The Lost Brothers live in Belfast
The Lost Brothers were feeling the love at Belfast’s Black Box on Valentine’s Day. They’ve played Belfast many times throughout their ten years together but this is a special night, says Dublin man Oisin Leech.
They’re not really brothers – that’s just a moniker – but they clearly have a unique connection. Mark McCausland, the brother from another mother, hails from Omagh. He’s the quiet man. Oisin does most, well, all of the talking, but clearly Mark has something to say when the notion takes him and tonight, there’s a Co. Tyrone contingent at large.
The Lost Brothers may be touring the globe this year – Ireland, UK, Europe, Australia, US, but it’s the “back-arse of beyond” that might just stick in their memory, having met a man from Kilrea in The Merchant Hotel, while sipping green tea with lemon and ginger before the show. The man from Kilrea is here. He shouts out his address and invites them down. A bit of banter ensues.
There is a genuine vibe of audience connection; a core base of supporters familiar with the ‘Songs of Dawn and Dust’, ‘The Passing of the Night’, ‘The Trails of the Lonely’ and so on, but this is largely a showcase for their latest album ‘Halfway Towards A Healing’. It has been received with deserving critical acclaim.
They open with ‘Echoes in the Wind’ – also the opening track on the new album. It is here, most of all, their comparison to Simon and Garfunkle falls. This is absolutely no bad thing. This is a beautiful song.
What connects our hearts and ears to The Lost Brothers is the beauty of their harmonies and their seemingly understated but natural understanding of melody. As exquisite on the ear live as it is on the recording, you can just tell they have an audience hooked. Then, they are joined on stage by Steve Wickham from The Waterboys – described, deservedly, by Mike Scott as “the world’s greatest rock fiddle player”, Sligo-based Wickham is renowned for his unique technique he calls “fuzz fiddle”.
Wickham is a huge supporter of the duo. They worked closely with him on ‘Halfway Towards a Healing’ and the book of songs that made their way from Sligo to Arizona, where the latest album was recorded far from the madding crowd.
Wickham has an enigmatic stage presence. He embodies the finest of traditional, roots, blues – rolling and combining with natural ease – as if that fiddle is an extension of his being. That fiddle, is one of that finest features throughout this show. It seems, oddly at times, almost enchanted as if it has taken on a life of its own – jesting, mocking, lamenting, caressing, echoing the stories told in each song, capturing moods, meaning, tones.
There is a fair interplay of tunes from the back-catalogue and a good cross-section of the new album. I count twenty-three songs overall but it may have been more. ‘The Iron Road’, ‘Song for a Sparrow’, Songs of Fire’, ‘Summer Rain’, ‘Where the Shadow Goes’, and, of course, the title track Halfway Towards a Healing all feature.
Being in Belfast, Sir Van morrison gets a mention and of course there is a special mention for Bap Kennedy. In recognition of his inimitable songwriting skills and sense of humour, a ragtime tune is played in his honour.
Staying with the tribute theme, on to Jim Reeves next; a favourite when The Lost Brothers were busking in Liverpool.
I learned something new tonight. Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers, providing a link to Wickham’s album ‘Beekeeper’. Wickham, as well as being a first-class musician, is also a fighter against fracturing in the South, a believer in the human right for clean air, clean water and the protection of the environment. Quite right too. Next up, Wickham’s ‘Fractured’, a song about greed and destruction and the best rhyming lyric of the night.
A vibrant traditional on-stage jam, a standing ovation, a genuinely appreciative audience is rewarded with encores including the haunting lullaby ‘Turquoise Sky’. We are officially the best audience of the tour according to Oisin so further rewards include a brand new song called ‘Fuck January’ which is gratefully received.
But the final treat is delicious. They leave the mics behind and come down to audience level. We are invited to sing along with the last tune of the night – a cover, a nod to another Belfast folk hero, Francie McPeake. We sing along to ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’. It is one of the loveliest moments of audience inclusion and connection I have ever witnessed. I leave feeling somewhat elevated, down narrow streets of cobblestone.