Fair warning: This is one of those posts where I feel as if I am sliding down the slippery slope from music promoter to music critic. I really like Damian McGinty as a musician, but I was a bit disappointed with both headliners at this show. They are both talented young men, and I would love to see them at their best. This show was not quite there yet. The girls in the audience at the Nerve Centre were there to see these two lads up close, not to hear a great musical performance, and for that purpose they both did a great job. I was very impressed that the audience was singing along so solidly when Ben did the the “Fairytale of New York”, a song that the US online crowd would not have known all the words to, almost guaranteed. I’m probably just being a curmudgeon, honestly. I am sure when we see these lads again they will be amazing, as they usually are, and by next year they’ll have their stage acts polished all the better, and Walled City will have all the year’s experience to draw from to make 2013’s Sessions jaw-droppingly great.
Ben Kelly, whose claim to fame so far in the UK derives from his appearance as a contestant on one of the BBC talent shows, The Voice, may have a bit more of a future in music than his brief successes on that TV show would suggest. His new single, released on December 5, 2012 (available on itunes) is very decidedly about Ireland, and Derry in particular, and many of his potential fans will need a bit of a refresher on the history and culture of Derry and Northern Ireland to really grasp some of his references. But, I think there are a lot of pop-music fans up to such a challenge. Perhaps if these fans make a habit of reading young Mr. Kelly’s blog, and pester him enough about this song’s lyrics, he might even oblige with a few quick history lessons, seeing as he has a blog he keeps up anyway. I am always a fan of artists who try to infuse meatier content into pop music, so while I’m not waiting breathless for Ben Kelly to release his next single, I kinda like this guy. He’s still new enough to being a professional musician that he only has a ‘personal’ facebook page, not a proper professional facebook page, so it may be a while before he has one that you can ‘like’, but by the time he has more music recorded, he’ll probably also have his web-presence worked out better.
A Few Comments on the Show as a Whole
At the Walled City Records show, Ben (and Damian for that matter) had the misfortune of relying on recorded backing tracks, which did not work as smoothly as they ought to have. They also made the show a lot more of a middle-school style talent show, and less of a ‘real’ concert. I know Damian doesn’t play guitar, and they couldn’t stuff an orchestra onstage for their sets, but I would have loved to see what these guys are capable of as entertainers, not just as guys who can sing along to a tape. A bit harsh? Yeah, probably, but I know what Damian is capable of- I’ve watched him since he started Celtic Thunder at 14, and he is someone who ought to be able to entertain a crowd without taped backing tracks. I suspect that Ben Kelly is similarly talented, so the tapes seem to be a bit too much of a crutch, as if they don’t really believe in themselves enough to generate more of their show live on the stage.
In fact, the one major criticism I had of the entire Walled City show was that it lacked confidence and professionalism. Had they brought in a local radio announcer to be their MC between acts, their transitions would have been less abrupt and awkward, too. (grumble, grumble, grumble….) Anyway, gripes aside, what we all were watching this concert for was not the logistics, but the music. Besides Ben Kelly, we of course saw Damian McGinty.
Damian started out his mainstream music career as one of the principal singers for the original lineup of Celtic Thunder, way back in 2007. He was the cute kid with braces who sang cute kid songs and earned the admiration of all the grandmothers and the adoration of all the preteen girls in the Celtic Thunder audiences. But, after a few years his voice changed, a transition caught on tape occasionally in the Celtic Thunder recordings (like that “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” video in which he has to switch octaves mid intro- so cute, and the sort of thing to make all those grandmothers go “awww!” but probably also rather embarrassing for Mr. McGinty). Now, he has a nice rich low baritone/bass voice, which he is still growing into. He is, after all, only 20 yrs old. Once he grows into his low sexy voice, with his dark hair and brilliant blue eyes as well, he’ll be able to charm just about any woman into just about anything, at least temporarily.
In the meantime he is working with his friend Oran, running their recording studio Audio Booth and record label Walled City Records. In addition to this new venture into the production and business sides of music, Damian is still recording music, mostly covers of different genres of pop songs. His first solo EP was released at the beginning of December, and is doing quite well. He sang quite a significant chunk of his EP songs at the Walled City show, and while his performance lacked confidence, it probably was more than good enough for the fans actually at the show, and for all his not-so-critical fans elsewhere. My guess is that he was also very stressed and distracted, considering that he was appearing as not just a performer, but as one of the key people running the label. Maybe if he was just there to sing he would have had a bit more to put into his set. I do have to say, though, that once he got into it, his duet with Gem O’Reilly was fantastic, and he seemed to be really enjoying himself.
All in all, it was a good, solid first run for a brand new label, and there were some amazing moments within the Walled City Sessions this year. The singer-songwriter competition which they used to select two of the supporting acts was a brilliant plan and highlighted more of the great new local talent in Ireland and the UK. All the singers in this show are about the same ages as the undergrads I used to teach as a grad student, so they all seem very young, and I am always tempted to accept whatever halfway decent music these ‘kids’ come up with. But, as so many of these young musicians amply demonstrate every day, they are capable of making breathtakingly great music, not just tolerably ok stuff.
And, if you, dear reader, disagree with me about how amazing this Walled City Sessions show was, go to the artists’ pages, ‘like’ them, listen to their music, share their videos, buy their EPs and singles, and help them continue to be successful as professional musicians. We all will have differing opinions on music- it would be a sad and boring world otherwise- but so long as we all support our musicians so they are not just singing to a proverbial brick wall, they’ll weather a bit of constructive criticism from some random blogger just fine.