Sweet Taste/Screaming Eagles/The Red Velvetines/Maverick - Belfast, Empire Music Hall - 18th April 2013 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 03 May 2013 03:00

Sweet Taste EP Launch Poster 2I’ve used this site on many occasions to talk about the vibrancy of the Northern Irish rock scene, and the plethora of damn fine bands, working across the entire gamut of styles, with which this particular corner of the Überverse is blessed. Tonight was yet more evidence, as if it was needed, of the strength in depth of the local scene, as retro-rockers Sweet Taste gathered together the strongest possible support bill to help celebrate the official release of their new EP ‘Hit The Spot’ (the first fruits of their newly inked deal with the Rocksector label).


Openers Maverick – themselves about to release their own debut EP, ‘Talk’s Cheap’, on unsuspecting audiences – play good old-fashioned hard rock that emanates somewhere between the LA strip and the back streets of Birmingham, especially with the impressive Cinderella vibe of ‘Cat Got Your Tongue’ and the NWOBHM-esque ‘Fire And Brimstone’. The band show true rock ‘n’ roll spirit, as vocalist David Balfour doesn’t let the fact he’s recovering from a bad throat infection get in the way of him delivering the goods, and the band – who wear their colours with pride, with their logo sewn onto every conceivable bit of the singer’s clothing – have a decent-enough stage presence to match some pretty decent tunes. Maverick launch their aforementioned debut EP, ‘Talk’s Cheap’, at Voodoo, Belfast, on Thursday May 2nd. Support comes from Sweet Taste and Infamy. They then also support Lixx at Voodoo on June 28th and Faster Pussycat at Auntie Annie’s, Belfast, on Sunday July 7th.


Hailing from the northern half of Northern Ireland, The Red Velvetines are a dynamic young quartet demonstrates a maturity and musical knowledge well beyond their years, playing a roughed up, distorted, dirty blues that ploughs a furrow that can be traced right back to the late sixties in much the same way as the likes of Band Of Skulls and Blood Red Shoes: add in massive dollops of Thin Lizzy, Primal Scream, Queens Of The Stone Age (and, to a lesser extent Kyuss), The Answer and St Jude and you come close to an approximation of the sound which the Velvetines produce. While the three main musicians – guitarist Mark Blair, bassist Uel Taylor and drummer Corkie McCorkell are each superb instrumentalist who breathe fire and energy into the material, the undoubted star of the show is the quite frankly stunning woman at the front of the stage, vocalist Claire McCorkell, who one moment is belting it out with the bluesiness of Bessie Smith, the next sending shivers down your spine with the same effect as the most incendiary torch singer whilst then delivering stunning soulful blues, such as on set highlight ‘Ninety Nine Times A Day’.


Following a performance of such power would be a daunting task for many bands, but main support Screaming Eagles take the challenge in their stride and belie the fact that they only appeared on the Norn iron just last August – a short career which has seen them produce a firestarter of a debut album and draw them favourable comparisons with other local outfits such as the sadly-missed Swanee River and Million Dollar Reload – to deliver their pure kick ass rawk ‘n’ roll with the sort of assuredness and panache many more seasoned outfits would kill dead things to achieve. Chris Fry is not only a great singer but a charismatic frontman, while the rest of the band, the rhythm section of Ryan Lilly and Kyle Cruikshank and axe swinger Adrian McAleenan, are no mere supporting cast, but play their part not only with efficiency but with the same confident swagger, especially their axe slinger who has a stage style not dissimilar to that of Slash.


However, no matter how good the supporting cast tonight, this night was all about Sweet Taste, and the quartet were clearly out to enjoy themselves, as vocalist Niall Graham struts on stage looking like a true rock star (albeit one stuck in a time warp since the early ‘70s!). Initially, the band sound harder than the last time I had caught them live, and most certainly heavier than on the EP whose release they are celebrating: in my review of said release, I had been quite critical of the production (or lack thereof) on Niall’s vocals, and certainly that criticism is rendered null and void in the live environment, as he and his band mates swagger their way through a selection of new material and old favourites, including the always crowd pleasing ‘Hanging Around In Bars’.


Suddenly, however, Niall signals a whole change in pace. “Anyone who has seen us before will know we’ve a bit of a funky sound,” he announces, heralding the arrival of a clutch of female backing singers and keyboard player Sonny Robb. It’s a development that leads to a second half which mixes a whole lotta soul into their Black Crowes style rawk: I’m still not sure about the merits of Niall’s duet with Claire McGonagle on a cover of Robbie Williams’ ‘Kids’ – it did seem a bit out of place, even if well executed – but by and large it was jolly good fun and good to see a band not afraid to stretch themselves and their audiences while at the same time keeping the emphasis very much on having a good time.


‘Hit The Spot’ is out now on Rocksector: