NI Bands Storm London
Graham Crothers talks to the organiser of Northern Ireland Next Generation
Fast becoming an essential date in the diary for followers of local music, the third instalment of ‘Northern Ireland: Next Generation’ is scheduled for the weekend of April 28-30, at London Brixton’s The Windmill.
Presently operating on a half yearly basis and devised by Brian Smyth, otherwise known as 'Smitty', the ever charismatic former front man of the now defunct Belfast band Dirty Stevie, it's an initiative ultimately intended to give unsigned local talent the platform to prove their worth to mainland record industry executives.
Two very successful weekends have passed in its year and a half existence which have seen an average of 12 or so bands wooing capacity crowds over the space of 3 nights. The finalised band list is included below and those on it could be in for the most important gig of their lives.
It was around 5 years ago that Belfast rock sensation Dirty Stevie would form in Belfast. A few years would pass and having reached the pinnacle of recognition locally they travelled to London in an attempt to realise their full potential but unfortunately, it was not to be. But the move was not to be in vain as out of this apparent ill-fated trip the concept of Northern Ireland: Next Generation would eventually emerge.
'We went down to the Windmill to suss it out as a venue and I got talking to Tim Perry who is the entertainments manager,’ explains Smitty. ‘He is from Dungannon and he had been living in London for 18 years. The bar itself is also owned by a man called Seamus and he is originally from Donegal. So there was an Ulster/ Northern Irish connection there.'
Very much dedicated to a ‘do-it-yourself’ ethic, the showcase receives no funding whatsoever. Bar a financial contribution that was received for the previous showcase from the Northern Ireland Music Industry Commission, the showcase prides itself upon being wholly ‘pro-bands’ and non-profit.
Whatever money is taken at the door of The Windmill is given straight back to the bands who graciously dig deep to finance their own flights and accommodation for the weekend.
'Anyway, we started this drunken conversation one night about getting a couple of bands over and it grew. The first one was the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend so we thought, "Let's have a day, let's have a barbeque" and when I started asking bands about it everyone was interested. So we got eleven bands including ourselves over for the first one which took off. Everyone was talking about it online, through fastfude.com, on Across The Line, it just grew from there.'
Unsurprisingly, the selection process is hotly contested and stimulates intense debate when the finalised line-up is announced. 70 submissions were received for the upcoming showcase and with only 14 or 15 places up for grabs and with thousands of bands populating London capital, selection will have to be ruthless with the only the very best being considered. Of about 30 submissions only 7 or 8 would be cast iron certainties whilst the rest will be left scraping it out for the remaining 6 or 7 spots.
Behind the scheme is a core group of five people split between Belfast and London. A democracy, everybody is allotted 20 per cent control of what bands are finally chosen. Smitty is not afraid to admit though that they are still going through a learning process, likening it to ‘a kid learning to ride a bicycle. Our mentality is, we mess up, we'll pick ourselves up again and dust ourselves down.'
To say that the collective have secured a good venue for maximum exposure would be a dramatic understatement. Although a small venue, holding a capacity of a mere 160, it was voted the second best venue in London last year in Time Out magazine, behind the mighty Brixton Academy which boasts a capacity of nearly five thousand. Pair that with the fact that its set in the epicentre of London music industry heartland and you could say they are onto a winner.
'It's not even a Belfast thing or a Northern Ireland thing but the music industry is very London-centric. A few bands that have come out of the middle of Yorkshire, Artic Monkeys, Kaisher Chiefs, they have all had to go down to London. I think there are about six to eight bands that are from Northern Ireland that can stand up to anything from across the water.
Ambition is a dirty word over here, but it shouldn't be. This is about trying to get bands to be ambitious, trying to think outside the box. There are a lot of good bands who have the mentality that somebody is going to come to them. It's not a case of knocking on doors, you've got to kick doors in and you have got to make people notice you.'
Laying claim to being in one of Belfast's biggest bands at one point, easily selling out the top floor of the Empire on a regular basis, Smitty knows only too well that you can only get so far in Northern Ireland's music scene.
'It's like coming to a wall and (slamming his fist into his hand) you can't get any further.'
Downpatrick band The Answer worked tirelessly for six years and although still based at home they regularly visit London and are now signed to legendary rockers AC/DC's label. Belfast Punk collective The Dangerfields have also seen the fruit of five years of labour in receiving genuine mainland UK acclaim. Such successes have had a knock on effect back home.
'Some of the bands when they come over, they just don't want to play one gig, they want to play a few gigs and build up contacts within the Greater London area. There are a lot of gigs from Northern Ireland bands all happening at the same time over that week or so.'
As much as there is a serious agenda behind the weekend, Smitty admits to it being a bit of a ‘knees up’ in some respects, yet he realises his responsibility in running a smooth schedule. Likening it at times to babysitting, alternative country group The Delawares were missing hours before show time, later to be discovered in West London rather than deepest South London.
As the showcase grows, Smitty feels that in the long term attracting funding is an inevitability, as are considerations of developing the showcase into a proper fully fledged organisation.
Industry contacts continue to mount partly thanks to Tim at The Windmill, those in the South London music scene continue to talk about it and depending on its success and the will of those involved, the showcases will continue to happen every six months. If you seek the Snow Patrol's and Ash's of tomorrow then look no further than here. The future is now.
NI:NG in conjunction with the Windmill, Brixton, are pleased to announce the line up of the best new Northern Irish bands/acts for the weekend of the April 28-30 2006.
The acts chosen are:
In Case of Fire
Black Alley Screens
The Bete Noires
The Beat Poets
The Dead End Sluts