MATTHEW AND BANDMATES WITHIN REACH OF CD SLOT

AN up-and-coming local band fronted by a young Dromore man have seen off literally thousands of rivals to land within reach of sharing CD space with top artists including Carlos Santana and Lenny Kravitz.

The Dead Presidents have reached the final 12 in a competition to win a place for one of their songs on a new CD celebrating the late, great Jimi Hendrix, one of the local band's influences.

Bassist and vocalist Matthew Wilson (21) from Dromore, explained that the fledgling band - playing together only since July 2009 - were looking for ways to raise their profile when they spotted online a competition to contribute to 'The Hendrix Revolution', featuring songs influenced by the guitar legend.

"It's a CD featuring contemporary artists, with a space for one unknown, unsigned band," said Matthew, who started playing guitar at about age 11, but can't remember a time when he wasn't into music.

"We're the only band in Ireland and one of only two in the UK to get this far.

"We entered this competition in June and thought no more about it; at the start of August we received an email to tell us that we had been selected from over 10,000 entries to be part of the final 100; in fact they liked our song so much that they put it at the top of their mediaplayer on their website."

Matthew and bandmates, Tom Downey (18 year-old lead guitarist) and Anthony Stewart (20 year-old drummer) - both from Lisburn - later heard they had made it into the final 12.

"As Hendrix fans," said Matthew, "to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the man, let alone be featured on a CD bearing his name, is a great honour, and an affirmation that we're doing something right."

The Dead Presidents, whose influences range from Hendrix to Stevie Wonder, are described as a power-trio, peddling a unique, funky and soulful sound.

As bassist, Matthew says he wouldn't change instruments for the world. "When they first start out I think no-one knows what a bassist is, but when you come to form a band you end up with four lead guitarists. I have big hands and my guitar teachers steered me towards bass, but I wouldn't change it for the world; there are maybe more accolades for the lead guitarist, but bass is more what I'm about."

While The Dead Presidents is lead guitarist Tom's first band, drummer Anthony has played with the likes of Phil Coulter and is on-call drummer for Ulster Youth Jazz and the Ulster Youth Concert Orchestra, while Matthew played for years in a cover band, touring the UK and Europe.

"I did the whole cover band thing from the ages of about 17 to 20," said Matthew, "and it was good money, but not very rewarding; I wanted to start doing my own music and I was on an internet musician's forum when I saw this guy was looking for a bass player, singer and drummer; I could do the first two, so I got in touch. After that we gelled so well we did a gig just a month later.”

Between them The Dead Presidents’ members have played concert halls across North America and Europe as well as backing up the likes of Damien Dempsey, Thin Lizzy’s Brian Roberston and Eric Bell.

Matthew reckons they play funky, soulful rock “like nobody else”.

So why ‘The Dead Presidents’ (a reference to the past presidents appearing on American money). Said Matthew, “When you’re picking a name for band I think there are plenty of bad names but I don’t think there’s really any such thing as a good name; we just wanted something that sounded strong.

“In the end I think it’s the music that determines how good or bad a name will be; ‘The Beatles’ was a rubbish name for a band, but they had brilliant songs.”

Making a name for themselves on the local gigging circuit, from Belfast to the North Coast, The Dead Presidents play their first gig across the border this week, but the next big thing on their horizon comes on September 29, when they’ll be headlining at Auntie Annnie’s, Dublin Road, Belfast.