In 2009, at a weekly blues session at Morrison’s bar in Belfast, three young musicians met for the first time, Lonesome Chris Todd (guitars/vocal) from Ballyclare, County Antrim, Richard J. Hodgen (drums/washboard) and Dave Thompson (bass/ukulele bass) both from Bangor, County Down. Before long, the trio became The HardChargers and an exciting new chapter in Northern Ireland’s long history as a cauldron of energy and innovation at the furthest edge of the British Isles’ blues experience began. Long before the troubles fuelled the anger of Punk, Belfast was known for its blues.

From Ottilie Patterson, the pioneering blues-wailing Comber, County Down, sensation in Chris Barber’s band in the 1950s through Them, featuring the vocals of Van Morrison and the guitar of Billy Harrison, at the forefront of the Belfast’s Maritime club scene in the 60s; Rory Gallagher’s Taste, who were based in Bangor at the end of that decade and into the 70s, with home-grown icons like pianist Jim Daly, vocalist Kenny McDowell and guitarist Ronnie Greer keeping the blues flag flying at Belfast’s legendary Pound club; through the 80s and 90s and beyond with the likes of blues harp wizard Billy Boy Miskimmin, hailing from Belfast but serving time with The Yardbirds and Nine Below Zero; and onto the modern age with Monaghan based guitar/vocalist Graínne Duffy, and powerhouse Punk/Blues  duo the Bonnevilles forging their own paths; to the growth of blues festivals in the North,  and a bar scene awash with 60s survivors and rock-blues cover bands. The North of Ireland has long had the blues – from its hat down to its shoes.

The HardChargers have always been ‘out-of-towners’, both a part of that scene and single-mindedly outside it so they simply got on with forging their own path. That path has led to an annual itinerary of 80–90 gigs a year the length and breadth of Ireland since 2012, with routine repeat bookings and four self-released singles and EPs prior to the nationally released debut album Scarecrow in Autumn 2017. They have been repeat guests at numerous Irish festivals including Monaghan’s Harvest Time Blues Festival, the Open House Festival, based in Bangor/Belfast , Wicklow’s Knockanstockan Festival, and opening for cross genre artists such as The Waterboys,  Alabama 3 and Hayseed Dixie at shows in some of Northern Ireland’s biggest venues along the way.

Eschewing the standard covers, The HardChargers are a trio steeped in inspiration from the greats of the pre-electric blues – Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White and Willie Brown, to the pioneers of electric blues such as Lightnin Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Frankie Lee Simms. Their live set is an electrifying reimagining of all of the above,  delivered with a hitherto unknown power, with a musical language exquisitely refined from all of Blues/Roots and Rock history since.

Lonesome Chris Todd: ‘There’s a kind of blues orthodoxy in Belfast that comes from that “golden age” in the 60s – and partly, we’ve reacted against that, insofar as we believed that the Blues was a living breathing art form for decades before and the decades since the British and Irish R&B boom of the 1960s. I think we felt that many people were becoming so misty-eyed over this one “golden age” that they were in danger of ignoring the brilliance found at the roots of the music in several other “golden ages” whilst also discouraging originality. We thought there was still room for more re-invention of the wheel and I’m glad we’ve stayed true to that.

‘I was born in 1980, so whilst I’ve had the privilege of seeing and learning first-hand from the likes of Jim Armstrong and Billy Harrison [both ex-Them], and hearing the same Rory Gallagher records that everyone in Ireland is rightly proud of, I also spent my teenage years listening to as many of the American Blues artists as I could find from the recordings of the 1920s right up through every decade to artists who sprung from the 1980s Blues and Roots/Rock revival spearheaded by bands like The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Blasters and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Through the history of this music there have been outsiders and underdogs in their own time and, funnily enough, The HardChargers have kind of had that experience within the blues world in our time! We have found the space beneath the underdog – it can be frustrating, but it makes you stronger!’

Comparable to The Who for their free-wheeling, telepathic interplay and high-energy live performances, each member – Richard, Dave and Chris – are crucial to The HardChargers’ sound. While festival stages provide the band with opportunities to play all-original sets, catching one of the band’s two-hour plus barroom gigs will typically feature two-thirds original material and one third covers. As if to underline their commitment to a huge breadth of Roots music styles, many of the covers are twangy up tempo instrumentals by the likes of Lonnie Mack, Dick Dale and Roy Buchanan, allowing the band to take audiences on a journey from Mississippi Juke Joints to Chicago Taverns to Texas Roadhouses and more within the space of a performance.

Richard J. Hodgen: ‘There’s equal parts love and anger in our music – and the love always wins! We started out playing a set of Blues/Rock covers, while avoiding anything that had been done to death but we really came into our own when we began composing original songs. Never one to be a fan of the norm,  I needed to inject a groove, a power, to what we call standard blues. I don’t play like a blues drummer, because I’m not a blues drummer. I bring to those songs a hypnotic groove, a rhythmical counterpoint of a solid ‘four to the floor’ with my feet, to the syncopated hand rhythms on the washboard or snare depending on the song. It’s been described as ‘live techno’ when heard in isolation... You could call it ‘hillbilly house’ or ‘techno roots’, Luckily, no one needs a name for it just yet– they just respond to the rhythm and then the melody carries them away.’

Following years of doing just about as much as any band can do without leaving Ireland, the first half of 2017 had to be a sabbatical for the band ahead of the Autumn release of the album Scarecrow.

With Scarecrow’s national UK release, The HardChargers are focused now on getting the word out beyond Ireland and taking their hugely distinctive, exhilarating brand of the blues on the road in Europe and beyond.

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