The Vals, a six piece rock ensemble from northern Ireland, are bringing a bit of peace and love to London when they appear at the 100 Club on October 24th .  This follows the recent Amnesty International Concert held in Belfast where the band is based and was to mark the 30th Anniversary since the death of their hero John Lennon, who also would’ve been 70 last weekend. But spreading peace and love through music isn’t something that’s new to them.

Lead vocalist and guitarist for the band, Paul Doherty, explains

“Although we come from a place where there was a lot of trouble and bad things went on in the past, our generation are looking to put this to one side. I feel that music plays a key part in bringing people together.”

So in August 2008 the band The Vals organised their own peace and love music festival, the aptly named ValFest.  The aim was to bring all sections of the community together, focussing their attention on building a more positive place to live.  Joining the line up on stage was Henry McCullough (ex Paul McCartney’s band Wings) and Eric Bell (Founder member of the Irish band Thin Lizzy) along with a host of Belfast’s local talent.

ValFest created a lot of interest and even caught the attention of the well known peace and love activist, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono.  She was inspired so much by what the band had done she sent Paul a message.

“Hi Paul Docherty!  You will know now, by doing the Peace and Love Festival you are connected to all of us, the family of peace of the world.  Good for you.  Lots of Love Yoko”

Paul said the message came completely out of the blue “As you can imagine, we were totally surprised, but it made things all that more special that she had recognised what we were trying to do here.  A very special day it was indeed.”

Since that 2008 concert The Vals have gone from a 4 piece line up to a 6 piece,  made up of  lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Doherty, Matt Rice on keyboard, Ronnie Cartwright on guitar, Owen Duffy on bass, Marty Malone on drums and Jeremy Meaden on trumpet.  All members are from Belfast, apart from Jeremy, who comes from Australia.  Jeremy relocated there earlier this year after answering an advert to join the band.  

Musically they’ve been gaining a lot of interest and have already performed a live  session for BBC Radio One, supported Ocean Colour Scene, done a European tour playing alongside legend Jeff Beck and Hawkwind.  The have signed to the record label Electrique Mud, a subsidiary of Unique Records.  Their first single “Yesterday, Today” was released in February 2009, followed by an album “Sticks and Stones” in October 2009.  They are presently recording their new album.

In more recent times they have found their way onto the Mod circuit, playing alongside bands such as Secret Affair and performing at this year’s Mersea Island Scooter Rally in Essex, which is where I caught up with them and had the opportunity to experience some their explosive live performance.  You can definitely hear the sixties influence, but this is no surprise as both Paul and Ronnie are ardent Beatles fans whilst drummer Marty was a huge fan of The Who.  

“When I first started playing drums I had a kit in my attic at home.  So I used to bash away listening to “The Who live at Leeds” until I had mastered the well known Moon-esq style of playing!”  

Paul says he used to lock himself in his room until he was able to play a list of songs he loved, moving onto writing his own songs.  All the songs on their new album are penned by Paul.  Amazingly Paul has an uncanny vocal likeness to his hero John Lennon, a compliment he humbly accepts.  

“I don’t mind the comparisons at all.  I love it.  Since I was a kid I was always fascinated with John Lennon’s voice.  I can remember his songs being on in the background at home and mesmerised listening to his music and voice.  When I started writing songs and singing at home it just came out that way.  Not intentional at all.  It’s just the way I sound.  I am a massive fan of course so if I ever wanted to sound like someone, John Lennon would be top of the list for sure.”   So how does Paul feel about being asked to play at the 30th Anniversary of John Lennon’s death?  

“It’s a total honour, not only to be celebrating John Lennon’s life, but helping to highlight the work of Amnesty International and their campaign for human rights.  It’s a very important event and I am sure if John Lennon was alive he would be on the front line.”

Like Paul and Marty, Ronnie and Owen are also self taught musicians.  Matt and Jeremy are the only two members who have been formerly trained.  Matt has performed with orchestras and apart from being able to play piano, he also plays violin.  Jeremy studied music at University and was also in orchestras, but played in a jazz band before moving to Belfast earlier this year.  So playing with The Vals was a big change in musical direction for him.

Despite their obvious influences they have still managed to develop a distinct contemporary sound of their own, which will prevent them from being pigeon holed and allow them to have a much wider appeal.  

© Words – Val Weedon/ ZANI Media

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