Farriers & Arco String Quartet

Bangor Abbey, Bangor
4 August 2013

Anglican preachers, screeching newly baptised babies and Anglican chalices may be de rigueur at the altar of Bangor Abbey but tonight there’s a folk band and string quartet and a sly pint of Guinness as Farriers take to this makeshift stage in beautiful surroundings for a truly celebratory occasion.

While this is not Farriers first foray with Arco String Quartet, the backdrop of stunning cavernous architecture, stained glass and religious imagery paints a rather more stunning picture than last September’s performance in the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum. I’m of a generation of music fans in Northern Ireland that has borne witness to the slow and steady rise of the Stephen McCartney fronted outfit; through lineup changes, brief festival supports, hollerin’ on barges, album launches and fuzzy sessions interlaced with creamy Guinness and delicious tales of debauchery.

A lesser act may be tempted to ask for forgiveness in such religious surrounds but tonight Farriers are in fine form, regaling with tales of mis-spent youths in Bangor parks and rather than begging redemption they’re leading the way for us to accompany them on a pseudo-spiritual journey. Musically this band have matured well beyond their years. While other ‘new folk’ acts have lost themselves in a frenzy of stadium anthems and finger-blistering banjo solos Farriers have stripped everything right back to the soul of the music itself.

The Mumford foot-stomps are gone. Think Gram and Emmylou. Ryan Adams. Wilco.

Farriers & Arco String Quartet

‘Our Greatest Remarks’ and ‘The Great Divide’ are early contenders for evening highlights; the latter based on a letter home from the American Civil War. We’re on a journey from the Battle of Bull Run back to Bangor Marina. That’s the breadth of talent and range of songwriting on offer. The tender moments are many and each heartfelt vocal from McCartney and Rachel Coulter is ably assisted by the rise and fall of the strings. Coulter’s assured delivery of ‘Shore’ raises the bar and the tempo as the journey continues.

The evening reaches its climax with another early Farriers track. ‘Last Long Evening’ is a fitting end to our journey. The congregation are on their feet. There’s a sense of fun and handclaps echo from the rafters. Were the band to ask us for an “amen” they’d surely receive. We can only pray for more.