Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Local heroes: Leading 21st century songs made in Northern Ireland

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Well don’t fret folks, as I’m on hand to provide a selection of home-grown songs that will make you the patron saint of parties. Now it almost goes without saying that here in Northern Ireland we have an absolute treasure trove of great tunes to choose from. The following list is intended to be both accessible and a wee bit unpredictable, so if your favourite isn’t picked, please put those plans to storm Tele Towers with flaming pitchforks on ice. The following recommendations merely scratch at the surface of our scene.


Rise Up (Make Yourself Well) (2004)

Rock royalty Therapy? re-affirmed they still ruled with this sky cracking slab of sound and fury. In many ways a track that was ahead of its time, the lyrics saw singer/guitarist Andy Cairns tackle the topic of mental health and it’s a cathartic and crushing listen that sounds as fresh today as it did nearly 20 years ago. Turn it up to 666 and pre-order their May 5 released new album Hard Cold Fire.

Therapy? Credit: Tom Hoad© Tom Hoad


Bombscare (2017)

This track from 2017 is about as Norn Iron as George Best tucking into an Ulster Fry and we are here for it. Wearing their Jam and Stiff Little Fingers influences on their sleeves and calling to mind the days when Belfast label Good Vibrations was taking on the world, Derry boys Touts served up a suitably explosive three minutes of punk rock fury. Play this one for your granda who thinks “they don’t make music like they used to…”

The Wood Burning Savages

Hand To Mouth (2023)

The long-awaited comeback track from these Derry-bred rockers was every bit as incendiary as we hoped it would be. A high energy anthem that rages against the machine with the best of them, the speaker shaking, soul stirring effort takes aim at the powers that be in a bid to give voice to the voiceless while we all struggle with the cost of living. The razor-sharp lyric “Death by a thousand cuts” serves as a welcome reminder that frontman Paul Connolly is one of our brightest stars.

Matt McGinn Feat. Ciara O’Neill

Bubblegum (2020)

Arguably the finest song ever written about the Troubles, this tale of boys, bubblegum and bombs is simply beautiful. Using the 1980s penned diary entries of Twitter user @NrnIrnGirl1981 as lyrics, this piano, cello and acoustic guitar-based ode about our darkest days is full of hope and heartbreak. While Bubblegum didn’t quite receive the attention it deserved on initial release, I expect the world to catch on some day…

Matt McGinn

Taylor Swift Feat. Gary Lightbody

The Last Time (2012)

It would be remiss of me not to include something Snow Patrol related in our playlist considering they’re NI’s most successful band. However, considering all of us have had at least the odd weep or three to Chasing Cars over the years (go on, admit you have too) and it would be the predictable choice, I’ve gone with this duet featuring the band’s singer Gary Lightbody and honorary Ulster-woman Taylor instead. A heart string tugging ballad that plays to both artists’ strengths, this dream team delivered an instant classic.

And So I Watch You From Afar

A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way (2009)

Famed and acclaimed across the continent and beyond for being some of the finest riff wranglers ever to hail from this fair isle, these north coast-bred post rockers were especially unstoppable in their early days (as anyone who witnessed them play in Belfast’s dearly departed Auntie Annie’s will agree). A Little Bit… remains their best tune to date and it’s a soaring soundtrack to the impending apocalypse.

Girls Aloud

Call the Shots (2007)

Given that Derry’s Nadine Coyle did all of the heavy lifting in the chart-busting Girls Aloud I’m claiming them as our own. This Noughties banger is considered one of the finest in the super successful pop band’s canon and I’m inclined to agree. A synth driven, hook laden evergreen single, while it mightn’t have made it to number one in the charts, it did in my heart.


Shining Light (2001)

“I knew we needed to come up with a really big song to get ourselves back on track…Shining Light saved our career and really set us up for good,” singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler once said of this now classic Ash cut. The aforementioned alt ballad was every bit the big song he hoped for and brought them back from the brink of destruction, denting the top ten of the UK singles charts while cementing them as one of NI’s best ever.


Rise Of The Woodsmen (2012)

While nowadays sadly these Maiden City-founded riff lords are enjoying something of an Odin Sleep, in their day the four-piece were as electrifying and thunderously heavy as Mjollnir itself. Worshipping at the altar of Black Sabbath axe wielder Tony Iommi’s neck bothering grooves and inspired by Irish mythology, Triggerman were firing on all cylinders for their 2012 debut LP Hail To The River Gods and …Woodsmen was its finest moment. Pound for pound the best NI made heavy metal song of all time (yeah, I went there), leather lunged frontman Bap roaring “Here come the woodsmen” could wake the dead.

New Pagans

I Could Die (2016)

This gloom loving super group rose from the ashes of Fighting With Wire and Girls Names in 2016 and quickly set our scene on fire with their righteous alt rock songs. Best of the bunch (so far) is their first ever single I Could Die. A life affirming anthem in the making packed with dazzling fret wizardry, the track saw New Pagans in god-like form.

Two Door Cinema Club

Something Good Can Work (2009)

After receiving their first ever press coverage in the pages of the Belfast Telegraph courtesy of yours truly many moons ago, this Bangor trio then went on to conquer the globe. In their arsenal during those early days was Something Good Can Work, which helped catapult the promising up and comers into the big leagues. An infectious and uplifting slice of evergreen indie, that impossibly catchy chorus remains a tonic for a case of the grumps.

Travi The Native

Still Hurting (2020)

This stylish sonic adventurer turned plenty of heads during the Lockdown era and he entertained us all with his super slick take on pop. One of his finest songs was Still Hurting which acted as a most welcome antidote to the beast that was 2020. A delicious salvo of sound and vision that’s sprinkled with some ‘80s goodness, it’s a Prefab Sprout inspired, effortlessly cool number. Hailed by many as one of the best pop tunes of this newly minted decade, it boasts a stellar sax solo that the greasy bloke from The Lost Boys would sell his ponytail for (you know the one I’m talking about…).


Daydreamer (2021)

Ever since she first burst onto the music scene around six years ago, Reevah (AKA the seriously gifted Aoife Boyle) has carved out an impressive reputation for being a hugely creative chameleon. Blessed with an ability to bend any genre to her will, she’s steadily amassing a back catalogue which is the envy of many and Daydreamer is the jewel in this indie queen’s crown. One of the first tracks she ever wrote as Reevah, the 2021 single is an irresistible alt ballad which fans of Mazzy Star and Florence and the Machine will fall head over heels for.

Reevah burst on to the scene six years ago. Credit: Y-control Photography

Beauty Sleep

The Dark (2019)

As a wise man once wrote in this very paper, Beauty Sleep serve up more spell-binding bangers than the canteen staff at Hogwart’s. Featuring former members of the should’ve been huge Wonder Villains, this dynamic duo have been doing their bit to bring the sunshine to us all courtesy of their tropical pop based tunes. 2019 single The Dark is an impossibly funky offering and something of a love letter to the days when the keytar was king. Boasting a hook bigger than Steve “the Hair” Harrington’s magnificent mane in Stranger Things, the 80s indebted track saw them at the peak of their powers.


Vale (2017)

Childhood friends Bicep have been flexing their musical muscles in the clubs of Belfast and beyond since 2009. World renowned experts in the joy of decks, the duo are rightly lauded for their infectious fusion of house, new age, electro and more and the Brit Award nominated twosome have paved the way for a new breed of dance artists. This cut from 2017 is a bona fide crowd pleaser and boasts some iconic vocals courtesy of Devon’s Rosie Lowe.

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