Ports live at Open House Festival
It’s the mid-way mark for the month long Open House Festival – and Bangor’s Marine Court Hotel is full to bursting on this still summer Sunday evening.
Ports – probably currently the best up and coming Northern Ireland band – are no strangers to Open House Festival. The fearless four-piece are joined by the Prima String Quartet as well as the Open House Festival Choir to guarantee a captive and eager audience.
First up, though, six of the best from Open House Festival Choir. I can’t think of any community festival about these parts that’s formed their very own, dedicated choir. What started as a summer experiment for Open House Festival in 2015 has taken on a life of its own. Led by the formidable Katie Richardson, what started as thirty local people has risen to seventy – and what better way to reflect that generic festival ethos of community cohesion than bringing voices together in harmony.
Now it would be easy-peasy to churn out choral versions of Coldplay hits or songs from the musicals, but that just wouldn’t reflect what Open House Festival is about. Instead, the choices are challenging and courageous – kicking off with Duke Special’s ‘Mockingbird Wish Me Luck’; Dublin band Æ MAK’s undoubtedly difficult ‘I Can Feel It In My Bones’, Fleet Foxes’ ‘He Doesn’t Know Why’ to the rousing harmonies of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’ and rounding off with Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ – harmonies clearly chalked up by hours of dedicated rehearsals, under the tutelage of Richardson and her talented craft.
Back in May, I reviewed Ports’ outstanding debut album ‘The Devil Is A Songbird’ and had been itching for the chance to hear it live since. Hence, here tonight for the honour. Four in a row of pure Ports – ‘Great Heights’ and ‘Gameplay’ from the album and two new songs – ‘Nothing Grows’ and ‘Accident Prone’. The latter touchingly dedicated to the memory of their friend and fellow musician Stevie Martin aka Rainy Boy Sleep who passed away over the weekend.
A brief interval and Ports are joined on stage by Prima String Quartet (who also feature on the album) along with the festival choir. We are in for a Sunday treat. ‘I’ll Let You In’ followed by ‘Night Dries Like Ink’, harkening back to when Ports was Little Bear (and also later, for ‘The Few And Far Between’).
The choir, the quartet, and Ports are changing all the rules. These are quite simply, excellent tunes that have the potential to soar and take you along for the ride. I’d love to hear these unleashed in some great big open-air space. Sadly, I didn’t make it to Stendhal Festival where they played a few days prior. Three of the best – three in a row – ‘We Are Miles Away’, ‘Killer’ and ‘Ancient Waves’. Maybe some day we’ll hear these in some stadium, somewhere. Who knows? Here’s hoping. I have a gut feeling that’s where Ports deserve to be.
That can’t be it surely, already? We’d feel cheated if we didn’t get to hear ‘The Devil Is A Songbird’. There is always time for one more tune. The thing is Ports seem to be totally enjoying themselves, and I get the feeling the choir ain’t ready to wrap just yet either.
Steven McCool, who reminds me incidentally of a young, clean cut Elvis and has one of the most beautiful voices to ever grace the air amidst these parts, makes his way – charmingly in his sock-soles – to the front of the choir, minus microphone. With the two mobile phones held aloft for that bird-song, whistling sound effect that remains a mystery to me, we hear the album’s title track. An audience held spellbound.
We started with a mockingbird, only to discover that the devil is in fact, a songbird.
If it sounds that good, I’m going to hell.