The Answer light up a dreary London with an intimate show to launch “In This Land” as the first radio single from Solas.

There’s nothing quite like the promise of an intimate live music launch to warm up the thoughts of venturing out on an extremely wet and dreary Monday afternoon. The launch is that of the first radio single from Northern Irish rockers, The Answer, from their latest and critically acclaimed Solas album, a most appropriate title, as it means ‘Light’ in Gaelic, something that is in short supply today.

Secreted off a little Soho side street, the entrance to the private Phoenix Artist Club is by way of a marble staircase down into the underbelly of the Phoenix Theatre. With its cosy Vaudeville ambience, the venue – originally the theatre’s dressing and rehearsal rooms – is bathed in warm, subdued lighting, its walls adorned with signed photos of thespians and with posters from decades of theatre productions.

Following on from the end of last year’s sold-out joint headline tour with US band, The Dead Daisies, The Answer are currently in the middle of their eight-date ‘In This Land Tour’ and, luckily for those in attendance this evening, have organised a stop-off in London on their day off, having played at the Planet Rock Winter’s End Festival the previous day, and before heading off to the next day’s gig in Bristol. Further shows will follow in Cardiff, Southampton and Manchester, culminating in Nottingham on the 4th March.

The intimate show is to take place in a room no bigger than a living room off the main bar area. The room quickly fills up with invited guests as the lads from The Answer mingle, chatting freely with everyone. This is a low-key casual event, reminiscent of a family reunion.

Paul Anthony of Planet Rock Radio has the honour of introducing The Answer, explaining that the Solas album represents a shift in direction and that the band will be performing four tracks electro-acoustically. To big cheers, frontman, Cormac Neeson, tells the crowd how much he likes the venue and that if he lived in London he’d probably drink here every day. After discovering this wonderful London secret, many of the attendees are already making a mental note of the club as a future watering-hole.

The first song “Being Begotten” immediately entrances with its bluesy riff intro. It’s a haunting song, not just in its tune but also in the dark and despondent lyrics based on critical self-reflection and confusion. Cormac’s clear and mellow vocals, combined with harmonies in the choruses are beautifully touching, building to a glorious, anthemic finale.

With just a quick thank you to the loud applause, Cormac launches straight into the first verse of “Thief Of Light” singing acapella. His voice is powerful and breathtaking. This beautiful ballad builds to a rousing finish, perfectly showcasing Cormac’s impressive vocal range, tone and melody. Though quite sombre and brooding, it is triumphal lyrically, and the beauty of The Answer’s songs is that each and everyone is able to draw their own personal meaning from them.

Cormac quips that he’s “kinda nervous up here”, not that anyone would believe it when these guys have played in front of arena crowds whilst supporting the likes of AC/DC and Whitesnake on tour. He introduces the new radio single “In This Land”, which is to be released on the 17th March, St Patrick’s Day. “Like the true paddies we are, we kinda figured, you know, back home, it’s such a quiet and sensible affair, we thought we’d take advantage of the love and activity and slip a single out there … so, here’s hoping it works”, explains Cormac.

And work, it did. This is rock, influenced by their Celtic roots and Irish folk music – pure Irish gold. With its splendid mandolin intro, beautiful harmonies, stripped-back folky and slightly upbeat rhythm, the sound is highly commercial and radio friendly. Lyrically, the influences of their youth and culture growing up in Northern Ireland are brought to life, with references to such Irish heroes as Van Morrison, Alex Higgins and Rory Gallagher, alongside colourful regulars in their local pub, reminding the listener that a nation is made up of all types of characters.

Cormac has stated, “The song is about growing up in Northern Ireland and the sense of cultural identity that such an upbringing spawns. It’s a very colourful and wonderful place, at times contradictory, at times tragic but always unique and oh so memorable. It’s something we’re all very proud of; our little land has been responsible for its fair share of heroes, criminals and stars”.

“In This Land”, in its subject matter, quality of songwriting and musicianship, is every bit as good as one of the best-selling singles of all time, “Mull Of Kintyre” from Paul McCartney’s band, Wings; if only it had the same opportunity to be heard on mainstream national radio, as music categorised as ‘rock’ used to.

Introducing the last song of the twenty-minute set, “Battle Cry”, Cormac translates the Gaelic phrases into English for the audience: “This is the day my love arrives, This is the day, my warrior, my love”, and touchingly explains the song was written as a tribute to his son, who arrived prematurely and spent the first four months of his life in hospital “This is one for my son, he’s a little warrior .. this one is dedicated to all the warriors out there”. Clearly a deeply personal song, it begins as a ballad but soon develops into a more upbeat victory song with an anthemic chorus of celebration, finding hope and light from darkness and despair, triumph over adversity.

Sadly, as all good things come to an end, so does this totally absorbing and flawless twenty-minute set. The small audience raises the roof with tumultuous applause, each knowing that they’ve been part of something truly unique and special. That shared moment somehow makes the experience that much more intimate and memorable for everyone.

In the writing of the Solas album, The Answer have evolved, showing a maturity and sophistication not evident in their previous albums. They’ve taken a journey back to their Celtic roots for inspiration with music stripped back to the essentials where less is more. The songs’ poetic lyrics are reflective and honest, the lads having dug deep into their emotions, courageously opening their hearts, such that one feels privileged to be able to share such personal and raw emotions.

The music, especially the single “In This Land”, chosen for radio play release, sounds fresh and contemporary, perfect for mainstream audiences, whilst still with rock still at its heart.

It’s gigs like this that remind everyone how special it is to be up close and personal to a band. The arena performance can never substitute for looking the musician in the eye while sharing the emotions that connect one another, no matter where that person comes from.

It’s now ten years since the band’s decidedly rock debut album Rise. While Solas is taking The Answer in a different direction, only time will tell whether this is simply a quick flirt with their Irish roots and influences from which to relaunch their blues rock sound or if this really is a new direction for the boys. National Rock Review awaits the next album with anticipation.

The Answer
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Phoenix Artist Club
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Event Date: 27-FEB-2017