Monday, April 28, 2008

It’s 11.30pm on a Saturday night at the Windmill in Brixton, South London and the place is packed. On stage is a band from Belfast called the Panama Kings and the audience is singing along to their songs. Every so often you stumble across a rare commodity in the music world - something that is different that sets a band out from all of its peers. Back in 81 I first saw U2 and was immediately struck by the different sound they had and they way that they immediately captivated an audience, of whom the vast majority had probably never ever heard of them.

It’s taken a while for a band from across the Irish Sea (and in this case Northern Ireland) to capture my attention quite the way U2 did back then but Panama Kings seem to fit the bill. They are young, have their own particular style and don’t simply sound like every other band, writing some exceedingly good songs. The danger is that all the hype they are receiving across the water could ultimately prove to be their downfall if expectations fail to be met. But this is a band whose feet are solidly on the ground and seem to shun the attention of A&R men. They have a management team that will not push them too fast too soon and is happy to just let them get on with making and playing good music.

I chatted with Niall and Ricardo before they played. The last time we met they had just played a JD Unsigned gig and I gave them a lift back to Brick Lane after the show. Belfast is clearly a small place as people they mix with and know back home are familiar names to me via Greenbelt. Standing just to our left was a member of the Amazing Pilots, whilst back home they have duetted with Iain Archer and seem to know Steve Stockman quite well (although I suspect so does half of Belfast!). We talked about their rapid rise to success in Northern Ireland and how they coped with the accolades being given them, and the gig they had played the night before supporting the Undertones in Belfast. Ricardo had even heard of Michael McDermott and was aware he had just been on tour over here so clearly went up in my estimation!

We also talked about Greenbelt which they had heard about from friends back home. They presumed that it was too late to be considered for this year’s festival - so I said never presume anything - all things are possible. So I shall be making some hasty enquiries with the Greenbelt office to see if they might be interested in Belfast’s finest - I just hope they don’t immediately think I mean Snow Patrol (although Gary Lightfoot is another man to have sung with the band live).

And if you live in London, there’s a chance to see them again on Tuesday night at the Dublin Castle - should be on stage a bit earlier this time - probably 9pm.

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