Derry Tunes Up For Homegrown 2014

Bronagh Gallagher, Paul Casey and Paddy Nash prepare to play the Millennium Forum on January 17

The idea came to musician Paul Casey towards the end of 2012. With the UK City of Culture year fast approaching, the talk was all of the internationally acclaimed bands and singers who were heading to Derry~Londonderry. For Casey, there was a danger that the local talent would get trampled in the rush.

So Homegrown was born, a concert for local people by local musicians. And before Status Quo and Elvis Costello – before Nile Rodgers, Primal Scream and BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend – the first concert of the 2013 City of Culture year was given at the Millennium Forum by Casey, Bronagh Gallagher and Paddy Nash and the Happy Enchiladas, all home grown in Derry~Londonderry.

It really was a homegrown affair. Even the sound crew was local, arranged by Pol Sheeren’s city-based PS Audio. For a variety of reasons, not least the near sell-out success of the first show, a second Homegrown concert, featuring the same performers, will take place at the Millennium Forum on Friday, January 17.

For Gallagher, 2013's show was 'a great opportunity to open the curtain' of the City of Culture extravaganza. And not just in the theatrical sense. 'We’re a post-conflict city, and so we’ve been fearful of valuing our own,' Gallagher observes. 'Living in the shadow of conflict has left us with a lack of confidence. Last year’s concert allowed us to show what culture means to us, what is living and breathing in the city.

'2013 put Derry on the map. We revealed what’s here. It was a year of passion and joy, and there was a sense of release, both of emotion and talent. Bands like Little Bear found themselves in the right place at the right time and grabbed their opportunity.'

But the opportunities that were created by 2013 must be seized and built on. For Derry~Londonderry, January 2014 can feel like the month after the year before. But  Homegrown is designed as both a showcase and a vanguard. Gallagher talks of a structure now being in place, physically and psychologically.

'We’ve got the respect, we’ve got the confidence,' she says. 'We’re good enough. Last year showed us what worked and what didn’t. And we’ve got fantastic venues here in Derry, of all types.'

Homegrown could almost become a brand for performers of all kinds, working in venues of all sizes, throughout the city. Gallagher points to three in particular who could go on to great things – Little Bear, Soak and The Clameens, bands who have all benefited greatly from the exposure that City of Culture brought with it – but stresses, 'This city has no end of talent'.

Paul Casey, meanwhile – who is currently working on a new album to be released in early summer 2014 – fears the spotlight on Derry~Londonderry could go out. 'Last year showed the appetite that there is for music here. It’s essential to keep the buzz going, to keep the party going.'

And he, like Gallagher, sees the development of young talent as key to maintaining that momentum. 'The stuff that was local shone the brightest, regardless of all the big things that happened. We saw the people of the city supporting their own, and they’ve got to have the chance to continue with that support.'

Casey wants to see the people in authority taking action. 'I’d love to see the council thinking about how to support and develop a legacy for small, young, growing bands.' He knows the importance of playing live to an audience. 'You can practise all you like in your bedroom, but it’s not until you’re standing in front of a load of people, with a live mic in your hand, that you really start to learn what it’s all about.'

One of his ideas is for venues to insist that any big act coming into the city to play must be supported by a band from the city or the county. 'We should insist on exposure,' he concludes.

There is an evangelical zeal built into this second Homegrown show. 'We’ve got to let people know we’re still here. We haven’t gone away,' adds Paddy Nash, a veteran performer whose latest album, Times of Transition, was released in 2012. 'Last year was more than a concert. Everybody was smiling, willing us to do well. It was a communal gathering. People took ownership of the year. I’m hoping for the same thing this time.'

For Gallagher, Casey and Nash, Homegrown is more than a concert. It’s a statement of intent, a rallying call, a battle-cry, and it will say a good deal about the future of music in the city if it received as well in 2014 as it was in its unforgettable inaugural year.