Article by Steven Donnelly
Featured image: VerseChorusVerse at STRPPD BCK 2-7
The Sunflower Bar is one of our favourite haunts and a gem lurking in the “North-West” quarter of the city. It’s a very intimate venue with an exciting atmosphere, housing friendly staff, lovely stone-baked pizzas cooking and craft drinks on tap. For me, it’s a place that encapsulates many elements of Belfast’s culture under one roof and welcomes everyone to the city.
The BLKSTF STRPPD BCK series of gigs have been resident at The Sunflower from 2015. It’s where some of the earliest Blackstaff Music Belfast gigs ran from when we fancied a break from the ear-splitting riffs let loose at Jamlive (RIP). The STRPPD BCK branding was adopted in 2016 and has become synonymous with the venue’s monthly calendar. Recently, the series has also found home at its sister venue, The American Bar in historic Sailortown which boasts a more authentic pub experience. This retrospective article is intended to catch up on our last 4 showcases and to highlight the singer-songwriter culture in the city and beyond. The showcases have accentuated its strength and ever-growing attraction on the scene, revealing a wealth of talent and the versatility of the acoustic instrument. We’ve hosted virtuosos and folk musicians, to hardcore acts taking their songs back to their roots with some renditions being truly awe-inspiring when given a new vessel of expression.
To date, we have run 13 shows in the last 15 months under the Strppd Bck moniker which have brought together artists from all over the island, The United States of America and Canada! Our posters pay tribute to the number of acts we’ve brought to that stage from Whale Talk and Emer Maguire to horror punks SLUTS Stripped Bare and even our own bands. We have collaborated with UK-wide campaigns including Independent Venue Week and local activist causes such as #SaveTheSunflower when the venue was under threat from planning proposals linked to the new Ulster University campus. This doesn’t include the final episodes of series 2, associated EP and single launches linked to the branding which are yet to be announced for the remaining months of 2017!
STRPPD BCK 2-4 took us to the first time we visited The American Bar. We hosted local garage band The Bell Diver Spiders, Canadian-born songsmith The Mad Dalton and self-proclaimed sadpop act Brash Isaac. The Mad Dalton even used it to give us an exclusive preview of his new album! It was a refreshing change of scenery which enabled us to cover more ground with the branding and reach a new audience. It is nice to see more traffic reaching and events hosted in the venue since it was taken over by the folk behind The Sunflower Bar. We return to The American in September for a special charity event [details TBA].
Imagining calendar pages tearing off in cinematic fashion, we found ourselves suddenly realising that we were deep into this series reaching episodes 5, 6 and 7 with pride. This doesn’t include the plethora of events we through in-between. We like to keep ourselves busy, y’know? On the 17th June, we released our local music publication Treason Magazine (find the latest issue here) to the masses and our website. It was a project that took a long time to develop the infrastructure for, but with determination, we made it work. These episodes saw some of our most diverse bills yet. Days later, we hosted guitar virtuoso and local fingerstyle king Gavin Ferris alongside soundscape shift-shaper James Downey, and singer-songwriters Greg McMullan and Bovine Haiku. One of our favourite sets ever was performed by James who sent the audience of The Sunflower on a journey across an ethereal sea. James has some special news to announce on 1st September – keep yer eyes peeled!
July brought an unexpected visitor in the shape of Miami’s Nosy Mangable. We received an email from our good friend Joby Fox about a little band armed with Ukes and harmonicas looking a show to end their European Tour, and by coincidence, we were available to help. The whimsical pop quartet brought a very eccentric soundtrack to The Sunflower with their jazz stylings, creative tangents, and their smooth harmonies. The bill was completed by Derry (“Durry”) newcomers Whiskey Fist, Stuart Lunn of Chase the River, Karl Devlin summoning the spirit of Robert Johnson, and dynamic duo Cipasso (including members John Quinn, and Luke O’Neill of psychedelic rockers Buffalos Bay).
The most recent episode, STRPPD BCK 2-7, put us in contact with Mr Tony Wright or more commonly known as the excellent VerseChorusVerse. Sean and I sat in awe during his headline set, with a strong local wit and anecdotes aplenty accompanying captivating songwriting left the sold-out Sunflower on the edge of their seat. Heck, even Coleraine got a mention! Tony was joined by Ryne Timken from Fort Hays, Kansas who performed a series of self-penned tunes and songs by his father, Tower’s frontman Dan Zanker Ovalle channeling a more Columbian-esque feel to his songwriting away from his normal progressive hardcore stylings, and Sleeping Outside bassist Adam Moore who took the set diligently by the cajones after his band mates decided not to show up. His solo career began here, folks!
Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing a variety of shows linked to STRPPD BCK including the remaining episodes of series 2. It’s been an incredible year for BLKSTF and for STRPPD BCK. Thank you to all the acts who’ve performed with us so far and to everyone who has supported the events. Keep bringing us your stories and your ears. We are forever grateful. Keep those eyes peeled.
Check out our slideshow below show a selection of photos from the events. Visit our FLICKR for all images.
This article is part of a 3 part retrospective series. The next article will be published Saturday, discussing the last three BLKSTF X VOODOO shows incorporating Deathbus + guests, the Central Cities EP Launch, and the mighty VOODOOM 2!