Blues fans and soul brothers woke up on Sunday 23rd to a community in mourning – Rab McCullough, a veritable legend of the Northern Irish music community, passed away during the weekend following a cardiac arrest. A career musician who shared the stage with the likes of The Police, AC/DC, Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher, Rab was known the world over as a tremendous performer. He was driving force behind the band Baraka, a group that combined a show band intensity with the blues laden world of 20th century heavy rock.
Rab later found a home in The Empire Music Hall, wherein he charmed, swayed and shredded his way through crowds for over 20 years. I count myself as the one of the lucky few who was among the throngs for his performances every other Thursday in the venue's basement, and to this day I don’t know how we were so lucky to get live music like that for free. Faces from Nashville to Osaka could be found in those crowds, a testament to how Rab’s fearless zest for his craft touched so many. He’ll be missed by all, and remembered as one of the greatest guitarists to ever emerge from Belfast.
In other news, more Irish bands continue to be lapped up by the British music industry. It emerged last week that Dundalk quintet Just Mustard has signed a deal with Partisan Records, the record company behind the rise of Fontaines D.C. and IDLES. It was a quiet year for the band throughout Covid-19, so it’s a positive sign to see the five-piece sign with a punk powerhouse, partially when the announcement comes on the heels of a UK-Tour poster dropping and new album teaser. Just Mustards punk-mixed-shoegaze formula has them entrenched as one of the stalwart faces of the Irish music industry, and having Partisan at their side signals good news for the future.
Tour and show announcements have continued to crop up as we accelerate towards the summer period – it's the signals of an industry re-emerging. For instances, JC Stewart, a Draperstown native with BBC Radio 1 Support and a writing credit on Lewis Capaldi’s debut album to his name, recently dropped the news that he will headline The Ulster Hall this September. It’s the biggest headline show to date for the NI singer-songwriter and I doubt it’ll be the ceiling of his future Belfast performances.
Gripping my earlobes this week are several singles that accompany other announcements. First off is ‘Dreamers’ from Conchúr White. The title track from his forthcoming-EP, this tracks is accompanied with support for Villagers around the UK and Ireland – so it’s only fitting a big track follows a big announcement. An atmospheric indie rock track with elements of roots and folk music, it's easily the NI songwriters coolest track yet. Then we have the slacker pop of ‘National Treasure’ from trio Leveland. Watery bass lines and vocals from Donegal native Oisin O’Scolai give a psychedelic feel, while the lo-fi energy maintains the track’s sunny disposition.
The spotlight also shines on some fresh releases from independent artists this week. Documenta’s ‘Silverwood’ eerie mix of jungle, drone, electronica and created sounds is as arresting as it comes. Strangely bright despite its dark tones and murky acoustics, this odyssey is something you need to hear this week. And for the more traditional souls who enjoy a bit of warm guitar, dreary vocals and bright arrangements, then Niall McDowell is just the job. ‘Do You Think I’m Pretty?’ is an angst-laden romp through singer-songwriter tradition that demands little and gives a lot.