Belfast’s had a long love affair with music of an Americana nature. Whether straight up country, new country, old country, protest country or any of the myriad of versions on the go now, you can be sure someone in Northern Ireland will own all the records and have been to all the shows. I paraphrase Van Morrison who once claimed the Irish love of country music was defined by them rightfully taking back what was theirs in the first place. Long before there was blues in the deep south or finger-picking up in the Appalachians, the Celts were telling tales and performing ballads which would shape many genres of music to come. For the last fifteen years Jim Heaney’s Real Music Club has been bringing the best of folk and Americana back home and discovering some fantastic local acts along the way.

By early afternoon The Limelight is already filling up with a huge assortment of music fans. There are punks, rockabillies, hillbillies, rockers, teenagers, pensioners and everything in-between. There’s double denim, wide brimmed hats, plaid, beards and polka dots… oh and a massive birthday cake with a little slice set aside for the first hundred people in.

All birthday frivolity aside though, it’s a day to celebrate not only the club but the work of the musicians it has helped to make over the years.

Anthony Toner is a veteran of the club with many great songs notched up over the years and kicks things off with ‘Sailortown’ before being joined “in the round” by Eilidh Patterson, Paul Casey and Ben Glover. Glover’s songwriting shines through out of the four while Toner’s stage banter guides us seamlessly from one performance to the next. He rouses a cheer with a track dedicated to the “strong, independent women” of Belfast and for the next track one such woman in the shape of Eilidh Patterson steps up to the plate. She’s been interwoven throughout the entire round, almost in an Emmylou Harris role, delicately harmonising with the boys but confident and competent enough to blow the cobwebs from the rafters with a few big tunes of her own.

Malojian have been knocking around the scene here for several years in various guises but this new lineup including Mike Mormecha on percussion is a real delight to watch. Front man Stevie Scullion sings almost as softly as he speaks so you’re instantly drawn in. The backing of the three piece band add some subtle shades and textures to the tunes. ‘Often Wonder’ is one of the better known tracks of the relatively new repertoire and we did our best to capture it for you.

If Malojian are the day’s epitome of reserved, introspective performance then you’d better strap yourself in for the next act. Kaz Hawkins, until recently known round these parts as Mama Kaz, is a real powerhouse of a performer. She’s all sass and tatts and polka dots. She makes Beth Ditto look like your shy, retiring auntie and boy can that girl sing! It’s feel good, rowdy blues. Sometimes it’s a little bit too boogie woogie or ragtime on the keys but it’s Kaz’s voice that steals the show. Even at her most vulnerable during ‘Lipstick and Cocaine’, it’s still a huge vocal performance which reverberates around the Limelight. We could be in some late night bar in New Orleans. It’s easy to forget it’s mid-afternoon in Belfast. The Northern Irish aren’t renowned for their sober participation and yet Kaz has us on our feet clapping along and singing backing vocals on ‘Hallelujah, Happy People’.

Drawing the afternoon’s session to a close is Bap Kennedy. He’s a world class songwriter, known by music fans across the globe for his own work as well as collaborations with the likes of Van Morrison and Steve Earle. With a stunning back catalogue to pick and choose from, we’re treated to a real mix including a fairly tranquil rendition of Van’s ‘Madame George’ and ‘Moonlight Kiss’ from the ‘Serendipity’ soundtrack and a few tracks from the beautifully titled ‘Howl On’ record. Earle joins Kennedy on stage for a rough and ready run through of ‘Angel Is The Devil’ before heading off to finish his soundcheck in an adjoining venue.

There’s been Steve Earle, blues, pints of Guinness, songwriters in the round and birthday cake… We’re looking forward to the club hitting sweet 16 next year!