Top 50 Northern Irish Songs Of AU's Lifetime
Five-and-a-bit years and 49 issues ago, AU launched with a mission to bring you the best, most exciting music and generally cool stuff from Northern Ireland and beyond, with the emphasis on celebrating the local on an equal footing with the international. And while the mag has grown physically – this month marking the first 100- page issue – and metaphorically, with circulation throughout Ireland and further afield, what drives us to produce the bundle of paper you are now holding has not changed.?For our 50th issue, we decided to do something a bit special and celebrate the Northern Irish music that has soundtracked our lives and yours since we started. Polling a host of notables – bands, promoters, journalists, industry insiders – and more importantly you, the fans, we’ve arrived at a glorious celebration of the journey Northern Irish music has made in a few short years. Enjoy it, and here’s to the next 50.
No. 45 - ASIWYFA - "I Capture Castles."
How about this for an introduction to a band? The first track on ASIWYFA’s stellar mini-album 'This Is Our Machine And Nothing Can Stop It' captures the post rock four-piece doing what they do best – sucking you in with a pretty guitar figure before repeatedly blowing you away with the majesty of the riffs and the seismic rhythm section. A true epic, and one of many in the band’s extraordinary arsenal. CJ
N0.42 - Jetplane Landing - "Why Do They Never Play Les Savy Fav On The Radio?"
Jetplane Landing raised everybody’s eyebrows when they dropped their third record 'Backlash Cop'. Essentially a funk concept album, it marked a change in direction that was beyond prediction. This highlight marries a rapinflected vocal hook, RATM style-rockingness and verses in the style of Joni Mitchell to create a track that sounds insane on paper yet works brilliantly. Totally inspired. JT
No.41 - ASIWYFA - "THESEriotsAREjustTHEbeginning"
Think of "These Riots Are Just The Beginning" as an instrumental mindbender of monumental proportions. Unfurling wave after wave of accomplished rhythms, it smothers the listener in complex arrangements and unfeasibly tough chord progressions. A singer is unnecessary when the overarching voice of the music alone speaks so persuasively of angst and determination, of melancholy and joy and most of all, of musical individuality. KMcC
“For me, "These Riots Are Just The Beginning" is a perfect example of how And So I Watch You From Afar have demolished the conventions of instrumental music. It's a short, sharp, shock to the system. Every second explodes with the sheer urgency of being alive! Like their phenomenal live shows, 'These Riots...' rages like a forest fire, burning with euphoria and melancholy – a soundtrack of the brightest hope in the darkest times!”?Stephen McCauley,?Presenter of Electric Mainline, BBC Radio Foyle
No.31 - Jetplane Landing - "Brave Gravity "
Sounding a bit like a child’s nursery rhyme (albeit recited by Bruce Dickinson), "Brave Gravity" is probably Jetplane Landing’s poppiest moment in a career that has spanned almost a decade. Fusing a catchy melody with swirling guitars, the tune is a forgotten gem by an often overlooked band, and pulls off the trick of sounding aggressive and gentle all at the same time with Paul Daniels-like ease. EMcF
No.30 - Fighting With Wire - "Strength In Numbers"
Packing more punch than a Rocky boxset, Derry’s Fighting With Wire have had a dream 2008 so far. Long the trio’s call to arms in the live arena, this track’s melodic verses and massive, stop-start central riff made it a firm favourite with their burgeoning fanbase. A definitive recording of "Strength In Numbers" was finally nailed on this year’s splendid debut opus, 'Man Vs Monster', which has seen the band touring frantically and being picked up by the mighty Atlantic Records. Next stop: America, which will no doubt see the FWW evangelists boost their congregation further. Strength in numbers, indeed. LG
No.29 - Fighting With Wire - "After The Show"
Not appearing on the UK version of 'Man Vs. Monster', and only occasionally making it into the FWW live set, the fact that this song featured in this list is testament to just how hooky it is. Its appearancecan also possibly be attributed to the fact that it was one of the songs recorded as a live session track for BBC Radio Ulster’s Across The Line show. The songs from this session made it into circulation in CD form, getting passed around like nobody’s business and becoming many people’s favourite tracks in the process. God bless the BBC. JT
No.26 - Jeptplane Landing - "Calculate The Risk"
'Zero For Conduct' may have introduced Jetplane to the world, but it was second full-length 'Once Like A Spark' which truly made everyone sit up and take notice. Tighter, more fully realised and much, much louder, it remains many fans’ favourite to this day. Album highlight "Calculate The Risk" is a perfect example of the band’s power and grasp of dynamics; it’s an angry, serrated beast of a track, but several sweet, melodic breakdowns serve to make the stunning, Fugazi-esque posthardcore grooves and strident vocals hit all the harder. LG
"It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since Jetplane Landing released "Calculate the Risk", the first single from their second album. The album itself ('Once Like a Spark') is without a doubt one of my favourites ever, and that’s not just locally. ‘Calculate the Risk’ definitely has to be one of the stand-out tracks from OLAS, mostly due to the energy generated from just one song which is not only unreal, but very exciting. ‘Calculate The Risk’ is full of pure aggression and as soon as the chorus kicks in... bang - game over. It’s like taking a full-on punch in the face. Last year, they released their latest album, Backlash Cop which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I don’t think they will ever top the riffs, melody, noise and power of Once Like a Spark and the unbelievable ‘Calculate the Risk’."?Jonny 'Goatboy' Reid, JPL Superfan
No.10 - ASIWYFA - "The Voiceless"
The deeply resonant highlight of the north coast instrumentalists’ breakthrough EP commences with a lone guitar picking out a lyrical, echoing figure, which becomes the anchor for the first half of the track. As it rolls by, the drums pick up a martial beat, some melodic bass creeps in and the second guitar begins to soar as the song grows in intensity. Then everything drops away to leave just the original guitar, which has changed direction to allow for the slow, spiralling build towards a climax that never actually arrives. This unrealised tension is the real genius here; what could have ended in post-rock cliché actually becomes a work of rare, honest beauty. There’s even better to come from this exciting group, but "The Voiceless" marks the beginning of something special. LG
No.8 - Fighting With Wire - "Everyone Needs A Nemesis"
The sonic tour de force that is "Everyone Needs A Nemesis" is Fighting With Wire's signature track. The song, which is as catchy as chlamydia during Freshers’ Week, features a gaggle of hooks that we’re sure Dave Grohl would sell his granny for, and has also won them an army of celebrity admirers including Zane Lowe and Steve Lamacq. ‘Nemesis’ is a masterclass in riffology and rocks out with the best of them over the course of three minutes. Possibly FWW’s most incendiary moment to date, the anthemic track looks set to join Stiff Little Finger’s "Suspect Device" and Therapy?’s "Screamager" as one of the greatest songs of the blank generation. EMcF
No.5 - Oppenheimer - "Saturday Looks Bad To Me"
It’s a shock to be reminded that this song is a mere 2:45 long. In Oppenheimer world, that counts as ‘epic’. "Saturday Looks Bad To Me" throws the kitchen sink at the idea of a perfect indie-pop set-closer, and it does it with all the wide-eyed wonder, energy and enthusiasm Rocky and Shaun can muster. For the avoidance of doubt, that’s a hell of a lot more than just about any other band you care to mention. Any time it is played live, the room is filled with grins as wide as the Lagan, but then that’s what happens when an irresistible melody, killer chorus and hedonistic lyric rub up against a vocoder, ‘ba ba bada’ backing vocals, handclap breakdown and, yes, guitar solo. It’s ridiculous, it probably shouldn’t work, but it’s carried off with aplomb. But that’s Oppenheimer for you. CJ
No.2 - Oppenheimer - "Breakfast In NYC"
Much of Oppenheimer's success can be traced back to the popularity of "Breakfast In NYC". Its distinctive, chiming intro is instantly recognisable, and guaranteed to work a crowd into a frenzy. Fat synths and a simple, direct beat join Shaun’s vocals for the verse before the blissful harmonies kick in for that wide-eyed, ecstatic chorus. Pure pop perfection, it’s one of those songs you can’t help but sing from start to finish. Norn Iron has a long and distinguished history of producing great electro-indie pop acts. Actually, no it doesn’t, but Oppenheimer have blazed a trail that others are sure to follow. With two fantastic albums under their belts, a growing worldwide fanbase and an enviable record for sneaking tracks on to hit US TV shows like Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl, their star is firmly in the ascendant. LG
“Oppenheimer are an absolute breath of fresh air– somehow managing to establish a reputation for credibility to match any of their peers whilst crafting songs of infuriating catchiness. It's great to see a 'leftfield indie' band that doesn't view pop as a dirty word and who realize that dedication, hard work and professionalism are essential to establishing an international career in this business. 'Breakfast In NYC' is a gem – lyrically, melodically and structurally. When you combine this with Rocky O'Reilly's innate ear for studio production – you get a little bit of pure magic. US TV music synch specialists have already recognized Oppenheimer's worth – it's about time UK radio woke up and smelt the coffee.”?Ross Graham, CEO, NIMIC
No.1 - LaFaro - "Tuppenny Nudger"
For a long time, the only LaFaro songs that anyone had heard in recorded form were live favourites "Scott" and "Climate". They were long, awkward beasts, with time changes, build and release and some utterly crushing riffs, invoking immediate comparisons to the likes of Shellac and The Jesus Lizard. Then, in 2006, new songs were introduced into the band’s live set that would form the basis of their self-titled debut EP. Something had changed; they were more direct than before. The band was going for your throat and from the outset, one in particular stood out. We didn’t yet know its name, but that bludgeoning, almost comically simple riff would stick in your head for days, even weeks, after the gig. It was as if the spirit of Motörhead had entered frontman Jonny Black – no messing, LaFaro was now a balls-out rock band, and "Tuppenny Nudger" remains their crowning glory.
The song ended up as the lead track on the EP, released late in 2006, and it has been a fixture of the live set ever since, as well as racking up over 21,000 plays on MySpace and even being remixed by Skibunny DJs. When they headlined the Club AU at Lavery’s in Belfast in September, the first few bars of the song were greeted by delighted whoops, cheers and an outbreak of moshing, while that apparently nonsensical chorus was roared along to by the faithful.
“It’s named after a place in Portstewart, Caesar’s Amusement Arcade,” recalls Jonny when we grab him afterwards. “It’s something an old bastard used to say to us. We were just hanging around, smoking fags and waiting to score hash, and he’d shout at us: ‘No pay, no play. No play, no stay.’”
So now you know. As it turns out, the song was a bit of an accident, as words from a song in Jonny’s acoustic repertoire ended up being introduced to something he knocked out on the guitar in an idle moment in the studio.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was written in 10 minutes,”he laughs.“We went in to record some other songs, and we did a couple that didn’t turn out too good, but it was pretty much done there and then. The words, I’d played acoustically for a wee bit before that – they’d been written as another song, and they just kind of fitted well. It’s just two riffs! That’s it.”
It sounds so simple put like that, but then so much of the best music is. And it might seem insane that this band who have released the sum total of one EP, one split single and a track on a compilation in over four years together have topped this poll, but it just goes to show the esteem in whichLaFaro are held. They are now stalwarts of the local scene, acting as mentors to young bucks like And So I Watch You From Afar and Panama Kings. And with a reinvigorated line-up since founding bassist Anna Fitzsimmons was replaced by Herb Magee and second guitarist Dave Magee was added, it seems that those years of occasional bouts of gigging and precious few recordings may finally give way to bigger things. If they do, you can bet that "Tuppenny Nudger" will continue to be the band’s calling card. Which is fine by Jonny.
“It’s catchy, like! I’m really happy that people actually dig it, because it was written as kind of a joke.”And will you ever get sick of playing it? “No, it’s fun! It’s complete cheese. I’ll never get sick of it.” Chris Jones
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