Noise Annoys: Ash end 2023 in style at the Ulster Hall, plus we shoot The Breeze with Malojian’s Stevie Scullion

Downpatrick indie rock trio Ash model the latest in glow-in-the-dark eyewear
Ash return to the Ulster Hall next week for their big Christmas homecoming gig (Steve Gullick)

HELLO and welcome to the final instalment of Noise Annoys before Christmas.

Here at NA Towers, the tree is now up, a number of Christmas presents have been purchased and Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart is in heavy rotation.

No doubt some of you will be hoping to find gig tickets (or at least print-outs of booking confirmations) in your stocking this year, and while a glut of great gigs have already been announced for 2024 - appointments with Drug Church, Bill Ryder Jones, The Stranglers, Jane Weaver, PJ Harvey, the Pixies, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Sting (don’t @ me) are already marked on the NA calendar - there are still some red letter rock and roll dates left in 2023, one of which arrives in just a couple of days’ time...

Gig of The Week

Ash, Brand New Friend, Wynona Bleach, December 19, Ulster Hall, Belfast
The poster for Ash at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on December 19 2024
Ash return to the Ulster Hall in Belfast next week

THREE Noise Annoys favourites on the same bill makes this show irresistible, even if it is on a Tuesday night.

There’s also the fact that Ash’s festive 30th anniversary fixture at the Ulster Hall last year was so much fun, with ‘special musical guests’-packed highlights including performances of Silver Surfer and Petrol with Barry and Boyd Backwater, Orpheus and Clones with Snow Patrol man Nathan Connolly, Teenage Kicks with Damian O’Neill on guitar and a well-oiled Jimmy Nesbitt singing, a Kung Fu cameo from Santa and snow bombs going off during There’s A Star.

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Having capped off their third decade in such memorable style, the Downpatrick trio have also enjoyed a great 2023 with the release of their excellent Top 20-troubling record Race The Night, songs from which will be elbowing their way into a hit-packed setlist for this imminent pre-Christmas homecoming.

It will be hard to top last year, but no doubt they’ll give it a damn good try.

Tickets via ulsterhall.co.uk

On The Record

ONWARDS we roll to a quick Q&A with Malojian man Stevie Scullion, who has a new band on the go: The Breeze have just released their excellent debut single The Whores of Life - a catchy, countrified rock and roll delight - and have a debut album in the can for release next year.

The men from The Breeze plot world domination while seated around a table at Madden's Bar in Belfast
The Breeze at Madden's Bar (Niall Taggart)

With their album, Thin Ground, available to pre-order now, Noise Annoys fired over a few pertinent Qs to Stevie about the band and their music...

How and why did the band come together?

I liked the idea of a project that was a proper band rather than any one person having more responsibility. It’s so much easier when there are three heads to make decisions rather than one.

Working on solo stuff there can be a lot of procrastinating and deliberating and it feels like a huge amount of energy gets wasted. This experience was the opposite.

Decky McManus had been playing drums in Malojian for a while and we’re also in another new band called Dead Goat, with Mark McKowski and Matt McGinn.

I’ve been working with Chris Coll for a few years now, trying to help him with recording and getting his music out. I really enjoy working with Decky and was telling Chris I thought it would be a good idea to try a day together in the studio just to see how we got on.

Chris picked the name. We were doing the usual rounds of rubbish band names when he came up with The Breeze. We all loved it right away.

His uncle Martin was a musician and he passed away just before we entered the studio for the first session. One of his favourite songs was Call Me The Breeze by JJ Cale.

I liked the idea of a project that was a proper band rather than any one person having more responsibility. It’s so much easier when there are three heads to make decisions rather than one

—  Stevie Scullion

Did you discuss what kind of sound you wanted or did it evolve naturally?

It was very natural. I think it surprised us how much it sounded like ‘a real band’ from the very first session. I remember us talking about that when we listened back.

I think we have a mutual respect and appreciation of each others musical sensibilities, so there’s a trust there which is a hugely important part of any collaboration.

How did you approach the songwriting?

The songwriting on this album was split equally between Chris and myself, with an additional instrumental track written by the three of us live in the studio.

We also have a few other co-writes that didn’t make this album, but more because of time constraints than anything else. They will hopefully be on album number two.

The hand-drawn cover of Thin Ground by The Breeze
The Breeze - Thin Ground

What was the experience of recording Thin Ground like?

It was really enjoyable and stress-free. We all have young families and other commitments, so the hardest part was getting time together.

We didn’t have very many sessions but came away with at least a couple of tracks from each one.

The album was recorded with the three of us playing live and then we overdubbed some additional instruments.

Towards the end we brought in keyboard wizard John McCullough. He added some magic dust with piano and organs. He’s unreal.

Have you played many shows?

We took on some ‘pub gigs’ to get tight as a band. I think it’s important to cut your teeth in a semi-hostile environment and it seems to have paid off.

We’ve played some theatre gigs and a couple of festivals and did a short tour of England in September. The reaction has been really positive so far.

Is there going to be another record by The Breeze?

Fingers crossed we’ll be heading back into the studio in the new year. Everything feels good with the band at the moment, so I don’t see why there won’t be multiple records, all being well.

What’s happening with Malojian?

Malojian is sort of on hiatus but I might release something soon. I’m always writing and recording and have made a few records since HUMM, but I haven’t felt like releasing anything.

The music industry is in a bit of a bad state and ‘releasing’ music doesn’t give me any satisfaction really. I get a big reward from the process of writing and recording.

I used to work in architecture and have been trying to combine my skills and knowledge to come up with a scheme which would build a support system for artists of any discipline.

Basically, providing artists with an income as a reward for their creative process, rather than focusing on capitalising on their art.

It’s proving a hard nut to crack.


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