REVIEW: Morgan O’Kane Band – Open House Festival
Entering its final week The Open House Festival brings Morgan O’Kane and his Band to The Civil Defence Service Club in Bangor for a sold out stop off during their Irish Tour.
This evening undoubtedly fits the bill of the festivals slogan ‘handpicked music & arts in special places’. The venue is certainly non-confirmative. Having to buzz in at the door and walk down a hallway more suited to someone’s house than a gig space there are a couple of apprehensive faces surrounding me. However, upon entering the dimly lit room where the performance will take place it’s easy to see why the venue was chosen. The intimate space combined with the simplicity of the lighting and stage provides the perfect backdrop for what is to come.
Taking my seat the laid back approach to the evening is evident as I watch the band members casually stroll about the space mid-way through setting up their instruments. As the trio take to the stage, conversations begin to drop off as the audience’s attention is drawn to the sounds of the band beginning to tune up. With not much warning the band kick of their set with ‘Hello Soul’ the first track off their 2011 release ‘Pendulum’. Immediately obvious is skill O’Kane possesses as he doesn’t hesitate in playing the banjo at lightning speed, all while carrying the main vocals and providing percussion.
Accompanied by Ferd Moyse IV on the fiddle and Ezekiel Healy on steel guitar, all three members play with an all-encompassing energy. Making their way through the opening numbers and giving some introductions the audience seem to relax a little and become more interactive. By the time the brilliant ‘Remember Me’ is played the band have fully got into the swing of things and only seem to play with more speed and more vigour. It’s easy to understand why the trio are described so often as having a ‘punk attitude’ due to their intense delivery method and raw vocals.
Pausing for a moment to treat the crowd to some of the back story of how the trio came about, we learn that the next group of songs where crafted overnight before having to perform for the first time together. Cruising though the tracks with their signature speed and energy the trio succeed in drawing the audience into the performance and provoke the first dancing of the evening. Track ‘Fiddlers Green’ somewhat switches the focus from O’Kane’s banjo playing to the ingenious fiddle playing of Moyse who is hypnotic to watch as he bounces and sways with the music.
After a short break and the obligatory merch plug the band begin the second half of their set. Healy now takes charge during the trio’s version of classic ‘Dinks Song’ where he provides the main vocals and majority of the music. Just like O’Kane and Moyse, the skill in which Healy plays makes it difficult not to get lost in what is unfolding onstage.
A couple more tracks into the second half of the set things start to get serious as the pace of the night is well and truly picked up. The band seem to be done with the slower tracks and begin to belt out impossibly fun quick songs. ‘Snug Life’ and ‘Rain Rain’ cause most of the crowd to head to the front stage for a good old dance and sing. As a ‘reward’ for the dancing we are treated to some new music which succeeds in keeping the crowd up front enjoying every moment. Before breaking into ‘Hey Mama’ O’Kane states that he is sure that his strings will explode during the track (completely understandable as accounts to the sheer power he plays with).
The band seem to feed off the crowd’s energy until the very last note is played. Much to the delight of the crowd, they even manage to squeeze in a quick encore despite their time being up. With blistering tunes, friendly vibes and top-notch talent there aren’t many better ways to spend a Saturday evening if you like folk/bluegrass music. Pamela Anderson, GiggingNI.com