24th March 2017
The Black Box, Belfast

There’s a certain something in the air when Ben Glover makes a return to Northern Ireland’s shores from his base in Nashville, Tennessee. Perhaps too, there’s something in the water; a subtle blend of wheat, hops, and yeast. Something to cure the ails of the week with a Friday night show full of drinkers’ ballads, emigrant’s tales, and the odd ghost story.

The calm before the storm comes from Ciara O’Neill. Like a honeyed Irish whiskey, the set is both short and sweet. She describes the songs as her babies and lists a host of artists from near and far with whom she’s conceived a series of stellar tunes.

Her latest offering is ‘My Favourite Mistake’, a co-write with Ryan McMullan. He is currently riding high on tour with Ed Sheeran. With songs like this from O’Neill, and frequent forays to Nashville it’s only a matter of time before the Co. Armagh songwriter follows suit.

Ciara O'Neill

Ben Glover marks his homecoming with an old Irish farewell in the shape of ‘The Parting Glass’. It’s one of several old Irish tunes on his latest record ‘The Emigrant’, and is perfectly suited to the the hushed Friday evening in the dark of Belfast’s Black Box.

The Glover storm rolls in steadily. ‘Too Long Gone’ follows, brooding like a weather front on the ‘Atlantic’ coastline that lent its name to the record.

The Nashville-based songwriter, originally from Glenarm in Co. Antrim is equally at home with traditional Irish ballads or delving into the Delta blues. ‘Oh Soul’ pays homage to Robert Johnson but it’s Glover’s work with the contemporary Nashville set that has earned his stripes in recent years.

He’s written with Mary Gauthier, Tony Kerr, and Gretchen Peters amongst others. A new song, penned with fellow Northern Irish man Gareth Dunlop, lends a more uptempo air to events. It’s a brighter moment in the set, outshone only by the dashing red trousers of Colm McLean on acoustic guitar.

Ben Glover and Colm McLean

McLean provides the sole accompaniment, with bluesy slides, and delicate finger picking. It’s Ben Glover’s voice, in both song and story, that keeps the audience enthralled.

He’s not one to shy away from politics either, with some barbed words for “El Presidente” Trump in his introduction to ‘The Emigrant’ and a salty mention of Spotify and the ruination of livelihoods.

Ben Glover

Alongside the solo material, Glover treats us to a selection of tracks from his Orphan Brigade outfit. With an album of stunning haunting tracks already behind them, the troop is returning to the studio. If the almost spiritual ‘Flying Joe’ is anything to go by, the new record may even surpass 2015’s ‘Soundtrack To A Ghost Story’.

From that record, Glover gifts the enthusiastic audience to ‘Trouble My Heart (Oh Harriet)’ and ‘Sweetheart’. As the night settles in, the beer glasses drain and the inclusion of Bob Dylan’s ‘Moonshiner’ seems more than apt.

Not one to shy away from his influences, it’s quite a sight to see the man predominantly known for his Nashville leanings break into ‘Johnny B Goode’ in tribute to the music of the late Chuck Berry.

With only minutes until last orders are called, there’s just time for one final curtain call. It’s Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’. It’s a beautiful closer and it and everything preceding has well and truly rocked our gypsy souls.