Hello from Northern Ireland
First up - hello from BBC Introducing in Northern Ireland! It's been a long time since we last blogged, but we have a very good excuse!
Put simply: we've been so busy with the sheer amount of incredible new music emerging from Northern Ireland in the last year that we've barely had time to catch our breath.
And as far as excuses go, that's a pretty good one.
2009 saw a mixture of new bands and some familiar faces up their game and break through to a bigger audience. One of the success stories of the year has to be the mighty And So I Watch You From Afar, who released their debut album in Belfast's Mandela Hall with a show that few will forget. As the critical plaudits started to roll in, the North Coast four-piece continued to push forward, taking their explosive live show across the UK and Europe, culminating in a celebratory homecoming show in the Ulster Hall. And with 2010 seeing the boys release their storming Letters EP, it seems they're not ready to slow down just yet.
All the while, young upstarts General Fiasco were tearing up stages across the country, bringing their infectious brand of power pop to hungry audiences. A series of singles did much to increase their profile as momentum geared up to the release of their hotly-anticipated first album, Buildings, in March of this year. With appearances at Glastonbury and Oxegen lined up for the summer, as well as supporting Snow Patrol at their massive homecoming gig in Bangor, County Down, it's shaping up to be a long, hot summer for the mid-Ulster trio.
Adding a touch of continental glamour to the proceedings, Two Door Cinema Club spent much of 2009 wowing French hipsters and signing to Paris based label Kitsuné. Far from their humble DIY beginnings, the start of 2010 found the band becoming the name on a lot of people's lips, as their insanely catchy singles won over hearts and minds across the UK. When an album - Tourist History - arrived in March, the timing was just right, and mainstream success lies paved out before the three smartly-attired Bangor boys.
One of the slow burning success stories of recent years is that of local favourites LaFaro. After spending years as Northern Ireland's best kept secret, 2009 saw the guys hit the road and carve out a reputation for themselves in the UK. And when they finally got round to releasing their long-awaited debut album, they were simply unstoppable. Rock monsters like Tuppenny Nudger and The Ballad of Burnt Dave won over the likes of Zane Lowe, and it seems that the rest of the world is finally ready for a bit of LaFaro action.
As for us - we haven't even time to sit down, as there's a whole host of hungry young bands ready get down to business. From the agit-punk stylings of Axis Of and More Than Conquerors, to the folky pop of Cashier No.9 and The Lowly Knights, it seems we might just have seen the tip of the iceberg as far as new Northern Irish music goes.
And as more and more world class bands sprout up in our little corner of the world, we here at BBC Introducing in Northern Ireland will be right there alongside them. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
Radio 1's Big Weekend kicks off on the May 22 in Bangor, and appearing on the BBC Introducing Stage are our very own Wonder Villains! The youthful electro popsters have been wowing us here at Introducing Towers since they first appeared on our radar last year, and after playing with the likes of New Young Pony Club and Scouting for Girls, it seems only natural for them to continue their upwards trajectory at Big Weekend! Expect to be hearing a lot more from them in the coming year.
The indisputable highlight of the Northern Irish musical year has to be the Glasgowbury festival, in the majestic Sperrin Mountains. BBC Introducing was there last year, capturing the highlights as some of the finest bands in the country rocked an audience of 4,000 people on Eagle's Rock. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the festival, and we'll be right there with festival organiser Paddy Glasgow when he announces who is going to be on the line-up for this big anniversary gig.
With all this and Glastonbury just around the corner, it's going to be quite a journey - with plenty more surprises on the way - but trust us to be your guide, and you can't go wrong...