Cormac Neeson, frontman of The Answer gives London a taster of the songs from his maiden solo album, White Feather.

When icy conditions and snow hit London the night of Cormac Neeson’s special gig to showcase the songs of his maiden solo album, White Feather, it’s a joy to arrive at The Islington, buzzing and packed to capacity. The album has been two years in the making, involving Cormac’s collaboration with some of Nashville’s finest and celebrated songwriters. With a setlist of songs he recorded in Nashville earlier this year with producer India Irie and Blue Miller, former guest guitarist with Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, Cormac has described tonight as “a bit of a quiet road test to make sure all is sounding great”. The recordings are ready to be mixed for the album release later this year.

Cormac is better known as vocalist and frontman of Co. Down’s hardworking rock band The Answer, together for 18 years. The end of 2016 saw a decisive change in their musical direction and fresh creativity with the release of Solas, an album which was seen as out of character with their previous albums. Returning to their Celtic roots and folk influences, the band made a quantum leap forward in maturity with a stunning richness in their material, musically and lyrically. In the months that followed, Solas became acclaimed as their best album yet. At the time, Cormac explained that their songwriting had become more introspective, authentic and contemplative as a result of personal events going on in their lives.

It seems that Solas remained unfinished business for Cormac, with him assuring The Answer fans that his solo album is a personal story, which he felt the need to write and share, a catharsis of his recent, personal experiences. In his pledge campaign update, Cormac describes his “new found freedom” as a “sneak peek through-the-looking-glass insight as to where I am at now musically, creatively and emotionally”.

Cormac has chosen a young, talent singer/songwriter to open for this intimate gig, 19-year-old Amy Montgomery from Co. Antrim. There has been quite a buzz about the talents of this young lady, having already received radio plays on Bob Harris’ Radio 6 Music show and BBC Northern Ireland, so many have arrived early to ensure they hear her set.

Amy, bare-footed, dressed in shimmering, sequined trousers and a floppy, wide-brimmed hat, looks every inch a hippy chick. Accompanied by just a guitarist and drummer, we are all immediately grabbed by the raw and husky melodic sound of Amy’s vocals. She has already been compared to Grace Slick and Janis Joplin, possibly because of the power of her voice, the free abandon with which she sings so naturally, as well as her bohemian look. Tonight, many of the songs could have been lesser-known songs of Fleetwood Mac and her gutsy, dreamy, melodic vocals are reminiscent of the legendary Stevie Nicks.

Taking us through the songs on her self-made EP Alterations (right down to the hand-painted CDs and sleeves themselves), many of the songs are clearly inspired by 60s folk and blues. From kicking off her set with the up-tempo “Constitution”, she has us hooked. As the songs slow down a gear, we are silenced, listening to her emotional lyrics and delivery, with those unique vocals at the fore throughout. The songs are catchy with memorable hooks. It won’t be long before she’ll have the crowd singing along with her. From the tremendous applause, cheers and gasps of delight at the end of each song, the crowd clearly loves this newfound talent. It’s always a risk to add a Led Zeppelin cover to your setlist when you’re a little-known artist. It can either make or break you, so many in the crowd must be feeling apprehensive as, for her penultimate song, Amy launches into “Trampled Underfoot”. We need not worry – Amy has this cover confidently adapted to her own signature style and thrills us with an impressive rendition of the song, making it her own. It’s times like this that you realise you’re listening to true talent and a future star.

After six stunning songs, though excited for Cormac to take to the stage, we are disappointed to hear that the next song, “Tree Song”, will be the last of her set. Amy has done herself and Cormac proud tonight and we are cheering loudly to show our appreciation. It’s certain that most of us will be checking out more about Amy Montgomery when we get home tonight and looking out for her future gigs.

We are all on a high by the time Paul Anthony, the presenter of Planet Rock radio, jumps onto the stage to introduce Cormac Neeson. Paul Anthony is a good friend of Cormac’s and has championed The Answer over many years.

Cormac takes to the stage with his four-piece band, looking a little overwhelmed by the raucous support from the crowd, telling us he’d been feeling rather nervous for this show. He explains how, on his first day in Nashville, along with Lisbee Stainton and Blue Miller, he wrote the song, “Whole Again”, that they were kind enough to let him take the lead and talk about his son, Dabhog’s first weeks spent fighting for his life in a Belfast hospital. This is one of two songs that many of us have already heard, offered as a free download with his pledge campaign, and this explanation only adds to the poignancy of the lyrics.

Throughout Cormac’s set, he is open and honest about the personal issues and traumas he has faced over recent years, which have compelled him to write the solo album, proving therapeutic and cathartic. In “Artefact”, “Do Something Today” and “Song That Lives Forever”, he sings not just of difficult times but also of being in ‘good zones’.

“Broken Wing”, a beautiful and tender song about his little boy, born prematurely and needing to undergo open-heart surgery, has us all holding back the tears. It’s a touching tribute to his son who fought through but also the words of a loving father assuring his son he’ll always be there for him, no matter how hard the going may be.

“Don’t Wait Up”, written “for all those who had to put up with my bullshit”, has with country music feel, a great chorus and the unmistakable vibe of The Answer in its upbeat tempo. Keeping the beat lively and another dimension added with keyboard and guitar solo breaks, “Baby What You Do To Me” perfectly showcases Cormac’s gritty, emotional and soulful vocals.

Cormac introduces the theme of the title track of the album “White Feather”, as being like a “kitten brought back from the brink of disaster”. It’s an acoustic song many of us have already heard a demo audio of, which he tonight dedicates to all the great people in his personal life who have helped him through recent times. It encapsulates the theme of the entire album, about darkness, sadness, and fear but also about hope and joyous celebration. With lyrics “always dark before the light”, it seems like a natural progression from the Solas album.

After a powerful, country music tinged version of the traditional gospel song “Sinnerman”, Cormac ends the set with another song that pulls on the heartstrings and stirs the emotions, “Look Down On Me”. The gig over, Cormac, humble as ever, thanks all there for not having walked away from him. With the songs he’s presented to us tonight, we would have been happy to repeat the entire set but, it’s getting late and we all want to end a memorable evening with a chat with Cormac in the bar.

Whilst Cormac doesn’t explain the story behind the title of the album, the songs correlate with the symbolism of finding a white feather – the ability to transcend and move beyond your mental barriers, to see the larger picture and understand what really matters. The songs confirm that you can go through darkness, yet still come out of the other side stronger for it and ready for whatever else life might throw at you.

The songs tonight are raw and real, born from total honesty, with Cormac baring his soul. Powerfully authentic, reflective and emotional, he deals with intimate feelings of sadness, frustration and dark times, seeking emotional refuge in the creativity of poetic songwriting. The result is a perfect illustration of how pain can produce the greatest of art.

Tonight, Cormac has demonstrated, not only what a talented songwriter he is, but also what a versatile vocalist he is with his incredible power, tone and range. The solo album looks set to be a great success and should take Cormac’s appeal way beyond the boundaries of rock music, opening his music up to a whole new audience.

It’s a guarantee that everyone at the venue tonight will now be waiting impatiently for White Feather to drop through the letterboxes.

Those wishing to pre-order the album can go to www.pledgemusic.com/projects/corman-neeson-white-feather.

Photos by Eric Duvet Photography.

Cormac Neeson
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Amy Montgomery
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The Islington
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Event Date: 27-Feb-2018