From Bertha’s Bar to Ulster Hall, Castlerock brother and sister rocking up a storm

The band on their most recent tour ' Aaron, Lauren, Luke and Taylor, with manager Phil McAlister (far right) and tech Chris Harris (red shirt)
The band on their most recent tour ' Aaron, Lauren, Luke and Taylor, with manager Phil McAlister (far right) and tech Chris Harris (red shirt)

Having started out playing gigs in the bar at the end of their street, a brother and sister from Castlerock are now part of one of the Province’s most in-demand bands.

Brand New Friend – a band which was started by siblings Taylor and Lauren Johnston just two years ago – supported Snow Patrol on their recent Irish tour, and are set for a host of gigs at some of this summer’s top music festivals.

Lead singer and guitarist Taylor, 23, said: “Bertha’s Bar is where we played our first gig – it’s literally at the end of our street in Castlerock.

“Our mates came to see us and it was good craic. That’s all we ever thought it would be.

“So when the mad gigs started coming in and we cut a record deal it really was a shock to everyone’s system.”

On Sunday night Brand New Friend played to a packed Ulster Hall as support to Snow Patrol on their return to the live music scene after a seven-year absence.

Sister and brother Lauren and Taylor Johnston

Sister and brother Lauren and Taylor Johnston

Taylor said: “Even though we were playing in the sold-out Ulster Hall there was no pressure on us. By just being there we’re doing far better than anyone had dreamed of. Beyond playing Bertha’s Bar everything is bonus to us.”

Taylor and his sister Lauren, 20, who performs vocal and keyboard duties for the band, are former pupils of Slemish College in Ballymena, where Taylor was head boy and Lauren deputy head girl.

The band’s drummer Luke Harris, 19, and bassist Aaron Milligan, 21, are ex-students at Wellington College.

Taylor said: “We’ve all had to quit our jobs because we’ve been touring so much. Aaron had to sell his car to finance the tour. Lauren has managed to stay on at uni which is amazing. She is doing an English Literature degree at Queen’s.”

He explained the special relationship he has with his sister: “Lauren and I have always got on really well. It might be something to do with growing up somewhere so remote as Castlerock. There weren’t that many younger people to play with.

“We would have kicked a football about together, gone to the beach together. When it came to forming a band she was much more talented than I am so I’m just lucky she let me join her.

“I wasn’t particularly bright at school, I certainly wasn’t a musical prodigy. I always loved music but I never played it. I didn’t get a guitar until I was 17.

“I have no patience for anything so no one expected me to even get past the minor chords. Somehow I got through it and immediately started writing songs.

“I realised I was rubbish at playing other people’s songs so I needed to create my own.”

The band released their debut album – Seatbelts For Aeroplanes – last month.

This summer they will play a number of high profile festivals in the UK and Ireland, and support Kodaline at Custom House Square in August. They plan to go on tour in the autumn.