Mary Black live in Belfast
Ulster Hall, Belfast
20th September 2019
You will rarely if ever, see a poor review of a Mary Black show. She is rightly regarded as one of the finest interpreters of song Ireland has seen. Feedback, generally, ranges from very good to excellent. This show was exceptional.
Covering some of her best-known songs, and deeper cuts, the show was a celebration of an artist who oozes charisma, charm, sincerity, and talent. Talent begets talent, and Mary has surrounded herself with a superb set of musicians, led by Bill Shanley, who know the music inside out, and by feeling.
The range of material on offer tonight covered many genres, and Mary seemed equally at home belting out, ‘Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Don’t Say Okay’ as she did on ballads such as ‘The Moon and St. Christopher’, and ‘Bright Blue Rose’.
Four of the songs were accompanied by a backdrop of The National Symphony Orchestra, recorded playing the backing tracks to Mary’s new album, imaginatively called ‘Mary Black Orchestrated’. The film adds another dimension to the evening, as clips of a young Mary, are juxtaposed to the musicians of the present day, while Mary sings to the audience in front of the screen. And it works. Brilliantly.
‘Poison Words’ a lesser-known gem in Mary’s oeuvre, depicting a relentless downward breakdown, in a once idly relationship. Mary’s voice inhabits the female protagonist, and it becomes achingly beautiful. Many can sing the song well, Mary lives it, and the pain is intense:
I remember when we were sweethearts. I was with you. You were my protector. Those days are over. Now I need someone, someone to keep me safe from you. Love was all we had, we young and sure. Who’d expect their love would turn to war? I don’t know who to pity more. How much pain can love endure?
The big songs are here too, ‘Caralina Rua’, ‘Sonny’, ‘No Frontiers’, Katie’, and of course ‘A Woman’s Heart’ which tonight contains a segment of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’. Again this segue-way works wonderfully and you wonder why it hasn’t been done before, such is the seamless join, and aptness of the pairing.
Mary exudes charm and goodwill on stage. Songs are dedicated to members of the audience. She also takes time to talk about St. Patrick’s Soup Kitchen, a Belfast based charity which seeks to support the homeless and those on the periphery of society and receives generous applause for doing so.
The audience is rapt, and caught in the emotion of the sad songs, and lifted by the bonhomie of others. The Ulster Hall is singing to a person to the strains of tune after tune. Dancing in the aisles too.
The encore is an unrestrained rollicking version of Dylan’s ‘I Shall Be Released’, which is dedicated to her sister, Senator Frances Black, and her fight to have her Occupied Territories Bill passed in the Dail, and to the struggle of the Palestinian people, to a huge cheer from the crowd.
She is joined on stage by Martin Brothers, Richie and James, who earlier, and together known as Cry Monster Cry had put a splendid opening set together for the expectant crowd. Their new album is due in the New Year. In the meantime, ‘Rhythm of Dawn’ is available on Bad Brothers Records.
Mary leaves the audience, as any great act should, with the crowd wanting more, to the strains of ‘Past the Point of Rescue’, promising to be back again. And so we are left, awaiting a new album, that promises to be so much more than a greatest hits collection, and an audience that will be hoping for a swift return from the Dubliner.
There is definitely something about Mary!