LIVE: George Ezra with SOAK – McHughs Basement

soak1george1 george2 george3 On a night which saw two young performers defy their age and captivate a capacity audience, it was 16-year-old Derry-based singer-songwriter SOAK that opened proceedings.

Having found fame recently thanks to air play on BBC Radio1 and a performance for Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show, SOAK, aka Bridie Monds-Watson, is a songstress with talent in abundance.

Quiet and unassuming, she did her best to interact with the crowd, but if her attempts at ‘banter’ weren’t snapped up by the audience, her songs certainly were.

SOAK allows herself to be totally immersed in her songs while performing. She isn’t one for dancing, nor is she ever likely to be throwing together a set filled with Lady Gaga-esque costume changes, but what she does have is a voice that is simultaneously incredibly innocent yet surprisingly mature. She isn’t fazed by a crowd who chatter throughout her set, and allows herself a smile when Sea Creatures, the song she performed on The Late Late Show, has parts of the audience singing along with her.

She may be relatively new to this whole business – but if the future of singer-songwriters in Northern Ireland is in her hands, she certainly gives the impression it’s a safe place for it to be.

While the room was almost full for SOAK, the crowd noticeably swelled before George Ezra’s headline set. The Basement at McHughs may not be the biggest gig venue in Belfast, but last night there was not a single space – or ticket – left as music fans flooded to see if the hype surrounding the Bristol crooner is justified.

It was never in doubt.

It’s easy to get caught up in hype. It’s also easy to turn your back on something that you’re constantly being told is good. It’s easy to dismiss something when MTV tells you to enjoy it. But that’s not to say it shouldn’t be given a chance.

George Ezra has shot to fame after being named as an artist to keep an eye on in 2014 by both MTV and iTunes, as well as finishing a very respectable fifth on the prestigious BBC Sound of… list.

In a musical climate that sees people rise to the top by appearing on soulless talent shows, it’s refreshing to hear George’s story. Though it was posting songs to YouTube that got him noticed originally, he worked hard – playing free gigs in his native Bristol before taking himself off around Europe – a trip that he explained between songs last night inspired a lot of his material. The fact that he’s built his reputation in such a way almost makes watching him more rewarding. He tells us that this is his first headline tour, the first time he’s ever needed more than one guitar, and the first time he’s been able to have a merchandise stall – charmingly, it’s run by his sister.

From the first words it becomes clear that this won’t be his last solo tour – and it seems very unlikely that he’ll be playing venues this small again. Though musically, it’s fair to say that his songs aren’t the most complex, his voice steals the show.

He doesn’t sing like someone who will only turn 21 this year. He has a voice that you could get lost in. It’s soulful and bluesy and it simultaneously feels like you’ve heard it before, but is fresh and exciting and new. It wraps you up and feels like a hug from your dad when you were a child. I could go on, but I’ll stop through fear of landing myself a restraining order.

George keeps the audience entertained between songs – playfully joking or telling stories about his travels. He’s got a charm that will take him a long way, and once combined with the bluesy pop of his songs and that voice – you can see why people in power in the music industry have been quick to level such praise at him.

The room was lit up by iPhones trying to capture George doing what he does best. As one song finishes and the next begins, they are raise again. The search for the show’s highlight is one that doesn’t end, with each soulful moment surpassing the last.

It might sound like something of an exaggeration, but, in time, people may well discuss the night that they saw George Ezra in McHughs, before his album was released and he became a huge star. On this evidence, he’s got the world at his feet. Dan Williams.

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