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This article was first published on CLUAS in Sept 1999

Relish 'Shaped on People' EP

May you relish at the prospect of Northern Irish Music...

One of the most warming musical revelations of the last few years has been the creative ascent of bands and artists from Northern Ireland. This has been made all the more striking by the remarkable artistic decline of much of the music south of the border. Apparently preoccupied with chasing the tail of the Celtic Tiger, too much music south of the border has descended into a spiritless vortex of boy bands, contrived saccharine pop and airbrushed trad, complete with Gucci dresses (and let's just agree to forget about the Cranberries?).

Photo of Northern Ireland band 'Relish'The result is quite clear - the true centre of musical gravity on this island has most definitely shifted from Dublin to the north (but, for the record, remains well clear of Dundalk, home to the poisoned pap of the Corrs). With Ash, David Holmes, Divine Comedy and Therapy, to name a few, the spirit of the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers lives on, albeit in an engaging variety of different genres. Hoping to join this respected list is Downpatrick act "Relish".

Signed to EMI, 'Relish' have just released their debut EP 'Shaped on People'. A confident and impressive showpiece, it sees them embrace a new musical territory for an Irish band. Often suggestive of Living Colour and Rochford, their tracks are also distinguished by smooth bass lines that would feel at home on a Massive Attack album and strong Beatlesque melodies à la 'Let it be'.

Part of this musical diversity can be traced to brothers Ken and Carl Papenfus, the band's guitarist and drummer respectively. Their parents were accomplished musicians on the South African jazz scene before they emigrated to Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Their sons' complementing voices bring a touch of soul to the tracks, but it is more streets of Harlem than Cypress Avenue.

Opening track 'Heart Shaped box' is very much rooted in the landscape of Living Colour - recurring riff motif, ride cymbal over the chorus, an overplayed hi-hat during the verses and what can only be called a strong soul vocal of the rock genre.

Similarly it was curious to hear the opening 15 seconds of third track 'Beautiful People' which sounded uncannily like Massive Attack. However, the drums and guitar riff soon break in and you remember that this is a band out to break an expectation or two.

Well-produced, each track on the EP is also a radio-friendly 4 minutes. My enlightened guess though is that the true market for this is not the rural Irish towns of Clonakilty or Tramore (where Relish are playing this week) but the freeways that criss-cross the US. I assume the record company is thinking that way too.

All in all not exactly my cup of Horlicks. However, given the choice, I'd rather wash a mug of this down than a thimbleful of anything on offer by Bewitched, Boyzone, Westlife, the Corrs, Cranberries... The list, unfortunately, goes on.

Eoghan O'Neill

(bullet) See also the CLUAS interview with Relish

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