Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Sunday 23rd April 2017

It’s a fair way from playing in the garden of Belfast’s Rotterdam Bar to selling out a Sunday night in the Lyric.

So after mingling and sipping expensive wine, we are shown into the auditorium. My first thoughts are that it’s a big stage to fill. A couple of guitars, mics and a red keyboard which looks tiny and childlike. Funny how first impressions can be misleading.

Anthony Toner ambles on stage alone, looking smart but relaxed. He gets an immediate round of applause, the crowd is with him. ‘East Of Louise’, the opener is delivered in fine sweet voice and with clear guitar tones. A couple more on his own, well almost on his own, accompanying himself on a pre-recorded lap steel backing track. This works surprisingly well.

A few more solo, and then enter stage left the first guest of the night – John McCullough on the keyboard. I would pay good money to hear John play on his own and tonight his playing adds wonderful colour and shade to the music. ‘Cousins At Funerals’ and ‘Miles And Weather’ delivered with style and assurance.

Then another guest enters – Eilidh Patterson. She and Anthony are long-standing friends and sparring partners. Together they sing ‘Precious Cargo’, and then Eilidh sings three more songs solo.

This being a theatre, we have a break and a chance to drink more expensive wine.

The strengths of Anthony’s songwriting are clear from the material presented during the second set. Wonderful songs from the back catalogue and a handful of great ones from the new album.

The highlights for me are two inspired by his parents – in particular ‘Night Prayer To Saint Augustine’ for his mother.

He is even confident enough to try a talking blues, ‘Exit Wound’, shades of Guy Clark.

The third guest of the evening is Ciaran Lavery. Four songs from him delivered with characteristic drive and directness.

The night finished with the band of four together and playing ‘Marion’ and a snatch of Paul Simon’s ‘Bookends’.

A wonderful showcase for the major talent that Mr. Anthony Toner has become and a nod to David Hull for having the courage to stage the show in The Lyric.