The City of Culture event has brought a host of international acts to Derry. Away from the spotlight, though, there has been a blossoming of home-grown talent too...
There’s something interesting taking place in Derry at the moment. And I don’t mean the you-know-what.
While the City of Culture programme approaches the bend of the home straight, another story has been running quietly alongside. And it’s one that could turn out to have a better sprint finish.
The big draw international acts have, of course, been monopolising attention. However, dig deeper and the emergence of a host of home-grown talent seems like a more likely source of (that dread word) legacy. There’s Soak, of course, and Ryan Vail, Our Krypton Son and The Wonder Villains. In fact, drag Little Bear along and suddenly Derry has a relay team of emerging talent that could confidently go head to head with any city on this island.
Steven McCool, Little Bear’s magnificently surnamed lead-singer, has a sneaky suspicion that the North West could be looking at a musical golden age.
“If you’re a believer in energies and vibes – the universe, the constellations, and I’m a bit of a hippy, so I do – then you can think that cities can sometimes harness that kind of thing. This could be the start of something.”
“The great thing about those acts is that there aren’t many traditional rock songs there,” adds guitarist Ryan Griffiths. “They’re all people who aren’t afraid to try something different and aren’t afraid of writing songs that are personal.”
Judging by their output so far, the latter isn’t something that worries Little Bear unduly. From debut single ‘The Few And Far Between’ to new EP, Night Dries Like Ink, they’ve set themselves up unapologetically as champions of big emotions and harmonised balladry.
“Some people have been putting pressure on us to be a bit faster,” reveals Steven, “a bit more up-tempo. It’s a Northern Irish thing. But we’re not interested in that. We’ve had a clear idea of what we wanted to be from the start and we’ve stuck to it. It’s hard in the early days, when you’re playing your heart out in pubs and no-one wants to listen. But I’m glad we got on with it. We’re reaping the rewards now.”
“We’re aware of the pitfalls surrounding the kind of music we make,” Ryan resumes. “It can sound a bit phoney if it isn’t made for the right reasons. We’re hopefully doing it properly though. And we’ve all lived a bit. There’s real experience behind our songs and I think that comes across and people are picking up on that.”
Validation has certainly been plentiful in recent weeks. A show at Belfast’s Black Box climaxed with an unplugged encore that had the audience singing along as loudly as the band, while a last minute call-up to the Other Voices set saw them rise to the challenge with a super sub’s élan.
“It was an amazing experience,” Ryan beams. “And, on the back of all the other amazing experience’s we’ve been having, it’s just a great confidence boost and source of encouragement.”
“2013 has been such an amazing year,” Steven concludes. “The City of Culture seems to have brought so many people together and given everyone in the place a real boost. It’s definitely been a great platform for us. Hopefully we can now go on to make the next step.”
Night Dries Like Ink is out on Small Town America now.