THE SUN IS setting as Girls Names finish their set on Primavera Sound’s Vice Stage. Frontman Cathal Cully stalks offstage amid a hail of feedback, followed by drummer Neil Brogan, bassist Claire Miskimmin and guitarist Philip Quinn. Cathal sticks around to enjoy the free beer while the rest of the band load their gear onto a minibus waiting to take them to their hotel.
Just as they are about to set off, a tall, skinny stranger, who has just played a set on the adjacent stage, boards the bus. The band recognise him instantly and introduce themselves. “Oh, you’re Girls Names?” he says. “Everyone is talking about you guys!” The man is Bradford Cox, of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, one of American indie rock’s most iconic figures.
Considering that three-and-a-half years ago, Neil couldn’t play the drums, Claire had never played bass and Cathal had never even been in a band, the Girls Names’ tale is a remarkable success story.
YOU CAN LOOKdown on Parc del Forum from the plane as you approach El Prat airport, picking out the enormous solar panel right beside the sea and the triangular Auditori del Forum concert hall. The concrete-covered site is no less spectacular, albeit a bit brutalist, close up. Sharon Van Etten may call it “the ugliest place I have ever seen!” from the main stage, but it’s a dramatic place to spend a weekend watching music, and every May it’s thronged with tens of thousands of music obsessives from all over Europe. They come to hear the cream of the left field – from Wilco to Godflesh, Beach House to Iceage, The Cure to John Talabot. And Shellac. Every year, Shellac.
When I meet Girls Names at their hotel before their first shows of the weekend, they are in good spirits, wide-eyed about their palatial rooms, the huge meals they’ve just had and the novelty of seeing Christopher Owens from Girls sauntering through the foyer. After two weeks touring Europe in a cramped van, this is a taste of the good life.
“We saw loads of excellent bands on the first night,” says Claire. “Thee Oh Sees were amazing,” says Cathal. “Claire brought me to see Refused and I’m a convert. We saw Lower Dens as well, I was really excited about seeing them.”
With their moody, post-punk sound and releases on small but respected US and UK labels such as Slumberland, Tough Love and Captured Tracks, Girls Names sit well on a bill with these bands and even, as Cathal tentatively ventures, The Cure. They also have plenty of drive and initiative, from sending demos to Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks and ending up with their first EP release in 2010, to securing a spot on the Primavera Sound bill.
“We actually just emailed them and asked,” says Cathal. “Neil asked a band that was playing last year how you go about playing Primavera and they gave him the email address for the main organiser.”
“Within half an hour he came back with an offer,” says Neil. And how did you react? “What do you think?” he laughs. “Fucking hell! I sent that email without even expecting that we would get a reply – it’s a dream to play something like this.”
Tour manager Jim appears in the background – it’s time to get on the bus to the festival site. We all pile in and Cathal fills me in on how Girls Names went from nothing to playing one of the world’s best festivals in next to no time. He and Neil met through mutual friends – it never takes long in Belfast – and initially talked about forming a Beat Happening covers band. Soon after, a promoter friend needed a support band for a gig he was putting on and asked them to play.