Eastside Arts Festival Big Top
Thursday 9th August 2018

Thirty years after their best-selling album, ‘People’, Hothouse Flowers are still packing audiences in. Tonight, they put on quite a show in the Big Top at CS Lewis Square, Belfast as part of the Eastside Arts Festival.

Support was from local songwriter Michael Kerr, accompanied on guitar by John Tracey. Michael played a fine set of country-tinged Americana, the pick of which for me, was ‘Don’t Stop’ from his recent ‘Treasure Chest’ EP. At times the big top might have required the talents of a ringmaster to keep a babbling troupe of monkeys’ endless chatter from ruining the set. Michael battled bravely against the side acts and proved he is a name to keep an eye on.

Just after 9.00pm, on to the ample stage strode the “Auld Flowers” as Liam called the Dublin group. They quickly settled in with piano to the fore as it would be for the majority of the night. Immediately, the crowd was on board.

Playing the hits early in a set can be a risk. ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ originally by Johnny Nash is played as a straight-up pop
tune instead of the recorded reggae version. It showed the band in a new light and the crowd was loving it.

The intensity from the stage rarely slackened as the five-piece tore through a set of several deeper cuts as well as firm favourites like ‘Three Sisters’ and a bouncing ‘Hallelujah Jordan’.

A lilting, beautiful ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, dedicated to Liam’s mother, is a highlight of the evening with the audience treating it with the reverence it deserved.

The band is on top form, particularly Fiachna Ó Braonáin, whose guitar solos lend much depth to the music.

But the main man is undoubtedly Liam Ó Maonlaí. Barefooted and losing his hat after the first song, he orchestrated both the crowd and band alike. High kicks and silly dances delighted the onlookers. The voice roared and seduced in equal measure.

Big hit ‘Don’t Go’ ended the evening. I felt it meandered just a bit too long. Introducing each band member with a solo on their instrument seemed to temporarily halt the vibe during the twenty-minute version of the song. But when the band hit the pedal, it was impossible to remain seated. The majority of the masses took to whatever space they could find to dance the remainder of the night away.

The encore ‘Si Do Mhamo’ produced a rare outing of a bodhran and a tin whistle on Belfast’s Newtownards Road and the crowd loved it! It’s been too long since Hothouse Flowers were in Belfast. Let’s hope they are back soon. Long may they bloom.