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Derry indie act Ports are upping their Game

Ports – the Derry band formerly known as Little Bear – are releasing a new single and embarking on an Irish tour. Frontman Steven McCool talks to Brian Campbell about getting compared to U2 and once having Hozier as their support act

Ports play Derry on September 26 and Belfast on October 2

WHAT's in a name? Quite a lot, it seems, when you're a band on the up and you have to come up with a new name for legal reasons – hence Derry indie act Little Bear now going under the moniker Ports.

The band got going in earnest in 2013 and had a pretty phenomenal year. They stepped in to take a key slot at the Other Voices concerts in Derry after Two Door Cinema Club pulled out, they played a couple of gigs with a young singer called Hozier as their support act and put out a string of great songs, among them Killer, The Night Dries Like Ink, I'd Let You Win and The Devil is a Songbird.

Then the band – Steven McCool, Ryan Griffiths, Conor Mason and Mark O'Doherty – discovered that they'd have to come up with a new name.

“We found out that Little Bear was trademarked in the States. It's a cartoon that used to be on years ago,” explains frontman McCool. “We were invited to go out and do a songwriting thing in Nashville and we were basically told that we wouldn't be able to sell any merchandise because of the name. So the name change has really knocked us back. We've basically had to start from the bottom again and work back up.

“Choosing a band name is one of the hardest things you could ever do. Ports just seemed to fit. Our music's very nautical and then Derry's a port and it just stuck. A lot of fans weren't convinced, but gradually we're bringing people back in.”

The band are currently working on a new EP, they're planning to release their debut album early next year and they embark on a six-date Irish tour, starting in Dublin on September 25 and then taking in Derry, Galway, Belfast and Cork.

Among the new songs fans will hear at the gigs is the epic and dreamy new single Gameplay. So is that song an indicator of how the album will sound?

“It is a slight indicator, I suppose,” says McCool. “There is a change in the sound – maybe not 'electronic' but a bit more soundscapey. There are a few of the old songs on there too.”

The album will be named after the track The Devil is a Songbird.

“We did a tour with [English singer-songwriter] John Smith and he said to me, 'The lyrics and the name of that song are brilliant; you should name your album that'. So we did.”

You could say that one of Ports/Little Bear's big claims to fame was having Hozier support them at two gigs in Belfast and Derry in October 2013.

“It's mad to think about it. We did a show in the Nerve Centre and the next day his song went viral on [social networking site] Reddit. I had heard his stuff online and thought it was really good and the next minute it all just took off.

“He's a lovely guy and he really deserves all his success. He wouldn't even take any money off us. We hung about with him a lot and chatted away and he left us a big letter. He just thanked us and said he had a great time. It was a really thoughtful letter.”

McCool laughs about the Irish News Q&A with Australian writer and wit Kathy Lette last month, in which she declared Ports “a wild and wonderful band” who she predicts “will be the next U2”.

“That was so random, but then we were chatting away with her on Twitter. She's hilarious. Maybe she mixed us up with Hozier,” he laughs.

:: Ports play the Echo Echo dance studio in Derry on Saturday September 26 and the Black Box in Belfast on Friday October 2. The single Gameplay will be released on October 12. For all tour dates, see Facebook.com/portsband.

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