Despite having surfaced briefly two or three years ago as part of Concerto For Constantine, JJ72 front man Mark Greaney seems, largely, to have been tucked under a rock since his childhood band’s sad demise. The split in 2006 came four years after their second album I To Sky, with fingers of blame largely pointed at record label Sony. The label are alleged to have retained the rights to the album, but refused to release it as it wasn’t ‘poppy’ enough. A few comments tonight make it clear that Greaney’s not quite over it yet, and frankly, who can fault him.
There’s no doubting, though, that JJ72 made a sufficient impact to still have their fans. If the JJ72 connection had been advertised earlier and a little more prominently tonight, we’d hazard a guess that The Workman’s Club would have been stuffed to the rafters. As it turned out, perhaps only 100 have braved the blizzard, the main aim being to indulge in a jot of nostalgia. Of course, the big JJ72 singles take pride of place: ‘October Swimmer’, ‘Algeria’, ‘Oxygen’ and that one that befits the weather are all given a tight airing, with Greaney arguing he’s nervous because “this is the first time I’ve played these songs properly in… well, ever”. We’re even given ‘Radio’ from that mythical third album.
These days, Greaney’s no longer the boy-ish charmer whose band were labeled ‘next big thing’ in the early part of the new century. Today he looks more like a member of his beloved Nirvana, and comes together with an able band featuring a former Idlewild member on guitars. Greaney’s voice has developed over the past years, and while he can still hit those prominent high notes, there’s a harsh, gravelly quality edging into the darker corners, too. The band, meanwhile, are extremely well knit for a group that was finalized only two weeks ago, and already comfortable enough to rock out during the instrumentals.
It’s not all about the JJ72 stuff, though. Not at all. Mark’s new tracks, efforts like the thundering ‘Hero, Hero’ and ‘Animal’, or slower, poppy efforts like ‘Together’, wouldn’t have sounded out of place quality wise on either of his bands two records. ‘Rubble Of Angels’ surpasses that: it’s a jarring, lyrically intelligent pop-rock song with serious chart potential. That’s not to say tonight’s without its flaws: Greaney’s acoustic performance of Howard Blake’s ‘Walking In The Air’ is aurally sublime but looks ridiculous, as the singer’s reading the lyrics from a sheet of paper on the floor between almost every line. Still, two weeks into a new venture, we can’t have it all.
What is immediately obvious is that while Greaney – who always came across as a sensitive soul – might not quite have discarded the daemons that accompanied the collapse of his teenage dream, he still has something genuinely special. Tonight he’s nervous, almost stuttering in his chat with the audience, and the band still has that metaphorical sign outside reading ‘under construction’. The signs fading almost by the song, though, and the genuinely affecting moments are far more than just fleeting. The old stuff, of course, is sublime, but – dare we say it – his new material might just be even better.
Photos: Kieran Frost.