The 4 of Us live in Draperstown
On Friday night, Draperstown’s Market Inn brought The 4 of Us to its feted supper club. Owner Maurice Regan first began these events a little over nine years ago, by his own admission to indulge his own love of live music, and to bring in some of his own favourite artists. Since then he has had an illustrious array of musicians grace the super club stage including Anthony Toner, Matt McGinn and John McCullough, Kaz Hawkins and Ryan McMullan.
Maurice’s ambition from the outset has been to target genuine music lovers, and by design the events are patronised by a targeted audience, invited for their interest in music, and the result is a respectful crowd and an atmosphere conducive to genuine musical appreciation. The 4 of Us have long been on Maurice’s wish list for one of these nights and it was a treat for all concerned that he brought them to Draperstown at last. He only organises four or five of these nights a year so each one is special and it should be on your “to do” list to get to one if you can.
Before the main event comes the “supper” element of the supper club and it was pretty remarkable. Included in the ticket price was a buffet-style meal, catered by Cookstown’s Joanne Loughrin and it was more than impressive. Half a dozen main courses to choose from and a selection of desserts that would be unrivalled in the best restaurant meant that everyone was happily satisfied and ready for a fun evening.
Introducing the brothers Murphy, Maurice waxed lyrical about the quality of their music and the longevity of their success. He’s clearly a fan but as a regular attendee of The 4 of Us gigs, I was just worried he was exhausting some of Brendan’s patter!
The Murphys’ show these days offers fans a whistle-stop tour through their childhood and teens via the songs from their most recent album, ‘Sugar Island’. ‘Bird’s Eye View’ recalls late-night watching from a childhood bedroom window, witnessing a salvo of shots and hovering helicopter blades over their hometown of Newry. ‘Hometown on the Border’ similarly recalls life in a border town during the troubles. ‘Sugar Island’ takes a romantic turn, the tale of young lovers breaking up at the Newry landmark. Three songs in and Brendan’s mic was slightly off to one side, throwing his face into shadow. Declan literally had to invite Brendan to step into the spotlight – a first for Brendan I suspect.
Brendan’s spiel raises a lot of laughs; the rapt audience, the staff behind the bar at the back of the room included, were hooked entirely. With his customary charm, Brendan described the lightbulb moment while watching Top of the Pops one Thursday evening in his teens when he had the sudden realisation that if he wanted to have a career which combined his two greatest obsessions – music and girls – all he had to do was pen a chart hit. Simple as! And to his credit that’s just what he did with ‘She Hits Me’. Fan favourite ‘Sunlight’ was up next – a top-class upbeat pop song which brings the ‘90s flooding back. It’s an uplifting, feel-good number – there are smiles all around the room.
Finally, it was time for baby brother Declan to come to the fore when in spite (we’re told) of Maurice’s reservations about the risk involved, Dec was going to attempt the unprecedented; a pasty, red-headed Irish man was about to get funky. ‘Sensual Thing’ and its super-funky intro is always a favourite, always impressive, no matter how many times you hear it. He’s a phenomenal guitarist, as entertaining as he is skillful, and always a joy to watch.
To counter the funk and the real and imminent threat of Declan overheating, we were treated to the beautiful ballad, ‘Gospel Choir’. The hand-picked audience is enthralled by this stunning love song. Light relief then from ‘Maybe It’s You’, Brendan’s confessional ode to the fact that all songwriters are essentially self-indulgent to a point and all they really want is for someone to listen to and feel sorry for them for three minutes. Approaching the interval and it was back to the latest album for ‘Good Bad News’, and though its beginning hints at another ballad, it quickly morphs into a funky cautionary tale.
An interval in an establishment in which alcohol is flowing freely can be a risky endeavour: chat and craic can take over for the remainder of the evening and it can be hard work for even the most seasoned performer to get the crowd back. Not so here, before the end of the first song, Brendan had them once again eating out of his hand, and it helped that ‘Going South’ is so relatable to a Northern Ireland audience this soon after marching season. Every song, slow or up-tempo, has such a feel-good element. This one begins deceptively slow before the groove kicks in – Declan just can’t hide it.
The newer material continued in the second half with ‘Little Things’ and their homage to Johnny Cash, ‘Just a Drop’. And then, a love song. Appearing for the first time on Brendan’s solo album, ‘Into Your Arms’ is dedicated on the night to Audrey, a long-time fan who’s in the audience. Beautiful, melodic, simple, stripped back to showcase perfectly the exquisite purity of Brendan’s vocals. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response they decided to risk another ballad and it was one of my favourites: the glorious Blue. It is stunning in musicality and in sentiment;
In another life, there’s a chance we would survive, so I throw a line, look for a sign.
Brendan’s control is breath-taking.
Not to be too sentimental for too long, the brothers are quickly back to the banter. First Declan took centre stage again to delight us with the only song that he sings an all of their eight studio albums (and by coincidence, my phone’s ringtone), it’s ‘Lightning Paul’. Then a thinly veiled commentary on the calibre of 2019’s Feile Classical line-up (the brothers are not playing there this year) elicits obvious agreement from the audience – that is until Declan pipes up, “They have got Wendy James!” Wink, wink, eh Dec? Last year in Semple Stadium a 10,000+ strong crowd were singing back ‘Drag My Bad Name Down’, fit to be heard all over County Tipperary. Saturday night in Draperstown we gave a fair approximation.
Whether you’re a 4 of Us aficionado or not, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last thirty years not to know their final song of the night, the perennial ‘Mary’. Brendan asked us to sing loud enough to annoy the neighbours and we gave it our best shot. The seated assembled could take it no longer and sprang to their feet to fill the dancing space in front of the stage, and insistent singing meant that the brothers carried on for at least one or two more choruses than they usually do.
A standing ovation was followed by a quick word of thanks to the boys and the fans from Maurice before the charming ‘Washington Down’ and the uproarious ‘Traffic Jam’ brought their set to a close… eventually – I didn’t think the crowd was going to let Brendan leave the stage and Declan seemed reluctant to call it a night.
All round this was a fantastic evening of food, fun, and good music. When you have seen a band as many times as I have seen The 4 of Us it can be difficult to say anything new, but somehow they always manage to keep it fresh. A new album (promised for 2020) and lots of clips of their shenanigans in the studio (which we’re promised will be posted online) will continue to keep fans connected to Ireland’s hardest working band and nicest guys.
Coming next to the Market Inn Supper Club in Draperstown – Paul Casey and John McCullough, Friday 8th November.