Pay*ola, Velma, more...
In one of the most eclectic evenings of belFEST 2006, Velma is first on stage. No, we're not talking about the resident genius of the Scooby-Doo gang, we're talking about a serious, in-yer-face, post-punk band.
Jeanette Collard leads the way, and just like her bespectacled namesake she keeps the team on track. Belting out tunes and firing up the crowd; she exudes rock n' roll charisma and wouldn't look out of place on a much bigger stage than the Empire basement. Lyrical content may be a minor drawback; however, 'Do You Feel' has a real New York new wave sound to it. When Collard sings "Turn off the TV, put the radio on," she may be suggesting mainstream media is spoon-feeding us lies to keep us in a state of ignorance about the ills in the world. But jinkees...don't worry...the radio is the answer to enlighten the masses to awake from their slumbering ignorance. Radio, yes indeed, we love it.
Recently formed Belfast three piece Escape Act are next to take the stage. Only together since April, the members of the band are old hands at the local music scene having worked with the likes of Tom McShane, Rachel's Asylum, and the Desert Hearts. The latter's influence is apparent on songs such as 'Cabin Fever' as Chris Heaney turns the keyboard volume up to provide perhaps the first crowd hand-clapping moment of belFEST 2006. Heaney describes the Act's songs as being about "silly things that happen to you," but within them is depth and originality. 'God Says', and 'Juniper Storms' indicate that 2007 could be a very rewarding year for this three piece with no need to "pull a Houdini" to get the recognition their tunes deserve.
Themes of heartbreak and love are up next with Magherafelt's own Angel Fall. Boy, do these guys prove that girls rock! This is high-energy, metal post-punk delivered with the confidence and edge that belie the band's tender age. Perhaps the Empire is an unfamiliar scene for Angel Fall; these tunes you'd usually expect to hear if you strolled into the bunker at Lavery's or the home of Belfast hard rock, The Rosetta. If unfamiliar with her surroundings, Shauna Tohill shows no signs as soon as the hard-hitting drums and her thundering bass-lines kick in. It is clear this band is going to enjoy the spotlight, and provide the basement crowd with their first opportunity to do a little moshing upfront!
Next to the stage are Captain Kennedy. If there's one thing that they have in common with Angel Fall it must be that their influences are translucent. While it's clear bands such as Evanescence and System of a Down have influenced the direction of Angel Fall, for the Kennedy's it's Dylan, The Band, Neil Young, Proud Mary and Cream that have steered the direction and output from this Co. Armagh five piece.
It's all here, but that's no bad thing, especially when it's crafted together so masterfully to produce songs such as 'Sweetest Friend' and 'Hard Time Wakin'' which you'd swear you'd heard somewhere before. Breaking out the harmonica on a song entitled 'Mississippi', vocalist Ciaran Lavery sings songs about small towns in the deep-south of America. While it may be a little hard for a Belfast crowd to relate to the subject material when you've got the Americana sound as polished as these guys do, it's no surprise it goes down as well as a Mississippi Mud Pie!
Pay*ola clock in for the night shift at the Belfast Empire, turning the volume up a peg or two. You can tell that this is band have paid their rock n' roll dues over the past several years. Philip McCarroll gets the dwindling crowd on their feet as the self-proclaimed "most rock 'n' roll band in the world" launch into new material with a song entitled '77 Miles'. After a tricky 2006 on a personal level for the band it's good to see Pay*ola back on track doing what they do best. Good honest rock music delivered with the professionalism you'd expect from a hard-grafting act that's been around a good few years now, but still with the enthusiasm shown by any of the up-and-coming bands showcased earlier. "Rock 'n' roll - you can't beat it!" McCarroll screams. "Some things come close, but nothing beats it!"
Now in its tenth year, belFEST is proving that for examples of the great wealth and diversity of Northern Irish rock 'n' roll talent; this showcase is certainly hard to beat!
Photos by Keith Wilson