Cherym: Derry Girls making fizzing pop-punk jewels

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you'll see opening the bill for your favourite bands. This week, the Northern Irish trio Cherym chat their local scene and why being women in a band is not a political statement

The members of Cherym had grown up in each other’s shadows, but it took the dream of starting a band for their lives to finally intertwine. Guitarist and vocalist Hannah Richardson, bassist Nyree Porter and drummer Alannagh Doherty had all lived within ten minutes of each other as kids in Derry, so when punk-loving Richardson decided to translate her passion into starting her own band, she didn’t have to look far to find the right people.

“We were the only couple of people that played music in the school, we were the only people that took it seriously,” Richardson says now, referring to herself and Porter. “But you were never there! You were always dobbing school,” Porter snaps back, before all three collapse into laughter. “That’s true,” Richardson replies, before pinballing off at warp speed into a manic stream of consciousness about her favourite bands.

Credit: Nance Hall

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The infectiousness and enthusiasm that Cherym have in person is only exceeded by the jubilation of their early singles. ‘Kisses on My Cards’ is a snarling, fizzing pop-punk jewel that lands somewhere between Bikini Kill and Yuck, while ‘Listening to My Head’ is anthemic, a rooftop power-chord call-to-arms. The whirlwind of energy that they harness took some time to develop, though.

“There was no direction at all for the band when we started,” says Richardson. “It was all just, ‘Let’s make noise and see what comes out’.” It speaks to the eclectic tastes of the three musicians that they have arrived at such a confident and coherent sound so quickly; Doherty brings the heavy element with her love of Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot, Richardson throws in the off-kilter melodic rock of Charly Bliss and Pixies, while Porter adds a certain wildcard element. “I like country,” she says. “I went to see Shania Twain and she was fucking class. Best concert I’ve ever been to.”

As well as an ear for a killer pop melody and a knack for a vocal harmony earworm, they also write in their own voice, as on ‘Abigail’, an uncomplicated song about a lost romance. “I don’t think we try to write metaphors, we just say it as it is,” says Richardson. “We write about the ones that we love,” Porter adds. “And we write about the ones we wish would fucking drop dead, just wee stuff like that.”

They are used by now to being treated by the outside world as somehow unusual for being a guitar band comprised entirely of women, an industry-wide problem that paradoxically played a part in the band’s very formation. “The initial idea behind Cherym was to be a nice, creative hub for women,” says Richardson. “In Derry at the time, it was all fellas, all boys in bands and it was a bit of a sickener. I think the dynamic changes in bands with guys. I just had this idea that I would love to play in a band with other girls and that it would be so much more beneficial to how I write, it could just be a really cool, wee creative, safe space.”

Early reviews of the band have often misguidedly labelled them as politically-motivated as a result, despite the fact that they have rarely if ever written songs on the subject. “It’s weird to me that you would look at girls on stage and think they’re trying to send a message, just because they’re women,” says Richardson. “Even though we are all extremely tuned in politically and we would all consider ourselves feminists outside of the band, we’ve never really brought that into the music.”

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After finally settling on the current line-up at the start of 2019, the trio have been steadily amassing a following in Northern Ireland, playing to larger and larger crowds and being nominated for multiple awards at the Northern Ireland Music Prize. The endlessly fertile music scene of the region, which continues to be one of the most overlooked in the U.K., relies on a tight-knit community of devoted and selfless individuals and independent organisations to thrive. “Everybody knows each other and has connections,” says Doherty. “Everyone has the same interests, it is such a nice wee community to be part of.”

Credit: Nance Hall

“I do feel like the Northern Ireland music scene definitely lacks representation,” says Richardson. They point to New Pagans and Roe as standout names in the scene, while Porter has a theory as to why the spaces for young artists might be so limited: “There are bands from the 80s who are making comebacks and their music is shite now. You’ve done your time, give the fucking younger generation a go now. Fucking enjoy your retirement, seriously!”

No nostalgia revival show is going to stand in Cherym’s way though. With their first EP due out on Alcopop! Records in October and a return to live shows imminent, the Derry girls are ready to take on the world.

Cherym’s ‘Listening To My Head’ is out now

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