For almost four years now, The Cookstown Rock and Blues Showcase has been bringing music artists of the highest calibre to the heart of mid-Ulster. This Easter Saturday night, (gig #98 believe it or not) they surpassed themselves with a double header that would have been the envy of any of Belfast’s established music venues.
Kicking off the evening, and his first time playing in Cookstown, was Belfast treasure Daniel Gregory, AKA Acoustic Dan. Those familiar with Dan’s music will know that the songs are raucous and bawdy one minute, sensitive and heart-breaking, the next. His most recent offerings online have included beautifully crafted character sketches and perfectly romantic vignettes of the sometimes seedy side of Belfast life. In The Railway Bar however, Dan kept things fast paced and riotously funny.
With many of his songs lasting about two minutes, you certainly get your money’s worth in a half hour set, too many to list so I’ll just give a few of the highlights. “Rabbit Hole” is a cautionary tale about a pretty modern phenomenon, the risky pastime of getting sucked into conspiracy theories online. “My Balls are in Her Purse” is the age-old tale that barely needs explanation, the acquiescence of the man who hands the reins of his life to his wife in the knowledge that he “(doesn’t) do well without a leash”.
A huge favourite on the night was “Cigarettes and Sandwiches”, a comprehensive run-down of all the reasons (including drink, drugs, the teachers, the Christian Brothers, and the other kids) why our hero “never done well at school”. Another, “Handicapped Hero,” a modern-day folk tale which immortalises the wit and wisdom of a local legend who managed to dupe every ne’er-do-well and scally who tried to relieve him of his money. Dan’s catalogue resonates with west Belfast vernacular, plenty of swearing, and the heart of a poet.
A night of music with Acoustic Dan always leaves you with a moral or two – without being preachy. Accompanied by an impressively fast-paced guitar style that has to be heard to be appreciated, and covering topics from drugs, to gay pride, to being a good mate, the songs have a basic unifying message – “try not to be a c***, cos all you really need is love”, a universal message we would all do well to take on board.
The reception was deservedly riotous. Punters laughed ‘til they cried, and his lyrics were the talk of the beer garden during the interval. It was gratifying to see his work reach a wider audience outside his loyal home crowd of Belfast. Listen to and purchase Acoustic Dan‘s music here.
Next up were the mighty Bonnevilles – the much venerated, well-established Garage-Punk-Blues band were making their debut visit to Cookstown. You can be sure when The Bonnevilles come to town, it’s going to be loud, and we weren’t disappointed. These two boys don’t come to mess about, and they kicked off with the high-octane “Machine Born to Think.” Always exciting, Andy McGibbon on vocals and slide guitar, and Chris McMullan on drums, never fail to lift the roof off any venue, big or small.
All their loudest, grittiest favourites made the setlist; “Good Suits and Fighting Boots,” “Learning How to Cope,” “My Dark Heart,” “Whiskey Lingers,” this is a band who don’t do fillers, and the crowd were shifting in their seats from the beginning, stirred by the energy they produce. We can be a diffident bunch in Cookstown, and it took a few songs and a few words of encouragement to get punters out of those seats and onto the dancefloor, but once they did there was no stopping them.
Fans of the newer material were not disappointed either, as they also performed “Poachers Pocket,” “Panakromatik” and of course the title track from their most recent album, “Dirty Photographs” written in deference to the beauty of the female posterior.
Between songs, Andy waxed lyrical about the support set from Acoustic Dan and all in attendance were in agreement that putting these two acts together was a match made in… I won’t say heaven, probably somewhere much sleazier, but nonetheless a pairing we’d definitely like to see again.
As with most of my favourite artists, The Bonnevilles have an absolute skill of turning on a dime from hardcore, sweaty noise to melancholy, soulful sounds, and “Kneel at the Altar” does just that, and the crowd responded appreciatively. There were many there who were new to The Bonnevilles but they were intoxicated by the beguiling concoction that is Andy’s gritty voice and sexy slide guitar and Chris’s frenetic drumming. Safe to say, they have made a host of new fans in Tyrone this Easter.
Before the night was over, Andy and Chris roused the crowd once more with the compelling “Electric Company” and the stirring folk/murder ballad “No Law in Lurgan.” No matter how many times I have seen The Bonnevilles live, it’s a distinct experience every time, and to see them in my home town was even more thrilling. For even more Garage Punk Blues, Lurgan style, click here.
It’s wonderful to see a return to live music, it’s equally wonderful to see people like Cookstown R&B Showcase’s John McVitty putting his money where his mouth is and actually organising these events and bringing such spectacular acts to the people. It’s up to the people now to get back out there and get back to supporting the bands whose music was so critical in sustaining us through these last two shitty years. Photo credit: Gabriel Tarcsa