The Duncairn Centre, Belfast
3rd February 2018

So, Saturday night in a church listening to stories of war, tragedy and killings, indescribable loss, fruitless searches for love, ghosts and earthquakes. May not sound like a great night out! But, actually, when the storytellers are The Orphan Brigade, and the church is the beautifully renovated Duncairn Centre, it is!

The Orphan Brigade, began as a much larger group of musicians, who formed to record what – at the time – was a one-off project, ‘Soundtrack To A Ghost Story’. That album was recorded based on the stories and myths of the deep South of America and recorded in an old ‘haunted’ plantation house. However, it would appear that they had so much fun that the group has become an organic entity and a second album, recorded in secluded historic caves in Italy, continues the band’s proclivity for recording in weird and wondrous places.

Tonight, the band are composed of Glenarm’s finest, Ben Glover, singer-songwriter and producer Nelson Hubbard, and Kentucky mandolinist Joshua Britt. The music is enhanced by the backing vocals of Audrey Spillman.

The night begins with an incessant funereal beat of a drum then joined by a chiming mandolin as Ben tells a blackly ironic tale of young men, marching to battle and possibly their death on the birthday of “the prince of peace”. This theme of futility and irony is one that is revisited several times over the course of the evening. ‘I’ve Seen The Elephant’ and ‘Curse Of The Wanderer’ continue the theme of war and loss.

Do we have people heading for the doors and reaching for their medication yet? No, because the songs are all quite simply beautiful. The songs of doom are interspersed with ones of quiet redemption, and love. The interplay of mandolin and drum with underlying guitar works extremely well. The voices individually are strong and melodic yet together they blend and become a thing of great beauty. Words like gothic and spiritual are never too far away and yet the mood that resonates around the beautiful building is much more uplifting.

There is much humour and obvious camaraderie between the members of the band as they exchanged instruments and informed of the delights of Donegal perennial favourite soft drink “Football Special” and the Americans ignorance of the Colossus that is Shay Given. (To my shame, my two female companions on the night were also not aware of the Republic of Ireland goalkeeping great).

The songs were introduced with a backstory that was informative and drew the listener in. The light threw shadows on the highs wood panels and stained glass windows of the Duncairn and, the songs seemed born for this setting. Songs and harmonies that floated into the night. I have rarely heard a better sound at a concert.

Highlights were plenty tonight. From the evangelical beat of ‘Oh Harriet (Trouble My Heart)’, to the haunting ‘Town Of A Hundred Churches’.

In a town of a hundred churches, are you still on your own? In the town of a hundred churches still looking for a home. In a town of a hundred churches, what do you believe? Can you feel it in your bones now or in the heart underneath?

From a great mandolin-lead, version of Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire’, to the rousing ‘Oh Soul’ – from Ben Glover’s ‘Atlantic’ album), a gorgeous version of the second album’s Vitriol’ to a tremendous rendition of ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’ performed solo by Ben Glover, this was a night of ghosts, gothic charm and sweet, sweet music.

On the basis of tonight, The Orphan Brigade, should find a home in many people’s hearts!