Maria Doyle looks at NI Unplugged for The Monthly

With practically every form of habitual human activity suspended for three months and counting, and reconvening happening at a slow, measured and tentative pace, laced with self-doubt, it seems all the more notable and impressive that a completely homegrown album containing no less than 51 Northern Irish artists was released during May 2020. With all contributors adhering to rules on social distancing, and recording at home where possible, inception to release date took only four weeks. Each song is a unique acoustic version of an original song by a notable NI artist and the variety within spans many different genres.

The idea for the album was that of Caitlin Palmer, singer and bass player with hard working and touring NI band, “No Matter”, and a design artist in her own right. The simple, yet striking, album cover design was also down to Caitlin’s other side project, Artwork by Catface. The image depicts a well worn armchair surrounded by trinkets depicting all the ‘niconography’. The plant pots reflect the Giants Causeway, images of the H&W Cranes, the Big Fish and the Mussenden Temple are stickers on the guitar and the cushion reflects the Dark Hedges. This was clearly designed to reinforce the ‘home vibe’:

When things got a little overwhelming for Caitlin, spending much of her time on the administration side of the project generated by having so many artists involved and still holding down her main job, expert producer, Rocky O’Reilly of Start Together Studios Belfast donated his time to master and polish the compilation.

Rocky has an illustrious career, progressing from playing in bands himself to producing great records with artists such as TOUTS, Queen Zee and seminal post-rock band, And So I Watch You From Afar. His recent work with The Wood Burning Savages won the Northern Irish Music Prize in 2018, and he has recently diversified into writing with other collaborators in varied genres.

Edwin McFee who has covered the music scene North and South for Hot Press, described it as “an album that anyone with even a shred of interest in home-grown artists should purchase pronto”.

All proceeds from sales of this album will be donated to Help Musicians NI, a regional branch of an independent charity set up in Glasgow in 1930 originally as a benevolent fund to help struggling classical musicians. Housed in Belfast’s Oh Yeah Centre, the organisation works to respond to the ever-changing needs of the local music scene, as well as to support local emerging talent and assisting musicians and more seasoned performers through various creative funding opportunities and welfare support.

Caitlin Palmer

How can we support the album?

The album is available exclusively on Bandcamp, but donations can be made directly to Help Musicians NI and as Caitlin stresses, all funds raised in Northern Ireland, stay within Northern Ireland. They help so many local projects at the best of times, but now they are needed more than ever as the music industry is going to suffer immensely from COVID 19 for a long time to come.

A link to listen to the compilation has been included below, along with the project’s website which contains information pages on every artist involved and more about the project.  (Towards the end of the 90s and into the early 2000s, a series of compilation albums named Belfest were released displaying a seriously broad range of styles.  One such was a track called My Last Girlfriend, by a little known act called Snow Patrol, it shows what a throw of the dice in the art matrix can do..)

Listen/Support here – https://niunplugged.bandcamp.com/ 
Website – https://niunplugged.wixsite.com/album  
Social media – https://www.facebook.com/niunplugged

If you are interested in any of the musicians on the compilation, their information can be found on this site to contact them directly, or you can contact Caitlin and she will point you in the right direction!

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TEL: (Josh) +44(0)7735732741 – (Steven) +44(0)7929708710
EMAIL: info@capartscentre.com

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.