A Plastic Rose

Solid, remorseless gigging is a must for the indie rockers with a new single to promote

Rock and roll isn’t all partying and glamour. For a lot of artists out there, it’s pure hard graft. One band that knows that more than most is Belfast’s A Plastic Rose, currently preparing to release their new single, ‘Oceans’ on the Northern Irish Di Di Mau record label (listen left).

A Plastic Rose have spent the past two years travelling around Northern Ireland and elsewhere in a dilapidated old van, offering up prayers to the Gods of Engine Repair in the hope that they might make it to the next gig.

'Last year was hard work but very, very important,' says frontman Gerry Norman. 'It was a transition year, when we became a professional band and laid a foundation for the year ahead. But the great rock n roll cliché of van trouble was a low point. We spent a lot of money on a van that eventually just broke down and it set us back a few months.'

Norman possesses an unflappable charm that has endeared him to Indie rock audiences up and down the country, but the pain still shines through the sardonic grin. As Morrissey once sang: 'I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.'

Since 2009, A Plastic Rose has put together an impressive CV. They have released two singles on the Di Di Mau label, pulled in enthusiastic crowds at the Glasgowbury festival in the Sperrins, found themselves the only unsigned band to have been playlisted by BBC Radio 1, taken part in the UTV Live at the Limelight television show, and performed at the Reading and Leeds festivals.

But the real fuel that keeps them going is gigging. Solid, remorseless gigging. 'We want to give people the real live experience, so we pour absolutely everything we have into our performance,' enthuses Norman, easily warming to the subject.

'We believe that there's a huge difference in listening to a band’s recording and seeing them live, so when people take time to come see us and pay their hard-earned money, we're gonna give them a show. The way we see it, it's our time, our moment, our stage, and for the next 45 minutes you belong to us. Do as we command!'

This do-or-die philosophy is a key factor of the band’s appeal. Each live performance is approached as if it is their last, with Norman and his co-frontman Ian McHugh the perfect foils for each other. Norman is every bit the rockstar, whilst McHugh falls into the role of tortured artist, contorting his body into the songs.

Behind them, the rhythm section of Troy Heaton on bass and David Reid on drums help to push their songs into the hearts and minds of the audience. It may sound like hyperbole, but some of A Plastic Rose’s Belfast performances have provoked outbreaks of hysteria (I know, I've seen it happen).

But if the live arena finds the band soaring to the heavens, then forthcoming single ‘Oceans’ showcases a different side to the band. It is a brooding, melancholic epic: strings swell like the titular waves, voices soar.

'Lyrically it is a very sad and tragic song about the loss of my oldest and best friend last year at a very early age,' says Norman. 'It's a song about disbelief and dealing with something that I never thought I'd have to, and wasn't prepared for. All the songs I've written for the new album are about/for her. On the up side, it's a rocking tune that you can go nuts to live and sing along to.'

So, with a mini-album in the works (The Promise Notes), and a debut album proper to promote, 2011 shows every sign of adding to the band’s already considerable workload. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and one gets the impression that A Plastic Rose are in this for the long run. After all, a little hard work never hurt anyone.

'It's been a crazy few years of ups and downs, and less hardened bands would have folded a long time ago with the luck that we've had,' Norman concludes, 'but we've kept at it and got stronger as a result. I guess that's what it takes to become a key player in anything and gain respect from your peers. Perseverance, dedication, hard work, commitment and eventually - if you’re lucky - you'll get the rewards you deserve.'

'Oceans' is released on Di Di Mau on January 31 and the launch gig is in Mandela Hall, QUBSU on January 27. For more information, visit www.aplasticrose.com. Photo above by Graham Smith Photography.