Therapy? - Northern Ireland Music Awards. Belfast Mandela Hall, 15 November 2014.
Belfast’s busy shopping streets may have been bulging with those eager to spend, whilst others awaited the arrival of Santa Claus to turn on the City’s Christmas lights or enjoyed the newly installed Christmas continental market. However just short distance away, at the other end of town, an altogether different kind of celebration was taking place; The Northern Ireland Music Awards.
Photo: Darren McLoughlin
While the main function of the awards is to recognise the great diversity of acts who have released new music over the preceding year, they also honour those from the province who have gone on to achieve greatness in their careers. The ‘Oh Yeah Centre Legend Award’ has previously gone to the likes of Gary Moore, The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, and tonight, Therapy? joined those hallowed ranks.
To mark the occasion, twenty years on from its original release, the band opted to play their much lauded Mercury Award nominated 1994 release ‘Troublegum’ in its entirety. The phrase ‘it was less like a gig and more like a celebration’ may be an overused one, but tonight it was entire apt, for that’s exactly what it felt like. Dispensing with any needless pretence or enigma, Therapy? launched straight into ‘Troublegum’, and played it straight through, in its original running order, with minimal fuss or interruption. Kicking off with ‘Knives’, there was an instant explosion of energy from both band and audience, from the song’s start/stop riffs to its final choruses. Playing with passion, bite and fire, the band showed exactly why they are so highly regarded, both locally and beyond. Enrapturing the entire crowd, the normal set closer ‘Screamager’ followed, raising the mood to near euphoric.
This was arguably Northern Ireland’s favourite band playing a generation’s favourite album, and as hit after hit followed, the audience’s enthusiastic vocals threatened to drown out even the ear-splitting power of the band’s sound system. Dedicating ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’ to The Ramones, vocalist / guitarist Andy Cairns encouraged a tribute ‘hey! hey! hey!’ chant, and he wasn’t disappointed. The mosh-pit meanwhile was a good natured war zone, especially during a combustible ‘Nowhere’, which was preceded by a teasingly morose and juxtaposing snipped of The Beatles ’Nowhere Man’. ‘Die Laughing’ meanwhile, was just as exciting, as Therapy? welcomed the evening’s first special guest to the stage, in the form of Snow Patrol guitarist Nathan Connolly, who added extra sonic depth to the already weighty track.
At just five songs into the set, it was apparent just why ‘Troublegum’ is regarded as the band’s high point. With no one song standing out above or more well–received than another, and each either a defining single or live staple, it’s an album crammed with classics, and among the best British releases of the last two decades. The band clearly enjoys playing it as much as the audience enjoy listening to it, and referring to the incredible atmosphere in the room during ‘Trigger Inside’, Cairns told them ‘to me, this is want it’s all about’. As frontman and songwriter he may be the main focal point, however Cairns is supported by two equally important elements in the Therapy? equation. Introduced as ‘The Evil Priest of Larne’, bassist Michael McKeegan pogoed, provided the occasional backing vocal and held down the bottom end, while Neil Cooper showed that he is easily the best drummer to occupy the position since the days when Fyfe Ewing was in the band.
Expanding the three-piece format for the second time, the band were joined by former And So I watch You From Afar vocalist Tony Wright. Now recording under the name VerseChorusVerse, Wright’s pent up performance during ‘Lunacy Booth’ was entirely in keeping with song’s twisted narrative. An explosive take on Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ meanwhile, was quickly followed by ‘Turn’ and a number of lesser known album cuts before a closing ‘Brainsaw’ which featured a deafening crowd sing along during its ‘I’m in hell and I’m alone’ refrain.
In testament to the sheer quality of the performance and material, it was difficult to believe that at that point, fourty-five minutes had passed since they first stepped out on stage. ‘Troublegum’ may have been finished, but the evening wasn’t over yet, and pausing only briefly to allow themselves a well-deserved celebratory shot of Irish whisky, the band launched into the sharp as a sawblade debut single ‘Meat Abstract’.
It may have been a night to look back on all they’d achieved, but Therapy? were looking forward too, premiering a new song in the two and a half minutes of violent joy that was ‘It Still Hurts’. As a track that could easily have fitted into the ‘Troublgum’ set, it bodes well for their forthcoming album. Bringing the show to an end with ‘Irish folk song’ ‘Potato Junkie’, with its improbable, yet now immortal line about a certain literary icon philandering with a female relative, the night ended as it began, on a high note.
Therapy? may have gotten the award, but they weren’t the only winners, as those here tonight bore witness to one of the band’s finest Belfast shows since their early days. To paraphrase DJ Mike Edgar, who earlier gave an impassioned induction speech, Therapy? are still unique and uncompromising, and as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. Not bad for three Screamagers going nowhere.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 17 November 2014.