Beautiful already. Those are the first words in my notes for Ciaran Lavery, accompanied by violin, viola and cello on a rainy May night at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
He was the festival’s Artist in Residence this year, and tonight he was playing on the Belfast Barge. The atmosphere was woody and snug, warm against outside’s rain flecked air. Lavery offered up a menu of his classics. The songs that put into words exactly how it was for you. Or maybe still is. Only tonight there was that difference. The strings. The strings added a whole new dimension. They were another storey to the house. They were outside the house where it happened; a witness telling everyone their side of the story.
That first song was “Shame” from his Not Nearly Dark album. The line “be there when I’m burning out” had viola and violin noticeably running beside Lavery’s voice, offering a smooth surface for the sand to slide off. Then there was the song with the line “your hair made love to the waves of the radio” and the bows were replaced on the strings by hands, plucking. They emphasised it all, it became haunted, a bit pointed.
“Turning to Rust” is a forensic observation of a shattered heavy heart. It shouldn’t actually have been written by one so young. Tonight he had the strings crank up that ache as they scratched like metal. Cold and exposed. Then they moved from metal to water as they sounded at sea while Lavery stepped away from the mic and concentrated on his guitar.
His set had been ably supported by singer songwriter Travis Is A Tourist, who had pointed out earlier how much of an art there is to keeping up the inter-song chat while tuning your guitar. Lavery illustrated this point perfectly. Just down the road, Laura Marling was playing in the Waterfront Hall. “I don’t know if her gig’s sold out, but I know we are”. He grinned as he tuned his guitar, keeping the momentum. Keeping those happy ladies at the front of the stage entertained; keeping us involved.
He warned us that there were no more songs. We didn’t want to believe him. For the encore he walked back and forward on the stage then confessed to thinking there was a door he could exit through, but turns out it was only a curtain covering the wall.
Final song was “Orphan” from the Kosher EP, and it was the song singularly most different from the recorded version. He had us sing the chorus with him. He assured us that it’s easy on account of there being no words, more a series of “oh oh ohs”. Still, he made us practice, perfectionist that he is. It was a perfect upbeat finale to the evening. There were even a few lighting effects if I’m not mistaken. Then it was done. The night had been warm and generous and gorgeous and now it was done. Time to go home. Cara Gibney, GiggingNI.com