The Lyric Theatre, Belfast
6th November 2016
Rivalling ‘The Blue Nile’ in terms of their recorded produce, the latest album ‘Sugar Island’ is only the sixth they have produced in 27 years.
The 4 of us, now reduced to a duo of the brothers Murphy; Brendan and Declan, (should they be renamed Yous Two?), played to a capacity crowd in The Lyric Theatre on Sunday night, and delighted every single soul in the audience.
It possibly helps that the current release is one of their best, and in Brendan, they have an utterly delightful and beguiling front man, ably backed by some astonishing guitar work and ‘foot board’ by Declan.
That’s foot, spelt with a “D” in Brendan’s rich Armagh accent.
Starting the gig off with two older songs, ‘Sunlight’ and ‘She Hits Me’, a warm acoustic vibe was set for the night. The stage was still adorned with much of the props from the current production in The Lyric, the interior of a house, causing Brendan to quip “do you like what we’ve done to the place?” The title track of the new album next; ‘Sugar Island’ is in the centre of Newry and a meeting place for young couples, sadly alas also a place where many relationships end.
This was the back story to a beautifully played ballad on lost chances and regret. The album has as its theme the 70s and growing up in a small border town.
‘Bird’s Eye View’ continued the theme, written as a young Brendan, looked out on his town from the heights of his home on Courtney Hill.
A number of the new songs held a nostalgic glow to strangely more innocent times – The Troubles notwithstanding – and a paean to lost innocence, not least the touching ’73’. Things got “funky” on ‘Sensual Thing’ with Declan on driving guitar, and the aforementioned foot board (a percussive tool – hugely expensive, so we were told).
The tempo changed again as Brendan, apparently didn’t want the crowd to get too excited and fan favourite ‘Gospel Choir’ played to a hushed room. Proving to be just as popular as a between-song raconteur, as a singer, Brendan reminded those of a certain age of the ground-breaking, music format that was the 8-track cassette.
A cassette the size of a brick and much favoured by his father in his car. The downside of this was that if he took 8 or more of the cassettes on a trip, one of the kids had to be left behind!
Alongside their own catalogue, they played a number of covers. Declan, to a huge cheer, sang ‘Workin’ In A Coal Mine’ and ‘Sound Of The Underground’ almost making Girls Aloud acceptable – almost.
The most poignant part of the evening came when Brendan sang a beautiful version of ‘Blackbird’ in memory of Bap Kennedy, which was deeply appreciated by the crowd.
Old favourites ‘Drag My Bad Name Down’ and ‘Change’ were re-arranged for an acoustic duo to great effect, before the song that really brought the group to a huge audience in Ireland, ‘Mary’, with the band and crowd in full flow.
With an encore of ‘Washington Down’ from their first album, and “multi-instrumentalist” Brendan playing tambourine on ‘Damn This Traffic Jam’, the brothers Murphy left the stage to rapturous applause from an already standing and hugely appreciative audience.
The band continue their tour of Ireland in November and December, and if you have the chance go and see them . Failing that, buy their album ‘Sugar Island’. I think, it’s a bit special. Sweet indeed.