Northern Ireland is an excellent place for music. It actually seems to go quite underappreciated, but some of the acts I’m about to mention are absolutely phenomenal. When you really do step back and look at the quality of some of these bands, it is a shame that a few aren’t together anymore.
Being in the Northern Irish music scene myself, I will try my best to avoid putting bands I know personally on here, just in case I forgot to mention some. That said, though, there is a new wave of newer bands and artists from Northern Ireland that you, without a doubt, need to look into. Support your local music scene, and you never know; you might just find your new favourite band.
Northern Irish Music: Stiff Little Fingers
You really can’t be in the Northern Irish music scene and not have come across Stiff Little Fingers at one point or another. At the time of writing this article, I just saw SLF last night for the 6th time, I believe. The albums Inflammable Material and Nobody’s Hero are enough to show why many people consider SLF THE go-to band. When it comes to punk, you will find that Northern Ireland does quite well.
With songs like Tin Soldiers, Suspect Device, Wasted Life, My Dark Places, and of course, the national anthem Alternative Ulster, it makes sense why this band means so much to so many people. They had come up during a time when this country was divided and needed someone (albeit a band) to have the guts to say, “You don’t speak for us. What’s happening here isn’t right and needs to change.” This alone should be a reason to go check them out.
Northern Irish Music: Lafaro
Lafaro may be one of the few bands on this list that you haven’t heard of —which is criminal, to be quite honest—. Their drummer Alan Lynn taught me drums for many years and is a good friend of mine to this day. I owe him tremendous credit regarding my music taste and knowledge.
Releasing two albums, a self-titled and my own favourite, Easy Meat, and an absolute boatload of gigging and touring, Lafaro is a band who really should’ve gotten the big break, so to speak. In all honesty, the Northern Irish music scene is lacking bands like them at the moment, which is no disrespect to it, but there was a time around 2010 when this place was just stacked with big dirty rock n roll bands. There still are some, but they are harder to find.
Northern Irish Music: Exhalers
Keeping it close to the Lafaro family, my good friend Mr Lynn has a new project where he plays the drums and everything else. I know I’m breaking my own rule of not including people I know, but Alan is one of the most hardworking people I know when it comes to music. From what I know, he released two full albums in one year, with the third on its way; this man is an absolute machine.
If you like Queens Of The Stone Age and just all-out hard rock stompers, I cannot egg you on enough to check out Exhalers. With them just about to start gigging, now would be the time to start looking into them. My own favourite tune would be Trial And Error, which is not a bad place to start.
Northern Irish Music: Ash
Another band from here who is just about unavoidable whether you like them or not, although if you don’t, I question your sanity. Ash is a band I had always heard of but never really listened to until I saw them opening for Foo Fighters at Slane Castle in 2015, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
They are a great live band, having seen them a handful of times apart from maybe the occasional technical issue, which isn’t their fault. Of course, I don’t have any bad things to say about them, and as I said, if you see them live and don’t go wild when they play Shining Light or Burn Baby Burn, I question your sanity.
Northern Irish Music: Ricky Warwick
Time for me to gush. This man is simply brilliant. If you look up rock n roll machine in the dictionary, there is a picture of Ricky Warwick.
He was one of the founding members of The Almighty. This phenomenal band will definitely have more fans once their back catalogue is fully released to streaming.
Yes, you read that right. Ricky Warwick fronted the most recent incarnation of Thin Lizzy and did a fantastic job standing beside the shoes of Phil Lynott, which I am sure was no easy task in itself, but he 100% would’ve made Phil Proud.
Black Star Riders
Today, Ricky Warwick is the driving force of Black Star Riders. The band is what the most recent incarnation of Thin Lizzy evolved into when the current members decided they wanted to start releasing new music. And let me tell you, if you are a Lizzy fan or just a rock fan in general and don’t know Black Star Riders, you are missing out.
And that’s not all. You would think that Rick Warwick’s various bands would be enough to keep Mr Warwick busy, but no. He also has his solo project, which you may not be surprised to find out is absolutely jam-packed with God-tier songs. I think I’ve seen Ricky Warwick altogether 9 times over the years between Lizzy, solo shows and BSR, and I’d genuinely never pass up the chance to see him live. Whether it’s an acoustic show or fully electric, you’re in for a night of whisky-soaked rock n roll either way.
Northern Irish Music: The Undertones
The Stiff Little Fingers show I was at last night had a stacked lineup, with Ricky Warwick opening and The Undertones as the main support. Now, I love The Undertones, but they aren’t a band I’ve kept up with very much. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be the same without Fergal Sharkey, so I thought the set was going to be good, and while it’d be good to hear the likes of Teenage Kicks live, I didn’t think I would have been jumping to see them again. Boy was I wrong.
They stole the show. I mean no disrespect to the lads, but for a band of that age, they put most young bands I see now to shame. And again, no disrespect to Fergal Sharkey, but Paul McLoone blew him out of the water as far as performance goes. To fans of the band, he was the voice, and few have pulled off finding a solid replacement.
Not to knock on any other members, but the singer, more often than not, is the centre of the show. That said, it probably puts tremendous pressure on the other guys to make sure they find THE guy. And I’m happy to report that The Undertones definitely did. I was just blown away, hearing so many songs from my childhood played just as well as they were recorded (if not better in some cases).
Also, every person should have the right to hear Teenage Kicks live at least once before they die —someone please make that law!— Seriously though, as much as I loved Stiff Little Fingers, last night they had their work cut out for them to have to follow The Undertones.
Northern Irish Music: Therapy?
I’m not going to beat about the bush; Therapy is the best band to come out of Northern Ireland. To me, they are who I compare every other band from here to, as wrong as that may or may not be. I have been fortunate enough to see and meet Therapy a few times. My favourite time was being in a small, sold-out 200-capacity venue in Dundalk, which to this day is still one of the sweatiest gigs I’ve been to.
Therapy, to me, is a true inspiration. Not only are they from Northern Ireland and have opened for the likes of Metallica (yes, seriously), they grew up about 15 minutes from where I live. Their book should be mandatory reading for any Northern Irish musician. The book has amazing insight into the music industry and tremendously covers many dos and don’ts.
Yes, they may not be as big as they were back in the 90s, but that doesn’t mean they have dipped in quality in any way, shape, or form. In fact, I would go as far as to say that their most recent album, Cleave, is just as good as Troublegum or Infernal Love. And the fact that they are a band who plays massive venues but still tour and make a career of it is something that in this day and age has to be significantly respected.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SCENE!!
To wrap this up, I just want to say one more time that it really doesn’t matter where you are from. Yes, these bands mostly make a living from music, but they (like all your other favourite bands) started as local bands. For me, these guys are all huge inspirations because they are walking proof that if you want to do it, where you’re from doesn’t matter. You just have to grind and work at it, then hope that you’re lucky enough that it pays off and you get the recognition you deserve.
There are so many great bands out there just waiting to be discovered. I can say that any form of acknowledgement, be it something as small as a liked post or actually going to a gig, is greatly appreciated. In short, if you’re a fan, support the smaller bands, and if you are in a small band, NEVER take the attitude that where you are from is going to be the deciding factor of whether you make something from music or not. Like anything else, hard work pays off.