|Saint Sapphire/Petty Youth/On Parole/The Bell Diver Spiders – Belfast, Voodoo – 3 February 2017|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Saturday, 11 February 2017 04:30|
We had it all planned. A typically busy weekend for UR’s Belfast team… two days, two gigs, ten bands in all. Simples really? Well, it was until herself caught a dose of the dreaded lurgy and was forced to take to bed to try and shake it, leaving yours truly to brave the cold, damp Friday night air and venture down to one of our favourite venues to catch the first four bands, three of whom I hadn't actually seen before… but then, as I’ve said before, that’s the beauty of this vocation: discovering new music all the time.
First into the fray were definitely the freshest band on the bill, the wonderfully named (unless, like Mrs A, you suffer from both claustrophobia and arachnophobia) The Bell Diver Spiders, three youngsters from west Belfast who deliver earnest indie alt-punk.
Their youthfulness and inexperience does show through, especially when the bassist tries to remove his hoodie mid-song and ends up unbuckling his guitar strap: he’s also nervous in his between song banter, reminding us of the band’s name three times in less than as many minutes, and constantly introducing their songs as being original numbers. Yes, they do throw in a couple of covers, including a decent stab at Green Day’s ‘Hitching A Ride’ (these kids weren’t even an evil glint when Billy Joe and co made their Belfast debut in a room half the size of this one), but it’s a bit of needless over-emphasis. Nevertheless, they are young and will mature, and have a decent enough line in clapalong poppy tunes with a good sense of the songwriting basics, with an unformed Undertones feel to the likes of ‘Heaven’.
It has been a few years since I last saw On Parole, and I seem to recall not being overly impressed on that occasion. But, with the gig being somewhat cryptically billed as the last one “as you know them”, the quartet recent hiatus has obviously done them good, as they have come on a lot since then. They deliver big, brawly rock ‘n’ roll riffs with a suvern tinge, coupled with melodies that get your foot stomping right away, while their huge bass sound integrates well with the tight drum work, and their taut twin guitar harmonies have plenty of Belfast sleech under their finger nails.
Their Black Sabbath medley is an earnest and crowd-pleasing homage on the eve of Ozzy and co’s last ever gig, while they cheekily close with a riotous version of Petty Youth’s ‘Caught Up On You (But Not For Long)’, which brings two-thirds of the following act onto the stage somewhat prematurely.
Not to be upstaged, Petty Youth are tight as fuck. Their style of alt-rock lies somewhere between The Killers and The White Stripes, with bare, stripped-back harmonies made all the more effective by the naked jangling of the riffs and the harsh penetration of the rhythms.
They also show that all important sense of audience rapport, introducing ’17 Again’ as “this probably applies to more of you than us, it’s about underage drinking”, and their own rendition of the aforementioned ‘Caught Up In You’ as “apparently an On Parole cover”… In between, new single ‘Do You Wanna Be My Gang’ (no, not that song, but due to be released later this month) is a spunky evocation of The Ramones jamming with The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with its thick but fleecy groove. Their cover of Sham 69’s ‘Borstal Breakout’ is suitably brash, emphasizing the raw punk intensity that underlies their psyched-out blues-fuelled fury. As I said it’s tight, it possesses the right degree of nerve-shredding energy – and, above all, it’s hugely enjoyable. Definitely one band on this bill I look forward to seeing again.
Describing themselves as the sound of “Liam Neeson herding sheep to the sound of loud guitars, loud vocals, even louder bass and even louder drums”, alt-rockers Saint Sapphire were using tonight to launch their self-titled debut EP. Managing to get hands clapping throughout the packed room before they even take the stage, frontman Sam Morgan has an infectious, nervous and enthusiastic energy. “In a world where everyone hates each other, we’re gonna love each other tonight” he declares before they rip into the songs, which feature punchy riffs overtopping slam dunk rhythms and big bouncy melodies coupled with catchy-as-fuck choruses.
By the time they reach their third song, the clock is ticking past midnight (and most of those present should probably be in bed – but, then, it’s not a school night), but there’s an energy and a vibrancy in the room that defies the hour. As with anything to do with the Belfast music scene, there’s a sense of darkness just below the surface of the songs, but the pervading feeling is one of rising above that and enjoying life, and music, while we can.
I must admit, I was familiar with only one song, the single ‘She’s A Hero’, but elsewhere I did pick up on a line which stuck with me… “running to stand still”: I’ve a feeling these kids won’t be doing that for much longer, but will move forward apace. There’s an argument that Belfast invented pop punk; if that is indeed the case, Saint Sapphire may not be quite re-inventing it or bringing it home, but it’s certainly in safe hands.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © Steven Donnelly/Blackstaff Music.
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