Permanently moored behind the Waterfront Hall in the country’s captial resides the Belfast Barge, equipped with a restaurant up-top and a delightfully brilliant little venue down below. With this having been my first visit to Belfast’s hidden gem, I was mesmerized by its intimate environment right down to the metal bolts on the sides of the ship. Back to get the Belfast Barge swaying was Bap Kennedy, who sold the venue out to capacity to bring the festive celebrations to a close for 2013.
To warm everyone up for the main showcase on a December’s winter night was Mandy Bingham, who performed alongside her husband Graham. Kicking off with ‘Good Girl Blues’, the pair performed harmonies to perfection to coincide with toe-tapping acoustic rhythms. Mandy’s ability to hold notes vocally works well with the twang of the guitar and slider to create almost addictive country blues music. “That’s for you Ronnie ” was an apt tribute to Bingham’s father, after performing one of his songs, written in 1967, entitled ‘Harlem Lady’. If this show is anything to go by, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more from the Bingham duo if show experience is built upon and persistence is enforced.
Dressed in a shirt woven with skulls and roses, Bap Kennedy walked on stage with his wife Brenda and fellow bandmates to a collective applause in the small surroundings of the Barge. Launching into ‘Domestic Blues’, the foot starts tapping almost subconsciously to the sound of Bap’s self-proclaimed Christmas song, creating the audience’s buoyant mood. The charm of the performer is more than enough to put a smile on your face but the country blues endeavour to ignite an even better atmosphere. “Unforgiven” goes down a storm alongside new tracks ‘If Things Don’t Change’ and ‘Radio Waves’ off Bap’s next album, entitled “Let’s Start Again”, due out February 2014. Talk of Sputnik and Voyager 1 interests (as well as confuses) the crowd as “The Blue One” sparks the band into action yet again. A particular highlight of the night for me was “Cold War Country Blues” – an adrenalin fuelled track whiched rounded the night off perfectly in my eyes. With a new album due out early next year, it will be exciting to see how next year treats Bap Kennedy. Mark Dunn
Friday 27th December 2013 – Belfast Barge, Belfast