The NI Music Awards. Early morning and I was able to share with Owain Wyn Evans before my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 that these were our Brits, our Grammys and when it comes to music we fight way above our wee country weight.

By mid evening and I am utterly captivated by the electric mix of sounds pumping from the iconic Ulster Hall stage. 

I mean Chalk made an explosive start with their bass grooves, atmospheric verses before the shock and awe of their screaming choruses. I actually heard Joshua Tree b-sides before the post punk assault.

Follow that. Follow that with the Irish trad of Uilleann pipes. Come on. Well, Conor Mallon, looking uncannily like Rory McIlroy, started playing with guitarists either side and somehow reinvented the genre.

Then we were back to punk. Problem Patterns are four crazy ladies who are off the scale but hit the contemporary nail right on the proverbial head filling the Ulster Hall with humour, fun, joy, noise, audience participation and blatant ’n loud punk opinion. 

Ferna. Last year’s winner of Single of The Year, Ferna has a literary, artistic and musical maturity that tonight gives us four supergroup backing vocalists, a band that fills the stage and a sound that fills the hall. 

The Florentinas make you believe that the guitar band is not as threatened a species as feared. These guys look young but already as tight as any band that has graced this stage, full of energy and great melodies. Bono’s son is looking over his shoulder! I’m pre-ordering the record now. 

Our last artist is Winnie Ama with her soul pop, vocally pure like her inspiration Ella Fitzgerald and Macy Gray-esque in her on stage persona. Utterly enchanting.

These six artists are a small showcase for so many albums, singles and videos that came out of our wee country that past year. The ability of mind-blowing, the depth of quality of record is astonishing.

Between acts we are encouraged by Rigsy and particularly Emma Bradley to be the drumroll for the Prize winners. 

Chalk take Live Act of The Year for what we had already seen 

Problem Patterns grab Video Of The Year for their cheap but powerful statement on the NHS.

ATL Artist of the Year goes to Tramp.

Single of the Year was carried off by Moonboot. To U is over flowing with beat, brass and ear candy. Above our weight I said…

Album of the Year is the biggie. Like The Mercury Award there are near 30 experts on a room fighting the case of 12 nominees. Back in August I was privileged to a nominator. I spent weeks listening to this music and all these albums are worthy. Apart from one, I felt. One was above them all. I was more than excited when I got proven correct and Arborist’s An Endless Sequence Of Dead Zeroes was announced.

If that was not enough. Two more things.

The Joe Cassidy Chrysalis Award is to help a new band move forward. I somehow missed Joe Cassidy who sadly passed away at just 51 in 2021. I don’t understand how an artist with such influence from north Belfast passed me by but today’s listening has been two of his acts - Butterfly Child and My Bus. As I listen I celebrate new favourites but still wonder how? Chalk won this one too.

Paul Brady won the  Legend Award and to hear him sing Nothin But The Same Old Story, Crazy Dreams and Nobody Knows in this hall where I saw him play back in the early 90s was a time traveller.

Then he played The Island and I turned to my daughter and said “You’re going to hear one of the best ever songs written in this wee place.” And we did but with the added poignancy of what his going on in the middle East. Oh my. Even Brady’s 75 year old weariness of voice added to the prophetic power. 

Life is what you make it he was singing as we left. I gave a well done to two of The Florentinas as I left and thought that Brady is telling them something. Oh my, the genius is in that Hall. Their lives and possible careers are now about what they make of it. If they do then maybe one of my daughters can come and celebrate the night one of these acts picks up the Legend Award.

And off in the car with a couple of slabs of vinyl to support the scene and giving Moonboot a listen... 


4 of Us - GS

photo: George Sproule


In the early 90s 4 Of Us concerts were the most bounced around and shape throwing gigs that I had ever known. I remember exiting a couple of gigs in London sweat drenched and exhausted from the best 90 minutes of live rock music a body could ask for.

Here we all are three decades later in a Church. It just happens to be the church I am minister. We sit through until the last couple of songs. Even then sweat is a long way off. In 2023 it’s the heart that the two of The 4 of Us that are left are aiming for.

The 4 of Us are quite unique in the shift of sound that they discovered as they grew from 4 to 2. The last fifteen years has largely been just frontman Brendan and his, throwing guitar hero shapes, brother Declan. Declan makes up for numbers with all kinds of acoustic guitar sounds through the pedals taking up his side of the stage. 

Brendan takes us through the show as much as DJ as a singer, linking every song with stories about childhood in Newry, the beginning of the brothers as a band, how Robert Plant took more to Declan than him when they supported him a few years ago and so much more.

The use of their dad’s Casio keyboard for rhythms in the earliest days is amusing but there is no doubt that the songwriting across this 30 year set list has matured. Indeed the two songs that stand out for me tonight are the new ones. 

St. Gabriel’s Drive has some nifty couplets in a song of getting caught up in the Troubles and the fears of mothers. Miracle Every Morning is a beautifully delicate love song that you will want to sing to your lover immediately.

It was in the latter that I noticed most a Willie Nelson sound to Brendan’s voice. It’s a long way from Songs For The Tempted to Willie Nelson-esque song writing. The Murphy boys have done it with ease. 

It would seem that songs like Sensual Thing and Drag My Bad Name down both given guitar sonics and shimmies and shades tonight are from a different rock altogether from Sugar Island or Gospel Choir but then Washington Down reminds you and Mary, with everyone on their feet giving it a vocal work out, particularly nudges you to realise that this deft songwriting skill was there from the very beginning and where we might have missed its subtlety in the sweatiness of the early days we are enjoying the ultimate fruits of Brendan and Declan’s vocation all of these long years later.  

They end with James Taylor’s deep groove Traffic Jam and I am thinking that a Taylor song is maybe the perfect place for the boys from 1992 to meet the boys from 2023. The Songs For The Tempted t-shirts we all bought, back then and again tonight, is looking back but I am hearing a new record being mentioned and would much prefer that!



Josh Ritter is something. The day after this gig he was turning 47 and I’ve been following him along since he was 25 and supported The Frames in The Limelight.

Tonight was special. It is beginning to be the case in the new Mandela Hall. The pristine sound allows a different intimacy. I felt that I really got to know Josh Ritter.

When he sings I realised that everything he utters whether near spoken verses to big choruses is full of melodies and the catchiest thereof.

Then the songs. He is of course a novelist too but his story songs have characters, place and twists and turns like few other. Henrietta Indiana! 

There are near apocalyptic visions. Wings.

God, battles with the devil and little proverbs from the Bible are riddled through this entire night and at times he sounds like the preacher. He calls it “messianic oracular honky-tonk” which was in best evidence tonight in Getting Ready To Get Down from of course the album Sermons On The Rocks.

Tonight however it was Truth Is a Dimension (Both Invisible and Blinding) that was the biggest revelation. Again off Josh went on a long and winding wordy story to a melody that held you in. Subjective and Objective truth of heart and universe were surmised in just a few minutes with a killer line at its end. Clever, I thought. Very, very clever

That is it. Josh Ritter is the cleverest songwriter around. He is up there with the best in structure, melody and rhyme. He has killer couplets BUT above all of that he is so clever with all of that. 

Someone in the crowd at one stage welcomed Ritter home. Ireland has played a major part in his career. His omnipresent smile suggested that he was genuinely grateful. When they sang happy birthday he was visibly moved. 

Tonight he played us his early classic record Hello Starling all the way through. Kathleen and Snow Is Gone were received like big hit singles, sung along. That twenty years later Ritter is carrying his fans with him shows as they also sang along to For Your Soul from the recent Spectral Lines.

The entire night was captivating and clever. 



“Is heaven a place you fly off to

When the day is done?

Or do you work right here

On an earthbound love song?”


Over The Rhine sang this very early on in their set at Belfast’s Black Box and I immediately knew why I love these guys and call them my favourite band in the world. 

This half verse tells you everything that they are about. They inhabit this space between the soul and the heart. Actually they inhabit a world where the soul and the heart revolve around each other, highlight each other and too oftentimes bump into each other, hurting but somehow eventually redeeming.

No one else inhabits such a scared space or if they do, no one does it so well. 

Tonight is a lonely treat. In the country as part of a Retreat they decided to do just one concert. It left my English friends rather jealous. We were blessed to be in the room.

Linford Detweiler plays that piano as one having authority and not as the scribes as Jesus might have put it. His long time lover and soul and muse companion Karin Berquist sings like an angel. She can express exhilaration and heartache with the same gentle power. Her voice is sensual romantically and spiritually, flirting with her love the one moment and connecting with God in literary song prayers the next. Earthbound Love indeed.

There is a relaxed feel tonight. I don’t know Linford and Karin that well but when I am with them I sense more shy than gregarious, careful with their company, intentional in conversation but when you put a microphone in front of them they are very relaxed, very open, very honest, very funny. 

Linford points out how angels appear a lot in Over The Rhine songs. Indeed the are doing a whole evening of such songs in November. He also talks about Biblical visitations of angels and how those visited are told not to be afraid. Angels here are almost songs to help with our fear.

Tonight is an interesting set list. Broken Angels is the only offering off their last record Love and Revelation, there is nothing off my favourite record Ohio, and three off the often passed by album Trumpet Child. 

Highlights are way too many. The surprise of Like A Radio from their debut record ‘TiI We Have Faces, title nicked from a Belfast man, CS Lewis, Christine McVie’s Songbird is a tasteful cover, All My Favourite People Are Broken to an audience who know we are and are thankful for such a testifying and All I Want Is Everything with the crowd singing:


All I need is everything.
Inside, outside, feel new skin.
All I need is everything.
Feel the slip and the grip of grace again


Best of all was a brand new song called Heron Blue that has us waiting eagerly for a new record. It was a song whose lyric took me out of a Belfast bar to feel that I could see that elegant bird, celebrate it, find our hearts and souls singed by its God given wonder.  

So many thoughts for my soul and heart to surmise in a wonderful evening of Earthbound Love Songs. Thank you guys!


Deacon Blue SSE Flynn

photo: Nigel Flynn


I have seen so many Deacon Blue gigs that I find myself at every one seeking another angle that I can bring to the obligatory blog the next morning. The hopefulness within all that they do, how they go digging for us or the difficulties they must have with set lists have been a few recent angles.

In this SSE concert, part of the All The Old 45’s Tour, something struck me afresh. Not an angle. Just simply, how good are this band?! In the 36 years since my first gig at the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow this was the best that I had ever heard Deacon Blue. Great players. so tight. Macintosh's swirling dervish and ethereal voice to Mr Anchor man Ross. Here's a man who knows how to connect with an audience and bring them along with him in some rock 'n roll exploration and adventure. They are so good. 

Now this is the SSE and I have got used to Deacon Blue in The Waterfront or more recently The Ulster Hall. I wasn’t waiting in great anticipation for the sound quality. Yet, it was amazing. A few vocal lines got lost BUT most of the grace note touches were heard. As were the lights. From way up the back, facial expressions were clear.

The opening set was particularly impressive. I am looking at the stage scattered with living room lights. I have been watching the tour progress on social media. I am sensing a stripped down set of songs and the SSE has me very concerned.

Yet, every piano flutter from Jim Prime, every deft double bass line by Lewis Gordon, every delicately picked guitar motif by Gregor Philp, every tap of drum skins by Dougie Vipond and all of those Ross/McIntosh harmonies were caught as if in Van Morrison rapture. 

A reworked countrified Chocolate Girl was tasty, a very different Hang Your Head opened the song up anew, I finally realised why Ricky loves Delivery Man so much, Cover From The Sky had me wondering why we never had that Lorraine Macintosh solo record, S.H.A.R.O.N was a lovely live rarity, I’ll Never Fall In Love had me squeezing Janice as it was at the top of the charts when we fell in love and All Over the World was a song that could have been lost found. 

Now, for me any band that can come out in front of that size of audience and play a wee unplugged set and not have a few drinkers shouting for Real Gone Kid is band with the respect of the house.

I felt sorry for the two women beside me who arrived just as the band were leaving. They missed the support slot - Deacon Blue. 

Support over and the main act hit the ground rolling. The Hipsters, Wages Day and Your Swaying Arms lit it up before we went political on Loaded and the dark and menacing Your Town.

It was a treat to see Love and Regret back in the set and into When Will You Make My Phone Ring with a touch of the Delfonics Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time). I was right back in 1989. 

After that beautiful breather we were hurtling along again. For me City Of Love, The Believers, That’s What We Can do is the preach to to love, to hope, to faith in our humanity or if you are the spiritual kind something even higher. As the band left and we waited for encores my soul was stretching, committing, declaring: 


We trust, we change, we move from one place to another

Cause that’s what we can do

We talk, forgive we give - everything that love allows

Cause that’s what we can do


Encores. Yes please.  Peace Will Come is a campfire singalong for all of humanity but tonight in Belfast it felt as though it was for us, a link back to That’s What We Can Do. A wee bit of hair raising pride in my soul for the peace we have made and what continues to need built.

You can’t skirt over Dignity and Fergus Sings The Blues. Crowd pleasers for sure and tonight full of subtle video and other clues to back in the day but just great songs, powerful rhymes and deep meaningfulness about place and people. 

If that was not enough. Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart, stripped back like that earlier support band with most of the band taking a verse and then this beautiful poignant closer full of love and catharsis. A lovely way to end a night.

Now, it wasn’t all perfect. I felt that particularly in Your Swaying Arms there were sound issues, more on stage than out front. Ricky meandered for a couple of chats with a sound guy. I am hearing that it was a battle for the band up there. Indeed the set list might have been impacted. Which makes it even more amazing at how good it seemed to us.

One angle, if I may. A friend was in our house as we were ready to go to the gig. Deacon Blue? Who I saw them recently on Radio 2 who were doing a lot of those 80s bands - Rick Astley and all that. 

What Deacon Blue did tonight was no more an 80s band than Bruce Springsteen is a 70s songwriter. The set tonight had as much music from this millennium as it had from the last one. Deacon Blue are not a band playing some legacy of hits. Some of the best songs tonight were right up to date. Don’t satisfy yourself with the first three albums. Tonight screamed that YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL! 


Lin and Karin

Over The Rhine play The Black Box in Belfast on Saturday October 7th... Here is why you need to go... 


It was late August 1992. It was in a tent in a field. It was the first night of Greenbelt. The late great and beautiful human Pip Wilson and Martin Wroe were doing their The Very Stinking Late Show. As ever the first night had the video of The Call’s Let It Begin blasting out it’s blessing on the weekend, chats with the seminar speakers and a live song or two.

I had read about Over the Rhine in the Greenbelt magazine Strait bitty I wasn’t ready for Karin Bergquist to open her mouth or the melody or the poetry of the lyrics. It was Paul And Virginia. It was “cool and quiet” as Karin would describe it on Live From Nowhere Vol 4, years later. It was utterly breathtakingly beautiful. It was the days of Mazzy Star and 10,000 Maniacs and these guys were best of all.

And I was in love. With Karin (Janice made an exception for that crush!), with their songs and words and hypnotic atmospheric sound. So many imagine that U2 have been my favourite band. No. Ohio’s  Over the Rhine have been my favourite band for a long time. Their double album Ohio has long wrestled with The Beatles' White Album and Abbey Road as my favourite record of all time.

The day after The Very Late Stinking Show, the band played The Big Top and as soon as the gig finished, now mesmerised by Ric Hordinski guitar playing, I went off to find the albums. In another tent I was captured by the complete vision. 

You didn’t find Till We Have Faces or Patience in a card board box. Standing out from all the other product, there was this table all decked out in cigar boxes and little bottles of Bailey’s Cream, set on top of a lovely little cloth carefully placed. 

My expectations of every record that this band has released ever since has been heightened by that vision. I have never been let down. This band believe that every song they write and produce is a piece of art. Fellow Cincinnati artist Michael Wilson’s photographs have dressed every album in the most splendid  cover art.

In 1996 the Hordinski years closed. Drummer Brian Kelley left soon after and the married couple that is Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist have been Over the Rhine, drawing in musicians to add what grace notes their imaginations hear.

The post Hordinki years have been more like the cool quiet end of Neil Young. If Ric had given then the guitar power, heat and loud of Young’s Hurricane and Powderfinger, Linford and Karin have settled into the more acoustic, rustic Neil Young of After the Goldrush and Helpless. Indeed they have covered the latter song. 

The old Over the Rhine format's last record was an independent release called Good Dog, Bad Dog. The first line on the first song Latter Days, “what a beautiful piece of heartache,” have summed up the band ever since.

Karin’s voice is… well you have to hear it. It is utterly seductive in the most spiritual of ways, wooing your heart and soul. I think someone told me that Julie Miller, wife of Buddy, said that in heaven we all got to sing like Karin Bergquist. The women anyway! 

Linford does a song or two himself but he brings this ability to make a piano talk the way Springsteen said he had learned to do with a guitar. There is an emotion in their tunes and melodies that I don’t often find among their peers.

On top of all this are the must sublime literate yrics  It was Frederick Buechner who said that art was cutting a vein and letting it bleed onto the page and then at another time warned that what art we put into our bloodstream can poison or nourish. Over The Rhine are those who bleed on the page and if you use it for soul transfusion you can only find redemption and peace within. 

Redemption is their overriding theme. It is not a redemption that is so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly use. They don’t use it to lambast you like preachers who insult your intelligence. These songs don’t ring like the naive clang of a huge bell ringing. These beautiful pieces of heartache are like tinkles of grace and hope in the valley of the shadow.

Over The Rhine have found a severe mercy in the midst of their personal, as well as humanity’s deepest darkness. They have delved deep to find hope in the tragedies our darkness creates. They have found a place of joy in the midst of the certain-to-come-our-way tears. They have used all their wrestling to weave poetry and music into a tapestry of utterly astonishing depth of soul.


Stocki’s Introductory 10:

Latter Days

Jesus In New Orleans

Let It Fall

Paul and Virginia

Trumpet Child


Los Lunas

I Want You To be My Love


Eyes Wide Open


Late Late Show

Patrick Kielty on The Late Late Show. A northern invasion?

First of all how lucky are RTE to have landed Patrick Kielty in this chair. He arrived out of comedy clubs in Belfast to host his own brilliant show on UTV. After going away and making it in the wider world, and marrying Cat Deeley besides, he made his way back around home to anchor some of the most poignant and helpful documentaries about The Troubles. 

The Late Late Show has been recognised over seventy years as a societal changer. Gay Byrne and the guests he brought on and the questions he asked also interrogated the direction of the country and opened, what might have been seen as a very insular Catholic country, up to many other influences.

Patrick has already talked about how he’ll bring a more northern slant to the show. He will I also believe bring more northern viewers to the show. That will open a Protestant Northern Irish audience up to what is happening across the border, in many ways a very different culture. In music, politics, sport and celebrity, even Toys, things are different and done differently in the Republic. 

I am also sure that Kielty will have northern guests to introduce to the southerner. Kietly sees himself in the middle of what I have called a venn diagram between the Republic Of Ireland and the UK. He recognises that, showing a social intelligence about the realities going on a round him. He’ll very naturally therefore bring all sides of the island into one TV studio.

The interview on the first night with Mary McAleese might tell us where Kielty’s prophetic direction might take us, whether he has consciously considered it or not. 

When asked about Border Polls Mary, the former President, shied away from declaring a united Ireland as imminent or not. In a more measured and sensible approach she spoke of creating better relationships across the island and with the United Kingdom. Relationships that she very much modelled. Remember Queen Elizabeth’s visit while Mary was President.

I reckon that simply by his charm, grace for every aspect of the island’s people, history and present Kietly will be about that healing. Who remembers him at that Bonfire with young Joel Keys in the documentary Patrick Kielty: One Hundred Years of Union. In that same programme as he stood on Shelling Hill Beach with Bronagh McConville whose mother Jean went missing in 1972; both emotional from loss of a parent.

Kietly brings an intelligence to this traditional Irish Friday night, it is an intelligence that is social, cultural, political and emotional. I look forward to seeing how The Late Late Show in his compassionate care can lead us forward across a divided island. 

I imagine it will be a lot of fun too.



photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

Judie Tzuke. Many of you knew. I didn’t. Oh yes I remembered Stay With Me Til Dawn but not much else and had foolishly ignored her work, assuming from the big hair album covers of the 80s that she was something like T’Pau.

Not at all. There is still a lot of hair and that’s a good thing when she describes herself as a soppy hippy. Tonight was an utter revelation to me. From Chaz Thorogood’s opening chord I sat back and allowed the sound to wash all over me. I have to say there was an Eagles sound to that opening chord and a feel of the 70s throughout, a wee bit of Janis Ian here and Carole King there.

Then more surprises. Early in the set Judie throws in Enjoy The Ride and I soon realised that you don’t confine Ms Tzuke to the 70s. This one will be known to you as a huge song for Morcheeba in 2008, written by Tzuke and indeed she was the featured vocalist. Many of you knew. I didn’t!

When you go out to see an act like Judie Tzuke who has over 20 albums and a 40 year old body of work you usually find that you hear 15 songs from the first three records and maybe one or two more recent. Not so tonight. Many of the songs tonight are from her last few records and even a couple from an album out at the month’s end. 

This lady is a songwriter of the highest quality. The structure of song, the melodies and choruses, the introspective lyrics like Jackson Browne or Joni Mitchell; there’s a lot catharsis. 

I was particularly struck by So Emotional, Thunder, Midnight In London which Bette Midler felt was too personal to cover, her reworking of Rudyard Kipling’s If poem and The Ballad of Davey Graham. The latter tribute to legendary English guitarist of the sixties and added to a cover of John Martyn’s May You Never we were again feeling that 70s vibe in a 21st century way.

A massive shout out in all of this to her guitarist Chaz Thorogood. A virtuoso player given his moment on The Ballad of Davey Graham as well as a couple of his own songs that suggests he is to be investigated himself.

Also to T.I.G.Y. the name coming from Thoughts I Give You, a WhatsApp group name for singer Bailey Tzuke, her mother Judie (of course) and her other sister. T.I.G.Y. are Bailey and her husband the very talented Matthew Racher. The apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree and the Tzuke songwriting gift has been handed down. Their support set highlighted some fine songs and a debut CD worth seeking out (I did). Bailey also gave backing vocals throughout her mother’s set and Matthew some percussion. Those family harmonies were beautiful, Bailey filling out even wider her mum’s wonderful voice.

A wee note for Fitzroy too. My office (church) never sounded so good. The lightest touch of Matthew’s percussion clear as a shaker, Chaz’s guitar perfect and that sound of harmonies filling the place so gently… washing over… No beers precariously perched, clinking glasses or endless trips to the toilets… Sublime!


Killers Jan

photo: Janette Hughes


At one stage I thought I was in a Vision of Hell. 

It was only The Killers at Vital on the Boucher Road, about 4,500 steps from my front door.

The stories I had to tell… the blonde girl staring me out; helping a man roll of cigarette (what would Jesus do? and where were the police?); and being asked if I was a taxi driver, as I leaned against a fence without a car in sight! These are the funnies.

At times I felt frustrated, other times angry and occasionally fearful.

Now I have been going to live out door concerts since Chris De Burgh/Peter Frampton/Janis Ian at the RDS in 1983!!! This was not something out of my comfort zone - I thought. 

I mean I have been getting more and more of a grumpy old man in recent years but...

It begins with the need for alcohol (not me!). Many come already preloaded but the need for drink to enjoy the gig? I don’t understand. This causes a constant line of people walking through you to get to the bar or the toilets. 

Why would people spend £50 - £100 to go to gigs and shout at each other over the band. The entrance money could give you more food and drink money for a good restaurant or bar. 

I am left in total amazement as I watch some of the best music in the world being ignored and missed for a pint of cider. I mean The Killers in Belfast rocking it out to Teenage Kicks or covering The Smiths' Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before with Johnny Marr actually on guitar. And you were in the toilet?!?! WHAAAAAT!?!?!

The alcohol fuels a selfishness that then causes people to ruin the experience that others are having. If you don’t like The Killers enough that you are in the toilet while they play Teenage Kicks then you deserve to have wasted your ticket money but you have no rights to ruin the evening of a fan who has paid good money by standing in front of them and staring them out, asking them to roll a cigarette during their favourite song or just spilling the 4 pints over them that caused you to miss another song.

It comes down to a change in how we listen to and therefore appreciate music. I was there when Bruce Springsteen played Shane Castle to 100,000 people in 1985, 20,000 over capacity! I don’t remember anyone spoiling a song with drink or toilet breaks, just 100,000 people totally focused and going mad during Born To Run.

I was in the RDS Dublin for Self Aid in 1986. 3 band every hour for 12 hours and the crowd singing every single word of every single song. As I bluffed knowing the words to Christy Moore’s Back Home In Derry not one person was doing anything else but singing along.

Our relationship with music seems to have changed beyond recognition in those 35 years. Streaming among other huge shifts in the music industry and our culture has changed the respect a generation has for the song and the artist. 

When first support at the Killers, Cian Ducrot, told us he was number in the UK album charts I was dumbstruck. I had never heard of him. When Johnny Marr sang a song that had been in a movie the crowd around me went mad. It was a favourite but they’d never heard of Johnny Marr or the Smiths!

I am so grateful to have lived through a time when it was so important to almost all of us. Now, it is there in the background but we are more interested in a drink or a chat or annoying the person beside us. 

The artist deserves more. The fan deserves more. 

I did enjoy The Killers but there were so many things in the way of fully engaging. How lovely it was, just 22 hours after The Killers, to be in Mussenden Temple with just 80 well behaved fans, miles from a bar or toilets taking in every word and musical nuance of Duke Special. That’s how I’ll enjoy my music going forward.



photo: Bill Shaw


I have been listening to Wilco, and Jeff Tweedy’s previous band Uncle Tupelo for almost thirty years. When I knew they were playing Belfast I felt that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to say that I’d seen Jeff Tweedy. He is that influential. 

My problem was that my Wilco-mania peaked with Hotel Yankee Foxtrot twenty years ago. When a friend approached me in the Mandela Hall before the gig and said that he had first heard Wilco on my radio show I felt a little bit cool but I felt very uncool about what I knew in detail about their last number of records.

Well the good thing about Wilco is that you do not need to be au fait with their catalogue to appreciate their spectacular music. The awesome sound in the new Mandela Hall also helps. 

When Uncut suggests these guys are the “greatest America band” it is hard to argue. Early on there were two songs from last year’s Cruel Country, a double album of sprawling songs that focus on the country for America in Wilco’s more gentle groove of country.

It is almost Neil Young in that soon we have moved on to some of the most lengthy of guitar solos. Exquisite. Virtuoso. Near Freebird length guitar breaks. Soaring and sensationally good.

Neil Young is the man who released Harvest Moon straight after Ragged Glory. Tweedy must be influenced but Tweedy has a near pop sensibility layered in. My mate Paul turned to me after Hummingbird and said, “There’s a bit of John Lennon in there.” It was like 1967.

The band cover their 30 years. Box Full Of Letters had me reading my No Depression magazine as I listened in the mid 90s. 

I Am Trying To Break Tour Heart and I was there at the millennium’s turn as they started pushing the experimental envelope. T

Then California Stars surprised me into remembering Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg. 

Evicted gave us clues to Cousin that is released later in the month and in the encore they bounced us from the current Cruel Country on Falling Apart (Right Now) and back to Outtasite (Out Of Mind).

It was all utterly fabulous, making me regret my cursory listens in recent years and sending me back to rediscover the old Wilco that I loved so much. Cruel Country arrived on vinyl the next day and needs absorbing. Cousin is to come. There’s even a memoir to be read.