A wealth of Derry's finest acts perform in the Millennium Forum in tangible legacy from City of Culture 2013
The Homegrown concert series in the Millennium Forum has now established itself on Derry~Londonderry’s music scene as a annual event, and is a successful and tangible legacy of the UK City of Culture year.
The event first emerged in 2013 featuring singer Bronagh Gallagher, singer-songwriter Paul Casey and folk-rock outfit Paddy Nash and The Happy Enchiladas all performing. The same line-up was repeated in 2014, and the event has returned this year with an enlarged and more varied line-up.
So Paul Casey, the driving force behind the series, and Paddy Nash and The Happy Enchiladas return, joined by some exciting emerging talent from the northwest, namely John Deery and the Heads and Best Boy Grip. Dublin's Prima Quartet, regular visitors to the city in recent times, are special guests. It’s a new year, new albums are in the offing and Best Boy Grip and Paddy Nash take the chance to road test material from their up-coming releases.
John Deery opens proceedings, however, with his five-piece group (also featuring his brother, Matt, on guitar and backing vocals), which has developed a reputation for engaging live performances built on a platform of acoustic guitars draped in gentle harmonies and accompanied by subtle electric guitar licks. They begin with 'The Raven', one of the band’s strongest songs, and one which displays the influences of Damien Rice and Conor O’Brien, aka Villagers.
The foot-tapping melodies continue with 'The Woods' before break-up song 'Rain' slows the momentum up somewhat. 'Let Go' and new number 'Burden' reintroduce the energy, while 'Moonlight Sinatra' ably demonstrates the versatility of Deery’s songwriting, before the set ends with the pacey 'All Work No Play'.
There is a distinct change of tempo and mood with the following act, Best Boy Grip. Fronted by Eoin O'Callaghan, the four-piece makes its Homegrown debut in a manner that suggests bigger stages await. O'Callaghan selects material from his three EPs, starting with 'Locked in the Bathroom' and then 'Barbara', the song that first brought attention to his talent as a songwriter. His songs are witty, gritty parables populated by an array of flawed characters, or ‘gacks’ as O’Callaghan describes them in the vernacular.
Best Boy Grip also give the audience the first sight and sound of Prima Quartet, and their collaborative version of 'Monster and Me' results is one of the highlights of the night. O’Callaghan’s piano and vocals would carry the song alone, but the four-piece add meat to its melodic bones, and Shane McCaul’s backing vocals complement the lead singer superbly.
The quartet later returns to add beautiful accompaniment to numbers by both Paul Casey and Paddy Nash and the Happy Enchiladas. Veteran performer Nash and his band deliver a relaxed, nonchalant and confident performance, full of passion, humour and charm. Their high-energy acoustic sound is steered by the chemistry between Nash and his partner, Diane Greer, with no better example being their duet on the rocking 'Boys in Blue'.
Accessible super-charged folk songs like 'Works of Art' and 'Rubber Bullets', from the band’s first album, Times of Transition, are obvious crowd-pleasers, while tasters from their upcoming second album are given in the form of 'Good Conversation', sung by Greer, and 'The Whoa Ah'. The Prima Quartet string up for the Enchiladas' finale, a rousing version of 'Stop Me From Dreaming', another number from the new album, which is due out in March 2015.
Headliner Casey is backed by a five-piece band that would grace any occasion, and the Prima Quartet help to enliven the opening track 'Love is a Lonely Game'. The quartet give the atmospheric 'Big World' the live treatment it deserves, and it is also a song that allows Casey to demonstrate his brilliant lead guitar skills.
The closing set includes other established favourites like 'Still in Love with You' and 'Somebody I’m Not' – the title track from Casey's 2014 album, Somebody I'm Not – fine examples of his radio-friendly pop-rock. Lyrically, one or two of the songs are in danger of running out of steam but they are brought across the line by the quality of the compositions and the fine musicianship on show, in particular the keyboard playing of Johnny McCullough and Liam Bradley’s sublime percussion work.
Homegrown was an early musical highlight of 2013 in the city, and a way of ensuring that local talent got its chance alongside the national and international acts that were bound for the banks of the Foyle. Now en established showcase for emerging talent, as well as a regular date for tried and tested acts, it is becoming a fine addition to the Derry's musical calender, and one that the Northwest audience obviously has a great appetite for.
The late BBC Radio Foyle presenter Gerry Anderson, who passed away in August 2014, championed all of the acts on tonight's bill, and it feels like his spirit is present tonight. He would have been proud.