REVIEW: Hudson Taylor – Mandela Hall, Belfast

HudsonTaylorbyPaulWoods-4611“You don’t know what you’ve been missing out on,” sing Harry and Alfie Taylor, the Irish brothers who together go by the name of Hudson Taylor.

And how fitting these lyrics truly are, because you really don’t know what you’ve been missing out on if you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to their music or experiencing their live show.

Fans came in their droves to the Mandela Hall on Thursday night with high hopes of the folk duo, who had already set the bar extremely high for themselves after their last Belfast gig in February earlier this year. However the night not only lived up to expectations, it well and truly exceeded them.

Opening the evening were The Whereabouts, a feisty four piece from Co. Cavan. Lead singer Wayne Reilly sported a navy blue suit paired with a quirky accessory in bolo tie, something he managed to make look cool. The rest of the band followed suit (literally), wearing slick black jackets and shirts (aside from the drummer who I suspect will single handily succeed in bringing the turtleneck back).

Wayne wasted no time in warming up the eager crowd, drawing them into the bands set with the rich, oozing sound of his harmonica.  It was clear from the get go that the group had a distinct rhythm & blues sound which blended perfectly with a cool rock & roll vibe. Wayne’s raspy rendition of their track “I Don’t Care” had me feeling like I was inside the walls of the Tavern Club in the 1960’s. I consistently felt the urge to grab someone, jump to my feet and start jiving.

TheWhereaboutsbyPaulWoods-4232The natural musicality of the band shone through the entire set—the guitarists grooved effortlessly while the drummer played like it was as easy as breathing. They introduced a real flavour of old Rock and Roll with their cover of the Yardbirds’ “New York City Blues”, which immediately transported me to a smokey Club in New Orleans. The guys left the audience on a high with an excellent cover of The Monkey’s “I’m a Believer”, to which the crowd enthusiastically sang along.

The Whereabouts were a tough act to follow, but Kilkenny Indie-Rock band Neon Wolf were seemingly the right guys for the job.  From the second they took to the stage the atmosphere in the room was lively and upbeat. Lead vocalist Rob Grace dove into a track from their EP Love Lost in Design, “All of It’s Yours”, which completely encapsulated that blissful feeling of summer. Every hook of every song was unbelievably catchy—the crowd couldn’t get enough, chanting along with the choruses as though they’d known them all for years. Rob had such a fantastic rapport with the audience, and what made him all the more likable was his evident appreciation for their support.

‘We know people always say this, but you guys are the best audience we’ve ever had,’ he informed us with a gracious smile. He totally fed off the crowd’s enthusiasm the entire set—it really was a two way affair. A smile never left my face while Neon Wolf were on stage, because every single member of the band was in their element, and their passion was utterly infectious. Drummer Joe Glynn played like he was born with a set of drum sticks in this hands—I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed rhythm quite like his.


And so the stage was well and truly set for the men of the night. Harry, with his Clarke Kent style glasses, and Alfie, with his slicked ducktail, took to the stage with casual ease and guitars in hand. The room erupted—every hour spent listening to their latest album Singing for Strangers, together with the excitement of hearing these songs performed live, rang through in that applause. The only thing capable of hushing the crowd were Harry and Alfie’s spine tingling vocal blends. When the guys broke into “Weapons,” I knew the rest of the night was going to be spectacular. Crowd favourites just kept on coming—the stunning “World Without You”, the powerful track “Just a Thought” and the heart warming “Butterflies.” These guys are obviously incapable of writing a bad song. The sheer instrumentalism I witnessed was unbelievable—between John Bird’s effortless guitar playing and Tadhg Peelo’s vivacious fiddle/keyboard playing, the energy was through the roof.

A completely organic moment that had everyone’s jaw’s dropping to the floor was when the brothers invited a musician friend, by the name of Joe, who they ‘kidnapped over the weekend’, onto the stage to assist with vocals on “Don’t Tell Me”. This unassuming guy took to the stage and projected a rich, husky voice that was so delicious it had my arms covered in goosebumps right from the first note. This, together with the lyrics and meaning of the song, almost moved me to tears. It was a song that championed equality, and as such brought a real feeling of unity amongst the audience—it was a truly magical moment.

I’ve never been to a show before where the lyrics seem to speak to the audience in the way that Alfie and Harry’s do. “Chasing Rubies” had couples and friends mouthing the words to each other with gleaming eyes, and it felt like no one wanted the night to end. That feeling was confirmed when chants relentlessly demanded an encore. To the crowds delight they returned, and what followed was enchanting.

The two siblings came down off the stage, onto a podium right in front of the crowd. With only their guitars and their voices—no microphones or band to back them up, the brothers sang a captivating rendition of “Arrive”, a song “about busking when it doesn’t go so well.” It took a moment for people to contain their excitement, but when they did you could have heard a pin drop in the room. I genuinely couldn’t take my eyes or ears off of them, it was spell-binding.

Back on stage, the guys left the crowd with a fiery performance of “Battles” to which every danced and sang along. Between the band and the crowd, euphoria ricocheted off the walls. After basking in the never-ending cheers, Harry and Alfie ended the night with a touching embrace and a wave goodbye to the crowd. Shannon McKenna, GiggingNI.com