Glen Hansard live in Belfast
Ulster Hall, Belfast
15th December 2017
Speaking to others before this gig in The Ulster Hall, the general consensus was that Glen Hansard doesn’t do normal gigs, they are all special. As a first time observer, I retained a certain skepticism to this view. Yet after two and a half hours of uplifting, lilting melodies and messages, I emerged a true believer.
Backed with a band of ten musicians, including three-piece string, and three-piece horn sections, and two members of The Frames, Rob Bochnik, on Guitar and Joe Doyle, remaining central to this incarnation of the band, Glen lead the crowd on a tour of their emotions.
The band moved from one style to the next, from rock to trad, from deafening to feather light accompaniment, the set list something of a rough guide, as Glen seemingly decided that another song might work better. ‘Hard To Swallow’ morphed into em>’Gloria’.
‘My Little Ruin’ was dedicated to a friend in the audience who was apparently a little worse for wear, and jokingly described vicariously as “my little fuck up” and “my favourite protestant”. The song is an ode to someone with a penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and we all probably know at least one person with that quality.
The 46-year-old Dubliner has recorded under various guises over the years, The Commitments, The Frames, Swell Season, before releasing his first album under his own name in 2011, and most sides of his musical personality get an airing tonight. There are no pretenses with Hansard, what you see is what you get. He has almost become as well known as an activist, particularly with his work with the homeless, than as a singer. He has fought the good fight as well as singing about it. Perhaps it is this evidence of his humanity that evokes such devotion among his fans.
The pivotal part of the concert came when Glen sat at the keyboard and addressed the plight of the homeless, a cause he has become deeply involved with, particularly since his role in the opening up of Apollo House last winter as a hostel, for those living on the streets in Dublin.
The piano-led ‘Shelter’ is based on the words of a young homeless man he met and worked with at that time.
Even the Ulster Hall with its unfortunate reputation for people talking through gigs, fell eerily silent, as the despair and hope in the lyrics hit home.
Keep me out of trouble. Will you stay with me? And whenever I’m drifting, will you help me to believe. Keep me from drinking, from fallin’ far behind. Cause I lost my way and I can’t go straight and I’m trying to toe the line. Will you shelter me? Will you shelter me? Shelter’s what I need.
All proceeds from tonight’s gig were donated to The Simon Community locally.
The spirit of Woody Guthrie and his anthem for the dispossessed ‘Vigilante Man’ was re-worded to vent at the current incumbent of the White House, including the line:
What I won’t do to him, If I thought I could get away with it.
If this all sounds a bit worthy and heavy going, it was delivered with a dry wit and countered balanced with songs that were filled with a joie de vie, that the capacity crowd reveled in. The upbeat blessing that is ‘Winning Streak’, the gorgeous ‘Grace Beneath The Pines’ which had the hairs on the my the back of my neck on end, and the remarkable vocal and trombone solo of Curtis Fowlkes on ‘Wedding Ring’ had the audience in raptures.
‘Her Mercy’ has all the making of a future classic, and an exquisite string driven version of ‘Falling Slowly’ from the film ‘Once’ starring Glen back in 2003, was another highlight, in a night full of them.
Two encores were richly deserved. A solo version of ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’, was followed, as Glen suggested to even things up for Belfast, by a storming horns lead cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’.
Having already shared a stage with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and Ed Sheeran, a new album due in the new year and a tour of the states, one hopes that this is Glen Hansard’s time.
At the mouth of Christmas, when we reflect on our blessings and hopefully consider those less fortunate than ourselves, this was a life-affirming evening of hope and song.