Independent Venue Week
Oh Yeah Music Centre hosts The Couth, Go Wolf and Little Bear
2014 is the debut year for the UK-wide Independent Venue Week, and the stylish Oh Yeah Music Centre is the focal point in Belfast, a hub dedicated to celebrating the vital role played by independents in promoting Northern Irish musical talent.
In an era of large, commercially-backed venues, life has become increasingly tough for the smaller operators. However, with support from the likes of PRS for Music and BBC Introducing, Independent Venue Week seeks to highlight the difficulties faced by lesser known bands when it comes to touring, along with the challenging environment in which these smaller venues now exist.
For its part, Oh Yeah is in fine company on the list of locations granted the privilege of holding a night of live performances across the UK. From King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow to The Half Moon, Putney, this week-long festival takes in a venerable selection of iconic music halls.
Oh Yeah's concert sees a small but enthusiastic audience enjoy a triple bill of Northern Irish acts, each drawing from distinct genres. In exchange for the princely sum of £5, the punters certainly get their money’s worth.
First up are Lisburn indie rockers The Couth, a confident, good-humoured four-piece possessed of an up tempo sound. They cite their influences as the Ramones and The Strokes but, closer to home, there is a touch of Stiff Little Fingers in their punk lyrics and heavy riffs. They open up with 'Girl in a Suit', 'Suck My Honey' and 'Say What You Want' – a jaunty beginning to an evening in which the three bands rattle through their sets at a satisfying speed.
There is a change of pace with the slow 'If You Go', and the heavy, stomping 'Cane it Next to Me'. But by the end The Couth return to their earlier tropes, with the abrupt 'Bloodbreaker' and quick-fire ditty 'We Spent the Night Together'. It is a bracing start.
Second on the card is Belfast’s own Go Wolf. Being featured on Kitsuné’s recent Compilation 15 has done them no harm and, like fellow Kitsuné alums Two Door Cinema Club, they have a delicate pop feel quite in keeping with that label’s cool European sensibilities. Their first song, 'All Good Things', is powered by a pounding drum beat alongside the electro-disco elegance that appears to characterise their work.
'Friction' contains a lovely keyboard refrain and an ethereal feel at odds with the worldly content: 'Watching bombs drop on your TV.' 'Talk to You' and 'Running' both come from the same place, both synthy whispering ballads. The lilting guitars of 'Even God' offers something different, its layered male-female duet being particularly memorable.
The evening’s notional headliners, Derry~Londonderry quartet Little Bear, do not take long to appear on stage. They are a slightly more polished outfit and an acclaimed one too – BBC Introducing has handed them double plaudits, rating them as both ‘Flavour of the Month’ and ‘Ones to Watch’ in 2013.
During Derry~Londonderry’s year as the inaugural UK City of Culture, the Guardian described them as ‘excellent’, and ‘purveyors of emotionally literate rock’. There is certainly evidence to support such assertions tonight.
Lead singer Steven McCool kicks off the bewitching 'I’d Let You Win', inexplicably wielding dual mobile phones to (presumably) relay his low-whistling opening into a microphone. It is a strange but effective choice.
The melodic daintiness of Little Bear’s emotive sound continues with 'Night Dries Like Ink' and 'Killer'. The echoing vocals are strong and pure, the guitar overlay equally solid. It is a mature style in which the arrangements underline the reasons for Little Bear’s growing reputation.
There are interesting choruses aplenty and 'The Devil is a Songbird' has enough of a poetic narrative to suggest that there is further impressive music to come from these boys from the Maiden City. Perhaps it will host its own show at next years Independent Venue Week.