The title of Ken Haddock’s ‘One Night In Willowfield’ caught my immediate attention. I lived for ten years in a place called Willowfield. That’s over 3650 nights but this record is all about just one.

Photo from VisitEastSide.com

The Willowfield in question here is Willowfield Church on Belfast’s Woodstock Road. A very special live recording was made of this one-off concert on 4th August 2018. There have been no post-production overdubs or “fixes”. It is raw, but it is beautiful.

We have in Ken Haddock an incredible voice. Given over to the acoustics of this old church, it is audibly outstanding in its simplicity and purity.

‘One Night In Willowfield’ was a project coordinated by another wise man of the east with his own star rising, Anthony Toner. His is the first voice heard on this recording. I’m intrigued at the similarity in the spoken quality of both men. Toner says “what’s to be said about Ken Haddock?” and goes on to say how Ken hates it when people sing his praises, but this evening is a chance to really celebrate and shine a light on this talented voice, with amazing songs and arrangements.

Seven of the twelve songs on this recording are Ken’s own, two are co-writes, and three are covers. Many are spiritually infused or make subtle reference to that fact that this concert is in a sacred place. There’s also joy, laughter, humour, and good old Belfast banter between words and music.

Opening with the rather lovely ‘Word By Word’, Haddock is keen to immediately pay homage to the fine musicians accompanying him; Scott Flanigan on piano and keys, on drums Peter McKinney, and on bass Conor McCreanor.

Haddock’s cover of Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Southland Of The Heart’ is simply a perfect interpretation of this beautiful song. Sung in church, it takes on both the sound and sense of something sacred. A gentle piano melody paired with those meaningful lyrics, it becomes a hymn when set in this context. A stunning interpretation.

‘Delirious’ is more upbeat and joyous – overflowing with the wonders of the world and that feel-good factor.

This venue and event is the first time Ken has sung his own song ‘One Woman’ live. It has a mellow, retro jazz flow, showing a versatility of voice and style. ‘Backbone’ continues with that easy jazzy vibe. The piano and keyboard arrangements on both are exquisite.

Ken’s daughter Grace joins him on stage for this next song – a harmonious duet called ‘When You Belong’. Their voices complement each other perfectly. This is another song which when sung in a sacred setting takes on a subliminal meaning – it’s like a cry for help, answered in female form. Delivered with sincere dignity, Grace’s voice in answer to her father makes the hairs on the nape of the neck quiver.

It just keeps getting better and better – a collaboration with local poet and writer Olive Broderick resulted in ‘Your Sonnet’, performed on stage with the Arco String Quartet, adding another layer of grace and dignity to this solemn, reflective, sad yet romantic sonnet. The finest words combined with the finest voice.

Between ‘Your Sonnet’ and ‘Diamond Girl’, Ken tells a funny anecdote about the typical exaggeration and tall tales of Belfast bar-room banter. ‘Diamond Girl’ is a sweet, gentle, ordinary love song but ‘Day That Never Came’, written with Steve Jones, is also rather lovely.

Where better for a cover of REM’s ‘Losing My Religion’ than a church? Here, Ken puts his own spin on this nineties classic, as never heard before. The string arrangements are something special.

The final song and the final of the three cover versions just happens to be one of my all time favourites. Ken Haddock’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ rounds off the recording of this absolutely exquisite evening. Guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.

I am so sorry I missed this ‘One Night In Willowfield’. Thank God it was recorded for posterity. Anyone who was there can relive the experience and anyone who wasn’t can get all the benefit. The musicianship deserves special mention. The arrangements by the Arco String Quarter just take this to another level.

‘One Night In Willowfield’ is on sale EastSide Visitor Centre.