The Ulster Hall, Belfast
2nd September 2018

This is Passenger’s (aka Mike Rosenberg) first gig in Belfast in two years and on the back of his new release ‘Runaway’, the Ulster Hall is full with an expectant 1,500 of his fans. Support on the night is supplied by Lucy Rose.

Lucy has played Belfast several times, beginning with her stint in Bombay Bicycle club, and perhaps most notably in The Marquee at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival three years ago.

She cuts a diminutive figure as she crosses the stage to begin her set to increasing applause from the crowd. “You thought I was Mike, didn’t you” she quips, as she quickly endears herself to a fast-filling auditorium. Her slight figure belies a huge crystal clear voice that fills the hallowed hall with ease. It’s a voice to stop you in your tracks.

She states that with the exception of one song, she will play all new material; a brave decision with three albums of much-loved material to fall back on, but when the new songs are as strong and poignant as these, it’s a good one.

Set lists may change, but class remains constant. Emotive 3-4 minute songs with simple evocative feelings delivered in a beautiful clear voice at times reminiscent of Joni Mitchel, yet all her own.

I found love in the nearest of places. I knew that I would not let you go. Air was summer and the rain was at bay. You came like the storm that washed me away and if only Love was this easy, I’d write a book about every time you kissed me. It was true, true, true love.

Lucy says it’s a pleasure to play a room as beautiful and big as The Ulster Hall, and thanks Passenger for the opportunity. Given the strength of her performance, the quality of her songs, and that voice, it may not be too long, before she is filling similar halls under her own name.

Promptly at 9 o’clock onto the stage strode a confident Passenger carrying his acoustic guitar. The next hour was a heady mix of great tunes, laughter, and emotion.

“Belfast” and “Northern Ireland” were squeezed into the amended lyrics of songs to the delight of the crowd. The audience seemed to know most of the words to all the songs, not just the “biggie” as he joked about during the night.

His set ranged from fan-favourites to songs from his very accessible new album ‘Runaway’; his 10th long player in a career spanning 15 years.

‘Life’s For The Living’ and ‘Things That Stop You Dreaming’ had the crowd singing along from the start.

Well if you can’t get what you love, you learn to love the things you’ve got. If you can’t be what you want, you learn to be the things you’re not. If you can’t get what you need, you learn to need the things that stop you dreaming – all the things that stop you dreaming.

A surprise to me, that I am reliably informed by a fan sitting in the balcony beside me is a regular feature of his shows, is a cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic ‘T Sound Of Silence’. Possibly a carry-over from his busking days, it begins slow but ends as a thumping anthem.

He instructs us that if we meet a 15-year-old who was at one his gigs and convinced himself the song was a Passenger original, not to dissuade him from the premise.

As the good-natured banter and songs flowed, Mike asked for a bit of quiet for one song in particular. He prefaced the song with the story of his grandparents who had evaded hatred in Europe to settle in America and continued the family history to the present day and himself; the rather beautiful ‘To Be Free’.

‘I Hate’ does what it says on the tin and is a litany of things that the singer hates.

Well, I hate racist blokes, telling tasteless jokes and explaining where people belong. I hate ignorant folks that pay money to see gigs and talk through every fucking song.

Adding Donald Trump to the list was always going to be a bit of a shoe-in if it was needed.

The big hit ‘Let Her Go’ – a blessing and a curse, according to Mike brings the smartphones out and the biggest cheer of the evening.

The two song encore – ‘Survivors’ from the new album and old favourite ‘Holes’ are both greeted with cheers from the crowd before the night ends.

Mike Rosenberg sings songs of hope and love. These songs hit a resonance with so many people, I’m sure there’ll be a lot more fellow Passengers on his next trip to Belfast.