John Grant live in Belfast

John Grant makes his first Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival appearance in Belfast since 2011 and wins the entire city over with a very different performance.

People from the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival talk of John Grant’s 2011 appearance in revered tones so expectation levels for tonight’s Festival opening appearance are very high.  There’s a decent crowd in to catch opening act, Malojian who do what they do so well.

Sparse instrumentation of guitar, double bass, violin and harmonica allow the breathless refinement of the songs to shine. The room given to vocal harmonies is what really makes Maloijan’s set stand out. As fine and clear as crystal.

Soon, introductions were made and out steps John Grant to open his set with It Doesn’t Matter to Him and from that moment until the end of the set I could have been the only person there. That voice as smooth and sweet as butterscotch had me completely entranced.

There’s something incredible about that voice. It’s warm, it’s soothing, it’s comforting and it brings you in. It brings you close to the man.

Then when you’re close you’re hit with a beautiful punch in the gut with the brutal honesty in the lyrics of a man who takes the confessional singer songwriter thing to a new level.

The sound in the marquee is particularly good tonight and as the excellent band and Grant take us through a set made up mostly from last year’s album Pale Green Ghosts we’re treated to Vietnam, GMF, Ernest Borgnine and a post-watershed lesson in the Icelandic language. The title track from last year’s album is a particular highlight. Dark, moody and captivating, I never realised I could be so rapt by what looks like a forlorn lumberjack hunched over a piano.


The main set ends with my personal favourite, Queen of Denmark. It’s so visceral and angry, with contrasting bursts of feedback and near silence, Grant’s smooth voice with the band building feedback up, up, up and back to just Grant, his voice and his piano again. It’s musically and lyrically so cutting it could tear a hole in the marquee roof. I’d happily pay to see John Grant and his band play that song 15 times in a row.

There’s a 2 song encore and final song, Caramel is as perfectly stunning as a John Grant set-closer should be. There were a few moist eyes.