Four Hundred Something KM
Howya folks, your friendly neighbourhood procrastinator-blogger here, I’ve wasted enough time not writing til now so let’s skip the explanations and just get straight to talking about some crazy events, how about that? What better opportunity to return to the keyboard than to recount an insane evening in Belfast being swept away by Brand New Friend. For those unaware, Brand New Friend’s name has graced this blog once before, back when I finally saw Snow Patrol for my first time last year and made the epic side discovery of this very talented band. Given our positions at polar opposite points of this grand aul’ Country, rare is the opportunity with which our musical paths cross and I get to witness BNF rock out, though I have had a couple chances to do so and tide me over each time for the next fix. I managed to catch their set at Indiependence Festival at the end of the summer, and then once more they came down to Cork in December where they would play support to Ash at Cyprus Avenue – A gig for which I bought my ticket to see Brand New Friend – Ash being a mere bonus as they put on a helluva show too.
These fleeting opportunities to see the band were like morsels of food to my insatiable appetite, before long I would need something of more substance to feast upon and have my fill. When Brand New Friend announced a 3 day billing in January at a venue in Belfast called ‘The American Bar’, it occurred to me on closer inspection that the tail end of the gig run landed on a Saturday and there was a slight possibility that I could manage a show around my rota. It took a while after having that notion to confirm I could start making a mad plan, as I had to wait and see if the rota gods would be in my favour when my hours were dished out. When it came through that January 26th was aaaallll clear, my money ran out of my account at an alarming rate – Gig ticket, one bus, two bus, three bus and four, and finally a bed at a Hostel were booked super quick. And thus the mad plan was underway and the rest of January was an intense waiting game. Before long, I even had a travelling companion joining in on this conquest – My trusty music Compadre Kathryn was up for the journey from Limerick to have an awesome night in Belfast.
The American Bar
January 26th couldn’t come quick enough, but at last the wait was over and the fateful day was upon us. An early rise in Cork set the tone for the day of travel ahead, beginning with a 3 hour bus journey to Dublin. Earphones in – Spotify up – ‘Seatbelts for Aeroplanes’ queued… and queued again another couple times as I had a lot of time on my hands. “Why Are You So Tired?”, cry out Lauren and Taylor in my ears, to which I can only respond that I was silly and stayed up late the night before and this journey was loooong, but alas not very accommodating to sleeping through it. A rendezvous with Kathryn in Dublin and no sooner was I off one bus, were we hopping on another with Belfast as the final destination, rounding out nearly 6 hours of travel. Wild Youth’s new EP ‘The Last Goodbye’ provided the soundtrack to this portion of the journey, a poignant reminder of the sacrifices being made to make the spectacular Belfast mission happen – With Wild Youth playing Dublin that very same evening.
We touchdown in Belfast, and after a few errands, we’re on our way to The American Bar. We hit the venue at pretty much the same moment that Brand New Friend arrive to set-up, a collision of hugs and greetings taking place at the door. Some behind the scenes snooping and chilling, and a large Apache pizza later, we’re stood front and center and the night is set to kick off, with the support Bed Manager taking to the stage. Bed Manager is Belfast duo Jake Harris on Acoustic Guitar and Vocals, and Sam Green on Electric Guitar, Keys & Vocals.
By all accounts a quieter and more contained affair than what the evening is culminating towards, Bed Manager give us a sound roughly rooted in Alternative/Folk. I find myself identifying quite strongly on an emotional level with their music from the early onset, reminded somewhat of French artist Syd Matters, whose songs ‘Obstacles’ and ‘To All Of You’ gained millions of new listeners, myself included, for their use in the soundtrack of the game ‘Life is Strange’ many years after the band itself had ceased to produce music. Likewise, much of what Bed Manager played to us wouldn’t be out of place in the emotional landscape of the LIS soundtrack. BM captivated our attention and drew us in close, with Jake’s melodic plucking of the Acoustic combining exquisitely with Sam’s guitar and keys across their repertoire of songs.
Sensing an unasked question lingering in the air, Sam spoke up between songs to clarify that despite Jake being BNF’s drummer Luke Harris’s brother, it was of course not that familial connection which had earned them the support slot. Instead, it was the fact that Sam himself was sleeping with BNF frontman Taylor that contributed to why they were playing before us now. The lads rounded out their set by inviting up a fellow musician to bash the drums a little for a somewhat more upbeat number, the fellow looking every bit the deer in the headlights who potentially never knew he was playing this evening. Nonetheless he got up there, shimmied his way behind the drumkit in the alcove in the corner, and took the set home with the lads to finish it off. I definitely recommend checking out some tunes from Bed Manager on their soundcloud page linked below.
Top 1 Favourite Gig Moments
And with that, there was only one thing more on the agenda and that was to rock the F out. The crowd in the small room of the American Bar packed up in eager anticipation for the main attraction of the evening, with a collective roaring and cheering confirming that our stars were making their way through to the stage. They kick straight off with a crowd favourite in the form of ‘Mediocre at Best’, getting us pumped up off the bat for what was for sure going to be a smashing show. They slam out tune after tune, a mixed bag of album tracks and set-list regulars, with throwbacks to their Soundcloud demo’s era intertwined within, topped off with a new track or two as yet unheard. The sheer joy the band have when performing their music can be read clear as day and translates to an infectious positive energy upon everyone who witnesses it. Taylor can’t thank everyone who’s come along enough, stopping after every other song to pour his heart out in gratitude, combined with the dropping of many sharp quips before returning to rocking the stage.
Everyone on stage is digging deep and giving an extra 110% of their entire being to putting on the best possible show. Lauren’s busting moves to the left of the stage while she sings and lays down the keys, Taylor is putting in a wild performance with the full vocal capacity his lungs can provide channeled into his microphone, even drummer Luke can’t hide the smiles from cracking through his oft expressionless facade (Though he manages to escape it being caught on camera due to no shot coming out clean), and finally bassist Aaron is a picture of total delight, feeding off the crowd’s energy. Speaking of Aaron, he becomes the man of the evening as Taylor piles praise upon the wielder of the funk stick, leading the crowd into uproarious chants of ‘AARON! AARON! AARON!’, a feat repeated much throughout the remainder of the evening.
BNF round out the main set in a sweat inducing haze with a few ultra energized anthems including my favourite ‘Girl’, and the crowd needs no encouraging to let loose and go absolutely crazy to the final moments. The band departs the stage, but of course that is not the end of it all. Letting the air linger with the ‘One more tune’ chants in their absense, they re-emerge and we’re straight back to business. Surely running on reserves after such an intense set, they didn’t let that show and brought the insanity back out immediately with penultimate song ‘Your Friends Hate Me’. This left us with only one natural conclusion to the gig and that was of course the banger ‘I Was An Astronaut’ off the album, which had just become their latest single with a brand new music video released in the lead-up to these headline shows. The already hectic action steps up even more at this point, with Sam from Bed Manager surfing atop the crowd. This is when my favourite ever gig moment happens, when unexpectedly Aaron steps down from the stage in front of me. Channeling the songs namesake perhaps thinking he’s in outer space from the adrenaline high, he relinquishes control of his body to the forces of Gravity, falling backwards into my arms where I hold him up as he plays the song through its final moments. As the final notes fade away, the crowd swallows him into their depths and just before he disappears altogether I gently rescued his bass from his outstretched hand and return it safely to the stage.
Merch & Mystery
And so the show was over and the band briefly retire away to freshen up. I already have one of Band’s shirts from the Ash gig in December, but I forgot to bring a spare shirt and the clever bastards had entertained us to the point where a change of shirts was a necessity, so of course I find myself people picking out a new shirt from the merch table in an alternative design and adding it to my collection. Then Taylor pops out and approaches to hug me, but I signal him to stop. I had immediately noticed the fresh shirt he was wearing had Drake & Josh on the front and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity not to pass up. I shout “HUG ME BROOOTHAAA” like the iconic step Brothers of television nostalgia and then we shared a hug. The next while is spent running around chatting to members of the band and Taylor & Lauren’s Dad, getting my set list signed, and getting photos taken, and as ever they are the most wonderfully friendly and wholesome bunch who emanate a super welcoming vibe.
Before I finish, step a little closer and listen carefully while I indulge in telling a little secret. Today might seem like any other day upon which a blog post could fall on (Besides my super inactivity, my bad about that again), but it is in fact very much intentionally planned that this post would come out today (Saturday, February 9th). See, the interesting thing about today is as I put the finishing touches into the writing of this post, I may be in Cork, but quite shortly and indeed before this blog post is out, I shall be setting down in Manchester. Why am I in Manchester? Well a while ago a highly established league in UK Battle Rap (Another thing I follow with much interest) called Premier Battles announced an event taking place here today featuring some top names performing, including a couple Irish battlers from back home. I made my plans to fly over, and then completely by coincidence didn’t Brand New Friend go and announce an intense run of shows touring the UK with Sean McGowan, and where else would they be on February 9th but the Star and Garter in, you guessed it, Manchester. The events don’t even overlap, with plenty of time between them it’s simply a no brainer. The kicker is I have not told Brand New Friend anything about this so my attendance today has been a surprise (I hope) until now! Yay for more awesomeness, thats all for now folks, stay tuned for more posts from The Merch Perch that hopefully don’t take 6 month gaps to come out. Keep on Merchin’!