The Vals: Retro pop rockers making waves in the mainstream

Sunday 8th November 2009

Tony Cummings caught up Paul Doherty of the Belfast mainstream outfit THE VALS

The Vals
The Vals

No one could claim that pop rock bands with a distinctly retro sound are a new phenomenon. What gives Belfast's The Vals a considerable start over all the other Oasis wannabes copping Beatles licks is that as well as their '60s colourings the band bring a considerable amount of originality to their sound. The Vals are clearly on the up. Their 'Sticks & Stones' album is getting good reviews and plenty of airplay while their songs, whether a ballad or a dance tune, convey a joyful intimacy which is thoroughly engaging. Cross Rhythms tracked down the band's lead singer Paul Doherty and began by asking him how much of an influence the Fab Four have been on The Vals' music.

"I'd say it's a big part of what we do, after all they where are heroes. The Beatles had smart little chord structures and melodies, we don't tend to copy but learn from what they did, it's a good template to work from. The Beatles were the first band that made me want to pick up an instrument and learn how to play and I think that is true for the rest of the band also. Hopefully more kids do this and learn an instrument rather than just buy the Beatles rock band game."

The Vals consist of Paul Doherty (vocals, guitar), Ronnie Cartwright (guitar), Marty Malone (drums), Matthew Rice (keys) and Owen Duffy (bass). Paul ran down the group's early history. "Owen and I had been friends since school and always wanted to start a band but we didn't really do much about it. One day years later Owen came knocking on my door and asked me did I want to join his band. Handy enough I had a lot of songs I had been writing at home, so we got together and started from there. We heard of this great drummer who lived close by who thought he was Keith Moon (Harvey Moon more like) so Owen went and told him he had to join and thankfully he did. I met Ronnie along the way who I knew was a great guitarist and Matt was a friend of a friend, he plays piano and brings a great deal to the band. We have also recently added Jeremy Meaden, a trumpet player, to the band to get as close to the songs on the album as we could. We are really happy with how the band is now sounding."

Paul naturally gravitated to being the band's chief songwriter. He commented, "I mostly just wrote songs in my bedroom so it was amazing to start playing them in front of audiences. It's all happened really quick for all of us, we are just enjoying the journey at the minute."

The Vals: Retro pop rockers making waves in the mainstream

Ever since their inception fans have been enquiring about The Vals' name. Paul, rather sheepishly, explained its origins. "After numerous hopeless attempts to find a cool name (believe me there was some bad ones) a friend came up with The Vals. We all liked it and it stuck. . . absolutely no meaning at all. Most think it's an ode to Val Doonegan, but it's not, ha. I think Owen had the two worst names for bands when we were looking at Lords Of Rhythm And Electric Blue. Enough said."

The Vals' singles and album have been released by Eletrique Mud. So how does a band from Belfast get signed to a German record company? He responded, "Through the wonder of MySpace. You put your songs on for all to hear and you never know who can listen. In our case Henry who owns Unique records dropped by one day and liked what he heard. From that now all sorts of amazing things have happened, we are very lucky indeed. We signed up to release two singles and an album and are enjoying every minute of it."

The recording of 'Sticks & Stones' has left Paul with plenty of vivid memories. "The album was recorded in three days (yes, three days folks) in Blacksheep Studios in Düsseldorf. Two of the songs from the album I wrote while there, one of those I think is the best song on the album. It was a great experience. I think the guys at the studio were shocked at our work rate and how much we got done in so little time, definitely no divas in the camp. A lot of long nights and early mornings but all good fun and worth the effort. Going away to a different country and recording was exciting and completely different for us, just a great time."

One of Paul's fondest memories is when they decided to put a horn section on some of the songs. Admitted the songwriter, "The hair was standing up on the back of our necks when they began playing with us. Just seeing how all the songs were progressing in the recording stage was fun. We are mostly a live band and we tried our best to let this come across on the album. Highlights include just finishing the album and going to Tino's, one the of the label guys, house for a BBQ on his terrace. It was a great night."

The Vals: Retro pop rockers making waves in the mainstream

Paul named his favourite songs on 'Sticks & Stones'. "I love 'Things Will Always Be The Same' because it was written when I was just sitting about the studio. It has a great feel to it and is different to everything else on there. We all enjoyed recording 'Too Many People', it's got soul and had us dancing around whenever we played it back. 'These Little Reasons' is another favourite because I had started recording that song at home on a little machine and we added some drums and a horn section to it which made it sound awesome. Overall I think for the time we took to record the album we can't complain with the results, it will always be remembered as a happy album to record."

Since being signed The Vals have played quite a few shows in England, Switzerland and more recently in Germany at the Haldern Pop Festival alongside the likes of Bon Iver, Little Boots and Athlete and next summer The Vals will be playing at several of the large festivals.

Paul suggested that one of the reasons why the critics are discerning such a positive vibe in The Vals' music is because of the group members' strong Christian faith. Said Paul, "We are all Christians and I suppose we all have an upbeat attitude towards life and all things. I hope this comes across when people come and see us or listen to us. We aim to put a smile on people's faces. There are too many things knocking around that bring people down, so why not try and raise spirits if we know we can?" CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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