Saturday, November 24, 2018

VA - Belfast Beat Maritime Blues

Although Them was the only group from Belfast (indeed, the only group from Ireland) who made an international impact in the mid-1960s, there were several other bands from the area playing R&B-influenced rock. 27 tracks from nine such outfits (including a couple of songs by Them) are found on this compilation, the odd-looking title selected in honor of the Maritime Hotel where Them played shows and built their following. Taken as a whole, it's a solid and gutsy platter that makes a good case for Belfast having developed its own regional take on the British R&B sound, even if Them were clearly the best of the bunch by a football field. There's often (though not always) a sullen, nasty, lean edge to the vocals and arrangements, whether the material is R&B covers or originals that are thinly derivative of American R&B. The sandpaper vocals that Van Morrison used on his most aggressive performances (such as Them's debut single "Don't Start Crying Now," which kicks off the compilation), as well as the hungry-sounding guitars and sinister organ riffs that also characterized much of Them's discography, are all present to some degree in other artists on this anthology. That's especially true of the Wheels, who sound almost like Them themselves on "Road Block," with its "Mystic Eyes"-inspired guitar and organ. It and the magnificent, punky "Bad Little Woman" (covered by the Shadows of Knight in the US) have appeared several times on reissue collections of British Invasion rarities. Here, the sound is much better, although the other ten Wheels tracks on the album (including everything from their singles and five previously unreleased cuts) aren't on the same plane. (Indeed, with 12 of the 27 songs, the Wheels could almost be considered the featured artist here.) Much of the rest of the material is taken from a various artists LP from 1966, Ireland's Greatest Sounds: Five Top Groups from Belfast's Maritime Club, and those cuts sound thinner and less imposing than those of Them and the Wheels, though the Luvin' Kind's "Answers Please" is pretty tough blues-rock. The only other group here to put out a single under their own steam, in fact, is Moses K & the Prophets, represented by an obscure, not-so-hot Bert Berns tune (that Them connection again) reminiscent of the Drifters.

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