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The image of Lyndon Stephens, Belfast’s greatest music industry figure, is now part of the city’s graffiti culture. Lyndon passed on 10 January 2020 and his loss is still palpable. He gave us Quiet Arch Records and impacted on the art of Joshua Burnside, Ryan Vail, Beauty Sleep, Cherym, Dark Tropics, Ciaran Lavery, Malojian and the Borders project.

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Andy Cairns is a rock and roll omnivore, feeding his art with Fugazi, Charles Mingus, Immanuel Kant and Samuel Beckett. He can speak Ozzy Osbourne and Kazuo Ishiguro. His lyrics are tremendously twisted, blessed with a mordant Antrim wit and salted by a few decades of civic conflict. It’s probably not surprising that he found a kinship with the Manic Street Preachers, drinking with James Dean Bradfield and doing a bookshare with Richey Edwards.

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Mahalia Jackson

Sinead O’Connor is back with us, singing ‘Trouble of the World’, looking for freedom on the far side of despair. Her voice is exceptional, like it always has been and she’s making her case for Black Lives Matter. She wears the BLM legend on her shirt for the  video shoot as she walks through Peckham, South London. The singer looks battle-worn but not defeated and she holds up the image of Mahalia Jackson like a religious relic. The song is testament to a life of weeping and wailing. But eventually, Sinead tells us, there will be the best reckoning.

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“We’ve started a collective called Reckless Abandon,” says Rocky O’Reilly, boss of Start Together Studios. “And the whole concept is just robots shooting lasers over Belfast – just let’s fucking blow stuff up. The first is our band Vivid Dreamer, which is me and Ryan (McGroarty). We had The Simpsons on a loop in the background. We were picking lines from the show and turning them into songs and playing synths. Pure escape from running a business in the music industry.

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When Joshua Burnside was about six he planned to run away from home, escaping through his ground floor bedroom window. Finding out about this plan, his older sister warned that if he jumped out the window, he’d go straight through the ground and into the depths of Hell to meet the Devil himself.

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John came on from stage left and David made his appearance from the other side. They walked cautiously, past the microphone stands, the amplifiers and the effects pedals. The pair met in front of the drum riser and with some ceremony, they shook hands. David crunched down firmly, but John was also a practiced gripper. There were a few more reassuring pats, taps and exchanges and 2,000 school children roared over the awkwardness.

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There’s drama in the second Fontaines album. Will it be a hasty release, banking the goodwill from the endless tours, the dues-paying grind and the rolling acclaim for Dogrel? Also, is there any juice left in the tank after that astonishing year? Alternately, might they decide to play the punk card at this strategic moment and deliver a moment of clanging self-sabotage?

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There’s a track on the new Defects album called ‘Chokehold’. It remembers the death of Eric Garner in New York, 2014, a savage moment in the Black Lives Matter story that registered in the music of Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and many others. The song is horrendously relevant again, a fact that’s no comfort to any artist with a piece of conscience. For the Defects, who came out of the Belfast punk scene 40 years ago with ‘Brutality’, a song about the mishaps at the RUC Castlereagh Holding Centre, it might seem like they’re going over familiar ground. But still they roar and protest, because that’s the spiky prerogative.

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There was an Irish market for recordings about political opinion and national identity. Two enterprises handled the bulk of the demand: Outlet and Emerald. Neither of them showed an especially partisan hand. They pressed up records from male voice choirs, rebel balladeers, pipers, céilí outfits and Protestant marching bands. By the early 70s, there was an established network that took in record shops and independent retailers but also saw value in street traders and market stalls in Glasgow, Blackpool, Crossmaglen, wherever.

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The revolution will be visualised. Sodomy will be saved from Ulster. The Tayto Man from the Republic will shake hands with his Cheese & Onion enemy across the border. A big gay rainbow will erupt from the Stormont Assembly. And the special, neglected buildings of Belfast will defy the rapacious developers – glowing with an alternative, civic love.

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