The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
A quiet Sunday evening in Belfast. David Ford doffs his trademark Tom Waits-ian hat to an ecstatic crowd. They’re thirsty for more, calling for some lesser known tunes and some fan favourites but there’s nothing more to give. It’s been a long tour and Ford has given it his all with usual gusto and passion. The whiskey worn voice hangs in until the bitter end and as the crowd files out into the cool air you can’t help but feel we’ve been part of something a little bit special.
Way Across The Sea…
The Empire Music Hall was built for shows like this. This tour features David Ford as a main artist but also Texan Jarrod Dickenson and New Jersey gal Emily Grove swapping instruments, telling tales and singing songs and while the damn fine beard and repertoire of Dickenson are no strangers to Belfast, the melancholy tunes of Emily Grove are something new. They’re dark, rich and with a little bit of bite. She sings about Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo. She sings about the mafia in her hometown but you get the impression there’s much, much more going on here.
We first encountered Jarrod Dickenson a few years back at the Belfast Nashville Songwriter’s festival and since then he’s almost made Belfast a second home. Tonight’s set retains the ever present earthiness and honesty we love but with the accompaniment of the other touring troubadours the songs sound bigger, bolder and full of a country swagger we’ve rarely seen from him. The newer material sounds like it’s been lifted straight from Ryan Adams’ ‘Gold’ or ‘Heartbreaker’ sessions and there’s no higher praise I can pay than that.
With friends like these, well who needs politicians…
And so to David Ford. After seven years on the road, a lesser artist may be weary of the touring, the endless shows, the meeting and greeting and the requests for old tunes but not this one. He seems to revel in it. The set is bookended by ‘Pour A Little Poison’ and ‘Every Time’, two sure fire hits from ‘Charge’, the latest self-released album. Between these we’re taken on a journey through love, heartbreak, booze, bad women and songs from the road. While other performers rather astutely avoid the politics of Northern Ireland when on stage here, Ford tackles it head on. Perhaps he’s preaching to the already converted but ‘State of the Union’ could have been written for us and tonight ‘Stephen’ transcends everything.
Taken from 2010’s ‘Let The Hard Times Roll’, the song has become a firm favourite to Northern Irish fans in particular. Inspired by the words of Kate Carroll, wife of murdered PSNI officer Steve it’s been a somewhat mournful lament and a painful reminder of times past but tonight it becomes something else. Kate herself joins David on stage and speaks from the heart while he sings from the very depths of his soul. It may just be one man and an acoustic guitar but this is punk rock. It’s a celebration of how far we’ve come and a look forward to better times ahead. It’s a defiant two fingers raised to those still embittered and entrenched in tribal politics and sectarianism. It’s beautiful.
With only a little gas left in the tank, Ford invites his old touring buddy Duke Special on stage to join the band in a hearty rendition of The Band’s ‘The Weight’ before we’re left with the aural onslaught of ‘Every Time’ and as the last notes linger in the air, punters and performers mingle. Tales are told, tours are ended, records are bought and another Guinness is poured for the road.