Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast
30th March 2019
Beneath the gothic eaves of an old stone church is the ideal atmospheric venue for the Orphan Brigade’s Belfast gig. The spiritual, the bizarre, the divine and the dark are themes explored in their repertoire to date – so where better than a deconsecrated sacred space to raise the roof this fine Saturday night? A near-packed venue, an audience in anticipation, enjoying the BYO bonus and the casual vibe.
The Orphan Brigade is a Nashville based collective of many outstanding musicians – but tonight we have the heart of the group, the blessed trinity that is Glenarm’s own Ben Glover, Grammy-nominated producer and artist Neilson Hubbard, with fellow musician and film director Joshua Britt – each prolific artists in their own right.
It quickly becomes clear why the Orphan Brigade project works so well – there is natural chemistry and bonding on stage, an easy-going understanding, as if they just ‘get’ each other. It makes for a light, relaxed and warm-hearted energy in the room. It feels good.
Now the lads have spent the last week in the open arms of the North Antrim coast – Ben’s home territory, seeking out the curious places that provide ample myths and legends for their new material. Drawing on the ancestral echoes and ancient stories of the area, from the cradles to the caves, where famous Game of Thrones scenes have made screen memories, to the murdered nun of Bonamargie and the burial ground of Sorley Boy MacDonnell, the three wise men have no shortage of material and it seems the muse has been kind.
This spirit of adventure and delving in to the creative energies that ancient, haunted and sacred spaces have to offer has become a theme for the Orphan Brigade. Tonight, we get a fair mix from both albums – from the spiritually-charged ‘Soundtrack to a Ghost Story’ – recorded in Octagon Hall Kentucky (said to be America’s most-haunted house); and from the follow up, ‘Heart of the Cave’, recorded in the catacombs of Ossimo, Italy.
Getting underway with ‘We Were Marching on Christmas Day’, one of the many songs on the first album steeped in the horrors of the American Civil War, to ‘Osimo (Come to Life)’ from ‘Heart of the Cave’, made all the sweeter by Joshua Britt’s beautiful mandolin.
Central to the ‘Soundtrack of a Ghost Story’ is Harriet – a woman widowed and said to roam the rooms of Octagon Hall – and the Orphan Brigade can vouch for that. In fact, the story goes that the mysterious and ghostly Harriet took a shine for Glover during the recording of the album. She might even be in the Duncairn this evening.
I didn’t see no ghost, but next up is ‘I’ve Seen the Elephant’ – also from ‘Soundtrack to a Ghost Story’. The elephant in question was the euphemism used by the young soldiers of the Civil War, instead of the word battle. You could say it was the elephant in the room of its day, the very thing the soldiers feared most. Makes you think.
As mentioned above each are artists in their own right and have albums either recently released or forthcoming. It would be a shame not to share a few tunes from each tonight.
From Ben Glover’s recent album ‘Shorebound’, ‘Catbird Seat’ (written with Mary Gauthier and produced by Hubbard) has just been nominated for a Grammy. The track also picked up at the UK Americana Awards last year. And later, the beautiful, gentle and instantly memorable ‘Kindness’.
Joshua Britt has just released an album called ‘Starting Over in a Storm’ and we are treated to a couple of tunes, most notably ‘Some Day Soon’. Neilsen Hubbard sings a few tracks from his latest album ‘Cumberland Island’ which is based on a trip he made there with his wife a few years back, where the wild horses of the Spanish conquistadors still roam free among apocalyptic church ruins.
Songs for the soul, and you can see where that creative and artistic quest to make the Orphan Brigade albums steeped in the mystical comes from.
Speaking of the mystical, we are treated to several songs from ‘Heart of the Cave’ – including ‘Pile of Bones’. ‘Flying Joe’ is a rousing tune based on a Saint who came to the attention of the pope of the time due to his knack for meditating and praying so intently that he was able to levitate at will. The old Pope was none too pleased with the flying Saint Joseph, so he locked him up, threw away the key, and when Joe died, he was buried in the caves under Osimo – where his old bones remain to this day.
It may well be that the Orphan Brigade can wake the dead, for while they were recording that album, they got caught up in not one, but four earthquakes in Osimo. The earth moved, literally. Great songwriting material nonetheless.
Now it’s time for a little audience participation. As already mentioned, the muse has been generous and the Orphan Brigade have written eleven songs in three days for the new album. One song written while on a boat on the Antrim coast, has a jaunty sing-a-long chorus which they wish to record for the album, and we, the audience, are in fine form this evening for these lines:
The captain is stoned, stoned, stoned. Just take me home, home, home.
I can’t wait to hear how this one turns out! The new album should be ready this autumn, featuring all of us – live at the Duncairn Arts Centre in Belfast.
It is a good-natured evening, the three from the Orphan Brigade are sound, self-effacing and endearing to the crowd. With good grace, they take time at the end of the night to meet and greet fans following a standing ovation and a beautiful rendition of Belfast’s Van Morrison’s ‘Into the Mystic’.