INTRODUCING THE NEW SOUND OF BELFAST, BLUES ROCKERS ‘THE 2:19’
FULL of the belief and swagger only a capital city can inspire, Belfast-based blues rockers THE 2:19 – a band of untapped potential – are fast becoming the sound of their city.
Following the success of 2021’s debut album, REVELATOR, this year’s follow up ‘We Will Get Through This,’ spent two months at number three on the UK IBBA album chart with the band also nominated for ‘Live Act of the Year’ in the NI Music Prize.
And listening to ‘Revelator,’ it’s hard to believe their origins lie in a low maintenance, perhaps even a low ambition, covers group.
“It was never my intention to play original music with any band, and I never thought I was capable of writing songs until Covid came along and one thing led to another,” explains founder and lead vocalist, Chris Chalmers.
“In January 2019, I started singing with a covers band. We had a gig in September of that year, which was quite near guitarist Paul Wilkinson’s home, so I invited him along to see us. Paul brought Marty Young (bass), and Marty’s brother Ady (guitar) with him.
“Paul approached me afterwards and suggested we form our own band together, and we put the idea of a no-frills Chicago type blues cover band to Marty, he agreed and brought Ady on board. It wasn’t until March of 2020 that we got Monty Sneddon to play drums. Then Covid arrived.
“Monty has played in numerous bands over the years, as we all have. He did a lot of session work in London in the late 90s and he’d played with Paul and Marty before, although I didn’t realise that when I first approached him.
“At some point in July 2020 somebody suggested booking into a studio to record a few songs from our set list of Blues standards. We agreed, as we couldn’t gig for the foreseeable future, and we were keen to play together since we had a shiny new band. Paul and I agreed it seemed a bit silly spending time, money and effort recording non-original songs so Paul said he’d try and come up with something for us to record – perhaps a single or maybe even an EP if it went well.
“Paul and I have known each other for about 10 years, and we’ve tried a few times to get a project off the ground, but it never quite worked. Around 15 years ago Paul was in a local band called Jackson Cage, with Marty on bass. I met Marty when the three of us tried to get some songs together, but my daughter came along shortly afterwards, and activity ceased.
“At this time, I realised Marty and I had lived about ten doors apart as kids and had even been in each other’s houses over 30 years earlier. Bizarrely we had played music together numerous times over the last few years before we figured this out.
“In early August 2020, I received a text from Paul with an attached audio file and message along the lines of, ‘This is a rough idea of a work in progress, let me know what you think.’ I plugged in my earphones and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I immediately contacted Paul and told him the song had to be the first track on an album and we would just have to write another 12 songs to join it, and the song was the opening title track of our first album, ‘Revelator.’
“Feeling inspired, a couple of days later I’d finished writing my first song, ‘Abandon Hope’, at the ripe old age of 38. Paul and I continued to swap ideas and about a week and a half after hearing ‘Revelator’ for the first time I went into a rehearsal room and recorded acoustic demos of nine songs on my phone, eight ending up on the album.
“At this stage we hadn’t told the rest of the band, or anyone else for that matter, that we were writing anything. I think Paul and I were unconvinced we’d come up with much, until we did. A month after the demo of ‘Revelator’. I contacted the rest of the band and asked if they would like to make a record.
“It was only a couple of weeks before we put the record out that we managed to agree on a band name, The 2:19. It’s a train that appears in a few old Blues songs, there’s also a Tom Waits song of the same name and we’re all big fans of his.”
So, after a lengthy apprenticeship, it would appear the band have potentially found the winning formula. But what is it?
“I’d say we’re lucky in that the musical chemistry between us is just there and we never have to try too hard at anything. We can’t really take credit for the sum of our parts, it’s just pure good luck. I am very proud of our music, we all have a lot of experience over the last 20, or in some cases, 30 years, and in this case we’ve just got lucky to have landed on something that works well.
“We played our first ever gig after just one month of getting together (pre-drums) in 2019 and it was just great, we knew we were onto something. I remember within seconds of playing the first song at our first ever rehearsal knowing something magical was happening. Having said all that, we do rehearse for three hours every week and we have done since the start, so there’s a bit of work involved also.”
As a snapshot of what THE 2:19 could achieve, their two albums deserve your attention. They are the sounds of a band still finding their feet – but find them they will. I suspect their true sound lies somewhere between the two. The immediacy, grit and defiance of ‘Revelator’ and dare I say the more polished, ‘We Will Get Through This.’
“I suppose the inspiration for our first album was the situation in which we all found ourselves in 2020/21. Between Covid, lockdowns, banana bread, shitty governments, George Floyd, the capitol riots at the White House, Brexit, and riots in Belfast over the Sea Border.
“The whole world just seemed to be on fire, and we wanted to take a snapshot of it. The plan was to try and make a contemporary Chicago Blues album set against the backdrop of a modern-day apocalypse, with the second album intended as more of a look to the future, uncertain as it may be.
“But to refer to ‘We Will Get Through This,’ as polished? God no, polished is certainly not a word in the band’s vocabulary and I would be disappointed to think that our music might suggest otherwise to some ears. There was no polishing or sanitising going on in the studio, even if we wanted to, I don’t think we would be capable.
“Furthermore, Michael the engineer is not that sort of guy, nor is it that sort of studio. ‘Broken Harmony Blues’ might sound somewhat pretty but that’s only because the band aren’t on it! Both albums were recorded, for the most part live, by the same band, with the same instruments, by the same engineer, in the same studio, with the same budget.
For the second album we were perhaps a little bit more rehearsed, economical, and measured in our arrangements, compared to the mess of noise, which was the first album, but nothing was cleaned up or polished after recording. The lads are just very talented musicians and we wanted to show we were capable of playing different styles, beyond simply churning out another noisy Blues album in the same vein as the first.”
‘Revelator,’ and the slightly more sophisticated ‘We Will Get Through This,’ are both available via the usual streaming services.
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