It’s no secret that since its opening the Sunflower Pub has been one of my favourite watering holes due to the wonderfully eclectic atmosphere it encourages, friendly staff and of course the cage. Tonight is no exception. Two bands are playing to a sold out house and there couldn’t have been a better line up as both The Sandrunners and The Dandy Horses released two EPs this year which very quickly became firm favourites on my CD player.

The Sandrunners open the show and their set features songs from their recent EP ‘Angel of the Northern Wind’. The title track sounds great as a stripped back live song as does ‘Ain’t Nobody’. Tonight both the music and band is stripped back as there are only three members present. Hard times abound as they joke about only being able to afford one ukulele and one capo between them. Despite that there’s an energy and strength to the lyrics of both songs that along with excellent vocal delivery by David McCann and John McLaverty really brings the songs across strongly in the live situation. New songs also get an airing tonight, most noticeably ‘Steel Dan’, which rounds off the set.

At this point I become more and more frustrated by the audience. Mostly friends, family and the well intentioned; they obviously aren’t gig goers as they talk loudly the whole way through the Sandrunners set. The road to hell is paved with them and there’s many a good gig ruined by good intentions. Friends and family deserve to be guestlisted at gigs but they should learn to return the favour to artists who put them there. It shows a disregard to the artists and other paying gig goers when they sit and talk the whole way though both the support and the headline acts. They seem to forget that these bands practice endlessly and work hard to produce their music and deserve to be listened to and appreciated.

Having two EPs under their belt and new material being recorded for an upcoming album release The Dandy Horses are on roll. As they take to the stage there’s an air of confidence about the band which is well deserved. Opening with ‘Stone In My Shoe’ its strong acapella harmonies catches the attention of the talkers – sadly all too briefly. Showcasing not only their song writing talents on songs such as the Fleetwood Mac feeling ‘Driving Towards Blue Skies’ and the non conformist ‘Don’t Ask’ they also demonstrate some nifty vocal interaction between Noelenne Cosgrove and Joanne Cassidy and the rest of the band. Other tracks show the multi-instrumental skills of the girls as they swapped guitars or whistles and violins. Smiles and eye contact abound in the band and it’s clear to see they’ve honed their considerable live skills through natural talent, hard work and gigging.

The reason everyone is here though is the launch of The Dandy Horses’ Xmas Single ‘A Winter Waltz’.

The song has a Jethro Tull ‘Songs from The Woods’, ‘Heavy Horses’ era feel to it. Intricate mandolin interwoven with girls vocals make this one a tune to remember. The warm folk feeling, mixed with haunting harmonies really delivers this tale of a winter homecoming that skilfully avoids all the clichés and pitfalls of the usual round of Xmas songs. This one is a keeper and we look forward to hearing more on local radio as we head deeper into the festive season.

Despite all of the natural positivity coming from the band it’s clear to see an element of frustration on their faces tonight. They too are affected by the constant noise of the audience and at times look embarrassed by it. The only member seemingly unaffected by the noise of the audience tonight is drummer Marty Malone who is Animal like in his delivery and actions. He really looks happy to be at his work and in many ways is an un-intentional front man to the band as his movements don’t always seem to match up with his sounds, yet he’s hitting all the right places.

This should have been a brilliant gig. Both bands are unique and extremely talented and offer up something different on the current music scene and they deserved better. To stand and watch them both fighting to be heard at their show was heartbreaking and frustrating. There’s been a lot of talk recently about making the arts accessible to people and I’m all for that, but there’s some people who need to learn the etiquette of gig going first and show some respect to the artists they talk over.

‘A Winter Waltz’ can be downloaded from The Dandy Horses’ website and all proceeds of the download go to The MS Society of Northern Ireland.