Friday 12th August 2016
The Goat’s Toe, Bangor

I just opened up the nation’s favourite search engine and entered the word “Gospelgrass”. It appears to be a band, though not yet a genre nor way of life. All that looks set to change. Step ye up and hear the good news according to Spirit Family Reunion.

First a confession. I’ve met Spirit Family Reunion before. Back in 2012, they played the inaugural Bangor version of the Open House Festival. Not only did I watch them play but I supped on red wine and spun some devilish DJ sets afterwards. Perhaps the imbibing was too much or perhaps the years have been less than kind but rediscovering the band once again in Bangor’s The Goat’s Toe bar is a downright joy.

Now I come from a backwater town where traditions are adhered to, and rules upheld. The people don’t mind if you like country, or punk, or rock or soul. But you know what you like and you know how it sounds. There might not be a Bible for these kind of rules but if there was, this five-piece from Brooklyn, NY have not only ripped it up but set it alight.

Mark Hamilton

Mark Hamilton is the opening act. He’s a talented Northern Irish musician with a hatful of good tunes. He’s playing without shoes, crying out into a chatty wilderness. He’s good but tonight he’s just paving the way.

The stage is thumped under soles of boots and tambourine. There’s a rat-a-tat of fork on washboard holding together a rhythm section featuring obligatory upright bass and full kit. There’s that unmistakable chug of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three train rolling round the bend. It’s frenetic, hell for leather, faces contorted in raw emotion. It’s the spirit animal you didn’t know you had.

You won’t find many songs of Spirit Family Reunion online. Those that exist, do no justice to this animalistic live show. Vocals soar and fiddle bows fly. When you think band and crowd can take no more it drops. Not just a dip in sound but a real drop. A James Brown crashing to his knees drop.

Spirit Family Reunion

We’ve got a little storytelling, some spoken word, a change of vocalist and a definite swing in pace. The train bound for glory has stopped at an altogether surprising station. Then we’re off again. There’s an element of Danny and the Champions of the World style swing about them now. They don’t need brass. This little family have all the soul they need.

Bottles pass back and forth on the stage. It may be wine. It may be they’re bred on hard liquor and rock and roll. That old steam train sound chugs back into life, pounding on into the night. Three and four part harmonies ring out over banjo licks and thumping bass lines.

Literally, the next stop is the remainder of their European tour. Figuratively, I can’t see this crazy train stopping anytime soon. I hope they got a return ticket.