In the past I have already discussed how music and arts in Belfast’s underground artistic scene influenced me and inspired me to start writing myself. Sadly enough, a lot of the bands I was friends with and attended gigs of, have split up. In the past, on this blog you have seen posts on the final pre-break-up release by Solemn Novena, and I cannot remember by heart if I already wrote an article on it, but The Messiah Syndrome (from Derry) were another great band (extremely loud and heavy but extremely intense) that broke up after having attended several gigs of them and chatting a lot with their guitar player. One time, a Messiah Syndrome gig in Derry forced me to spend the night on the streets of Derry waiting for next morning’s first train back to Belfast, where I lived at the time. Good memories.
Belfast, as rainy and windy it may get, is a city that is highly recommendable. The history, while not a pretty one, is unique, but people look to the future with a lot of hope. The artistic scene may be largely underground but is extremely exciting and diverse, with a lot of talened artists performing in the local alternative circuit. It is a very exciting place to be for arts lovers. It inspired me. Why tourists waste time in Dublin rather than heading north to the much more interesting city of Belfast, I will probably never understand. I can say however: I lived 2 years in the Northern Irish capital and had a great time overall.
One of the countless memories on Belfast I have is a band called The Black Tokens. The band, formed 2005 in Belfast, consisted of highly charismatic frontman Niall Graham on vocals, Paddy Steele and Stephen Hill on guitar, Stuart Murphy on bass, Michael Kent on drums. The band played what could be described as back-to-basics raw rock music, with loud intensive riffs, heavy pounding drums, and a vocalist screaming the energy out of his longs. You can recognise some old school rock in their music, a very raw but energetic rock sound. It sounds very recognisable but yet hard to tag. The typical vocals and highly energetic performance of Niall was an important attraction pole.
I first saw the band playing at Lavery’s Bunker (one of the most famous pubs and venues in Belfast) and was quite impressed with what I heard. One song stood out for me: "Another Little Lie". That song had it all. Raw angry vocals by Niall, heavy riffs on guitar building tension towards the chorus, pounding drums backing all that musical energy on the front of the stage, and a lyric that was actually very good. The song, Niall explained me, dealt with dictatorships such as Germany during the second world war.
A few months later the Tokens played Lavery’s again and I was there again. Niall still remembered me, and invited me to an afterparty in one of the followers’ homes. That party was as wild as the performance itself. In a (very classy) apartment in the famous Sandy Row (really, it is not as dangerous as some people claim it is !) we had lots of fun, some really absurd chats on very odd subjects, we laughed a lot with a Rambo film that happened to be on TV, and filled the evening with a typical Irish party atmosphere. Good memories.
Sadly, Niall left the band after a while and I have never had the chance to see them with their new vocalist as I had already moved on out of Ireland by then. A bit later, the news reached me via the web that The Black Tokens were no more.
I am not sure if their EPs are somewhere for sale, maybe only in very obscure Northern Irish record stores, maybe only the former band members have a few copies left. I hope the band won’t be forgotten and I was excited with pleasure when after many years I found out one of the band members (Paddy) had uploaded some Black Tokens era songs on his webpage. It felt great to hear the songs again, especially Another Little Lie.
You can find it here on his webpage at Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/paddysteele/another-little-lie
The Black Tokens are also on Last.fm even when obviously inactive: http://www.last.fm/music/The+Black+Tokens
It is great to hear these songs again, and with all the memories attached. Good Belfast memories. The Black Tokens could have made it big. Sadly enough, Northern Ireland’s vibrant musical scene is largely ignored by labels and record producers. The Black Tokens join the list of Solemn Novena, The Messiah Syndrome, The Fools, … : all talented Belfast based bands who deserved a much better fate than what became of them.