TWO gigs straddling the festive period, two fine examples of Northern Ireland's rock music scene, performed by a set of artists at their peak: The Answer's traditional Christmas show at the Diamond Rock Club and the first gig of the year at the same iconic venue headlined by Ricky Warwick.
Gasoline Outlaws emerged in 2015 as one of the most promising bands in the UK, with a début album bristling with belters, all brought to life on stage in a series of tour de force performances.
On December 19th the Outlaws rounded up the year with a celebration of hard rock in its purest form, balls out rocker, tender calls for peace, declarations of what music should be.
Matt's voice has always been great, but in this four-piece he has found the vehicle to harness its power. Aided by his amigos 'Wolves', 'Heart and Soul' are stand outs, but the simply stupendously great 'Stand As One' raises the bar to an enormous high.
The last Saturday before Christmas is when Cormac, Paul, Mickey and James bring their rock 'n' roll circus to the Diamond Rock Club. Always guaranteed a packed room of fans eager to sing along and quaff prodigious amounts of alcohol it is the sort of party you couldn't repeat too often.
With a back catalogue rammed with hits The Answer epitomise the soul of what modern rock is -one eye on the blues and infusing it with modern takes on the rock genre.
With a guest spot from Steve on 'Into The Gutter' the party atmosphere was in high gear with even the punters at the bar singing along to each track. To say it was 'Spectacular' would be an under-estimation.
Cormac remains an engaging and captivating front man, while Paul's guitar work is ask always peerless in delivery. Mickey and James are the often unsung heroes in The Answer's arsenal of talent. Rhythmic thunder or precise time changes and delicacy, they seem to enjoy a telepathic bond.
As the raucous sounds of The Answer melded into the Christmas and New Year holidays an acoustic evening on January 2nd back the Diamond seemed the right way to slowly merge back into the gigging way for 2016.
Opening the evening Philip McCarroll belayed any previously stated nerves at playing at The Diamond with easy wit and a set of both mournful and joyous songs. Drawing on his recently released four-track ep, a Payola track and a new song it was an evening for many to discover a new 'favourite' song.
Stand-outs included 'Cathedral', 'Love and Money' and 'Cassette' were highlights amidst the soundscape.
Ricky Warwick is a busy, busy boy. 2015 saw him play with Black Star Riders in a series of gigs culminating in a UK tour with Whitesnake and Def Leppard, an acoustic tour with fellow axeman Damon Johnson and while work on the next BSR album is about to get underway Ricky is releasing his own album with like-minded musos and touring with his boyhood idols SLF in the spring.
Of course any celebration of the New Year was destined to be tinged with sadness, coming a few short days after the death of Lemmy. Before proceedings got under way proper Ricky and everyone at the Diamond raised a drink to the great man and second song in Ricky led a total audience singalong to 'Ace of Spades'. That song may be a regular in his acoustic sets, but on 2nd January it was delivered with added gusto, and the audience needed no prompts, no call and responses. That many were wearing Motorhead t-shirts and other 'Head apparel said all that needed to be said about respect.
With such an array of songs to choose from a Ricky Warwick set list is always varied, and always with an added dash of panache in the tunes. True, most are tried and tested in the acoustic format; and true the familiarity of most songs is apparent in track selection, but as a celebration of the vitality of rock this is not a bad thing, it's a great thing.
Sure, we all know 'Jailbreak' 'Bound for Glory' and 'Whiskey...' as old friends, but when dozens of friends, associates and fellow ne'rdowells are gathered beneath the flag (of inconvenience?) it is the kind of bond in beer and rock that cannot be broken. We kind of think and hope that Lemmy would have approved.
Review by Jonny
(Amateur) Photography also by Jonny
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