Belfast’s Black Box venue has been the scene of many a great gig recently. The little Green Room in particular has served up the likes of John Murray, Eric Pulido and Danny Wilson alongside slices of lovely pizza and locally brewed beers. It’s no surprise to find me there surrounded by beards, plaid shirts and acoustic guitars checking out another show but tonight is a little bit different.
It’s an odd atmosphere. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s the sunlight spilling through the normally closed blinds. Maybe it’s the crowd who’ve decided to shun the left hand side of the venue in a bid to have comfier seats. Maybe it’s the offbeat ragtime jazz playing in the background between acts. Whatever it is, it’s a little disconcerting but once the performers take the stage all is forgiven and forgotten.
Gary Lynas is usually the bass face of punky folksters Emerald Armada but tonight he gets the mic to himself and, boy, does he enjoy it. In a completely confounding move there are times when he sounds like a Bon Iver/Fyfe Dangerfield hybrid. It’s all cover tunes for tonight but that’s alright because it’s all about the vocal performance. And that’s fairly special.
Ciaran Lavery dispenses with the formalities of the evening and opts to perform completely unplugged, letting his gravelly voice carry over the coffee machine din and silencing even the most stubborn of chatters. It’s a standout set in a surreal environment. ‘A Little More Time’ is a highlight but there are newer songs on the way signifying a bright future for the Craigavon man.
Regular readers may have noticed Owen McNulty’s writings scattered throughout the site but on stage he channels Dylan. It’s raspy and harmonica laden but with a little more melody and the occasional foot stomp or blues lick. Since the demise of Louisiana Joyride, Owen’s found his feet as a solo act again and re-found the voice that inspired some of tonight’s other guests.
Too often, folk music can seem the preserve of the bearded, plaid wearing man however tonight we’ve seen a stunning array of shirts, hoodies and only one beard on stage. We’ve even had a ginger up there! Sarah Irwin rounds the evening off with a touch of glamour. She’s more ‘little black dress’ than ‘man in black’ but with a voice that fills the room with warmth, proving she’s more than just another pretty face on the scene. She alternates between guitar and cajon, bringing some beats to the box and rightfully gains a resounding round of applause from punters and fellow players alike.
And that’s that. The dregs of Guinness are supped and we all hit the road. Andrew Farmer has discovered a great lineup of artists for the evening. Maybe a little more attention to detail in the venue and a song from the big man himself and we’d all be whistling Dixie.