Festival Marquee – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, Belfast
Thursday 27th April 2017

The first night of Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival and Robert Cray is the headline act in the new improved Festival Marquee in Custom House Square.

Good choice as more than 700 fans and music aficionados pack the tent for an evening of mellifluous blues on a cold Belfast night.

The 64-year-old from Columbus Georgia played from his back catalogue and new album ‘Hi Rhythm’ with a little of the background to the songs in-between.

Cray has played with some of the all-time greats such as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and many others. And yet, perhaps because of a certain crossover appeal, and hit records he isn’t really seen in the same stratosphere as those legends, which on the basis of tonight, and certainly the reaction of the audience, seems a little unfair.

The evening opened with a solid set from the Newtownards based Lee Hedley Band, with a neat cover of BB King’s ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ being the highlight.

I’m still not sure of the wisdom or style sensibilities of wearing sunglasses in a marquee at night but each to his own.

And so to the main attraction. Robert Cray and his three-piece band took to the stage with the crashing ‘Why You Wanna Make Me Cry’. This sets the template for the evening, with songs of love gone bad, infidelities and general bad luck in affairs of the heart, offset by more hopeful messages of the power of love IF you happen to find that right person!

It is blues with a certain pop sensibility and one can see how he has managed to create that wider audience for his music.

His voice is strong and potent throughout, but it is the guitar playing that people, mostly, have come to hear and tonight he is top form.

The clean, crisp, crystal notes ring all around the starlight effect tent.

The big songs that made his name in the 80s are played to the crowd’s obvious approval. ‘Phone Booth’ and ‘The Forecast (Calls For Pain)’ are executed with aplomb.

Barefoot bassist Richard Cousins become the comic foil for the night. Apparently, it was Cousins’ insatiable Libido that is the protagonist behind ‘Right Next Door (Because Of Me)’ claims Cray. Another notch on my guitar and Cousins hams it up as the “survivor” of four marriages, and many near misses!

Excellent interplay on the keyboards from Dover “White Cliffs” Weinberg adds a depth and variation to the music. Able assistance from drummer Terence Clark completes the quartet.

New material from the album ‘Hi Rhythm’ proves very strong and again is well received by the crowd. Time passes extremely quickly, as it always does at a gig of this quality and the band finish their encore with a stirring ‘Time Makes Two’ once again proving the man’s class
dalliances with the charts are perhaps a thing of the past, but on the evidence of tonight his entrance into the pantheon of the blues great is that bit closer.

Robert Cray Setlist Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival 2017 2017