have played together for over 30 years now. The same line-up. Tonight a family illness had prevented guitarist John McLuskey from attending but Paul, Joe & Tom, ably assisted by Paul’s brother Rion, were still there. It’s more than longevity that has established their reputation as Derry music legends. Paul Pj Mc Cartney has some great songs & is a charismatic front man. Drummer Tom Docherty is just a machine, I think that I had forgotten just how good he is. What I had not forgotten, what had first attracted me to the band & what was still there was the unit’s commitment to playing with passion & energy because that’s why they did it in the first place. The old songs were a blast, the newer ones just as good. The set whizzed by too quickly, my central nervous system overloaded with endorphins producing the widest smile in the hall. I wanted more but I’m greedy. I had waited long enough to hear this, I could wait for the next time. My long day had been worth every minute.
Over £3000 was raised for people unfortunate to have been caught in a war & lucky enough to escape to the Greek island of Lesvos…good work. On my long weekend I reminisced, caught up with & spoke about Life with my 3 old friends. I made new friends too. Joe’s wife Gayle fed me, always a good thing. Fergal was already in every bar I entered. The hospitality shown by Kevin & Alison, who invited a strange man into their home, will never be forgotten (nor will Ali’s carrot cake). Good people, great old & new times. It was the music that brought us & kept us together over all this time. You have got to love that !