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SEAN MCGOWAN + BRAND NEW FRIEND
You can sum up the journey of Seán McGowan, the son of the smith, with the title of his first EP on Xtra Mile: Graft & Grief. Work and stress. Life at the anvil and hammer, bearing the brunt of life’s weight. Since 2009 he’s been at that grindstone, gathering stories and carving melodies while working late nights in bars between shows armed with just an acoustic guitar. Somehow the perpetual “new artist”, even as others adorned with that title come and go, and Seán is still at it allowing the songs to pour forth like the finest lager.
It wasn’t until he spent time (starting in 2015) touring with rum-fuelled punk-folk sextet and now-labelmates Skinny Lister – a riotous test of your touring mettle, however long you’ve been on the road – that Seán felt ready to tackle the hard work, to keep at his craft. It was the confidence boost and the inspiration he needed to plough into his songwriting and keep touring.
As Seán has travelled further and wider, he found his songs seem to resonate with people across the whole of the UK and even in places like Ireland and Germany. “You learn a lot about different places, see the similarities,” he says. “Everyone’s plight can be kinda similar.” And with songs like ‘Cuppa Tea’, ‘Porky Pies’, and ‘Mind the Gap’ springing from his debut album, that can only be a good thing for Seán, and for his listeners. “The current social political climate, I think it’s too hard to ignore now. People are looking for answers [or] they’re looking for an escape and I think that validates this sort of scene. It has a place in people’s day-to-day, you know?” And what that translates to is being on the road, gigging, meeting people, interacting, finding out where they’re from and what makes them tick. Seán’s building stories to be told. His songs are like siren calls, guiding people from their minimum-wage jobs to rock that will take them from their lives for a bit, or reflect it back to them, regardless of dialect or outlook. Songs about drinking and failing, incredible friendships, hating work, laughing at dickheads, shaking our heads at society’s apathy – we’ve all been there and they’re all here for us now.
“Making a living seems like light years away at the moment,” admits Seán. “Which is fine, but if this record allows me to travel and meet people, I just hope it’s something people can relate to, that’s always my aim to make me feel more secure in myself. It feels like I’m doing something worthwhile when I’m on tour, which is quite a necessary feeling we need as humans, innit.” We all have our craft, and Seán’s assured, passionate, lyrical grasp of where he’s at, where we’re all at, where he’s going and where we might all end up come the end of the day, is absolutely mint. There’s no denying his doubts were misplaced, and this McGowan could end up soundtracking our social conscience well into next year.
Watch the official music video for ‘Cuppa Tea’ below:
Brand New Friend have come further than they’d ever thought possible while brother and sister Taylor and Lauren Johnson dreamed and played in Castlerock, hanging off of Northern Ireland’s north coast. In just a few years, they’ve gone from Taylor receiving his first guitar for doing well in his GCSEs to signing with Xtra Mile Recordings and releasing their debut album. “Just the experience of playing in pubs with our mates, that was the dream to us,” says Taylor, a bundle of energy who can’t quite believe what’s happening despite being the chief motivator. “We never expected to write an album or go on real tours or sign a record deal, get management. To us, playing those small grungy gigs was just everything. Every second we’re able to do this and avoid real life is the best thing in the world. We’ll ride this ‘til the wheels come off!”
Seatbelts for Aeroplanes, their debut album, captures the live feel of their supernova pop with Taylor’s songs filtered through the musicianship around them. It also charts the rollercoaster journey of his first proper love. “Something you think is going to be incredible sometimes isn’t, but that isn’t the end of the world and you learn that,” he says. From the highs depicted in ‘Mediocre At Best’ and ‘I Hate It When You Have To Go’, to the harder times in ‘I Was An Astronaut’, ‘A&E’, ‘I Love You, Goodbye’ and ‘The Blame’, Taylor is happy to admit that the album’s journey is one “that happens to chronicle this period of my life which coincided with me growing up in all sorts of ways”. Songs may flare with vigor and abandon, but do more than skim the surface and you’ll find a depth of emotion here that Taylor, catapulted by the rest of the band, can’t help but exert.
The relatively sudden leap from tentative but tenacious two-piece to joyful power-pop played with precision and exhilaration has transformed Brand New Friend from hopeful chancer to impressive prospect. They channel raw feelings to music that connects, sounding so thoroughly themselves for all the world, and have only been at this for two years.
2018 has saw the band act as sole support for Snow Patrol on their Irish tour, Kodaline at the 5,500 capacity Custom House Square in Belfast, Reading and Leeds Festival, the Electric Picnic Main stage with Kendrick Lamar and Ash on their UK Tour…and this is only the beginning.
Watch the official music video for ‘Why Are You So Tired?’ below: