Bentley Bar Christmas Spectacular

A trio of indie acts descend on Derry-Londonderry

There’s just over a week to go until Christmas when a group of music lovers make for the upstairs area of Derry-Londonderry’s Bentley Bar. It’s the time of year, and the time of night, when they need a bit of quality tuneage to warm the cockles and lift the spirit. 

THE JEPETTOS

If BBC’s Across The Line are to be believed, then The Jepettos are 'sweet and heart warming, like pouring a cup of hot chocolate directly into your ear'. That may or may not be the case, depending on your point of view, but their music certainly does have a dreamy quality to it.

The brainchild of Belfast-based husband and wife Mike and Ruth Aicken, The Jepettos are a family friendly group, with the priority on establishing a good connection with their audience. They also have a variety of different instruments in their set-up, such melodica, recorder and clarinet.

The five-piece ensemble also features clarinet player Emma Flanagan, bassist Colm Hinds and drummer Daniel Kerr. 

However, it is the strong chemistry between the Aickens, as both singers and instrumentalists, that elevates what could otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill set to one full of promise. From Ruth’s instrumental duet with Flanagan, Mike jamming with Hinds, especially well-received covers of The Strokes’ 'Last Night' and Surfjan Stevens’ 'Chicago', or the catchiness of single 'Goldrush', there’s plenty to like here.

If there’s something missing from this set, however, it’s a real lasting impression. As a whole, it's a passionate and joyful performance that may be too 'nice' for some tastes. At their best, The Jepettos can get your hands clapping and feet tapping. At their worst, their sound lacks richness, just very good background music.

It is early days. They’re still experimenting. And so long as they continue trying to form their own identity and releasing more tunes like 'Goldrush', who knows what may yet happen for them?

MOJO GOGO

One of the best things about The Jepettos is that there is no doubt about what direction they’re going in. Donegal-based Mojo Gogo, on the other hand, suffers from a definite lack of direction. In the warm up, they sound professional, and their set starts promisingly too. Unfortunately, it’s not long before they lose their way.

Like Rams’ Pocket Radio's recent performance in Sandinos, Mojo Gogo struggle to get accustomed to an intimate setting. Unlike Rams’ Pocket Radio, they don’t have the sound, lighting, or, most importantly, the material, to compensate for it.

It is a perfectly okay performance: tight, good intentioned and even heartfelt at times, with the band pausing to dedicate a tune to a friend at one point. Yet it rarely rises above the functional. Think nodding heads, plenty of shaking around, heavy guitars and very loud sound, seasoned with a bit of youthful stage presence. In other words, Young Punk Rock 101.

In all fairness to the band, they keep the crowd more than happy, no one leaves when a fire alarm comes on downstairs. They even add some novelty near the end of the set by allowing a couple of the punters to drum along to the last two songs. It establishes a rapport with the audience that wasn’t really present earlier. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.

While their spirit, effort and chemistry is admirable, Mojo Gogo’s appeal as musicians eludes me. There’s little to suggest that they will improve much in the future, either. It’s a case of 'all mojo, all go-go, signifying nothing'.

THE CLAMEENS

It’s a sad moment for local music fans as Derry-Londonderry band The Clameens, a four piece ensemble led by Sean Breslin, take to the small stage. This is to be their last ever gig.

It begins with a continuously drumming rhythm that slowly generates into a highly commendable instrumental accompanied by all three guitars. This whets everyone’s appetite for more – and, slowly but surely, the band deliver.

Early on, the group establishes a committed and mournful sound that is in keeping with the nature of their performance. During the second song, dry ice fills the stage and the tone begins to feel a little psychedelic. Remarkably, the effect works well.

Halfway through the third song, there’s a big smile on Breslin’s face, and justifiably so. His commanding stage presence, backed up well by guitarist Ethan Diver, drummer Hayden Diver and bassist Shane Miller, elicits a positive response from this farewell audience.

The band has a very Kinks-like style, with some Snow Patrol-esque catchy refrains thrown in for good measure. Breslin’s smooth diction is at its best on 'Come A Little Bit Closer'. Like with Mojo Gogo, there is also the opportunity for punters to literally get involved, thanks to a few spare microphones on stage.

Admittedly, Breslin’s increasingly erratic behaviour throughout the set is a little worrisome. The delivery of a surprise birthday cake elicits nothing but indifference. Luckily for him, not many seem to care very much. They are too busy dancing.

It is a shame that these guys have suddenly felt the need to go their separate ways. They clearly have a lot of talent when playing together. They are the icing on the Christmas cake of the evening.

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