Some 18 months after I first happened upon weirdly wonderful Sligo pop genius Myles Manley at the Sligo Festival, I was excited to have chance to hear him again; and in Belfast to boot! And while he didn’t disappoint this wasn’t quite the gig I’d expected. With two support acts, this was a night of eclectic music in the famed Sunflower Bar.
Opening to a small crowd was local singer-songwriter Jess Edlin. Alternating between electric guitar and bass, her other-worldly vocals filled the little upstairs room with melodies which ranged from haunting to funky. The unusual set-up of vocals against melody played on the bass was a revelation – effortlessly cool.
Next up was experimental Derry three-piece Strength NIA. Taking to the stage barefoot, they launched an immediate assault on the senses with their oddly-timed clapping and unconventional sound. The band clearly have a loyal following; the ecstatically manic and sometimes synchronised dancing of their fans made for a rather surreal scene. Even headliner Myles Manley was enthralled and could be seen dancing with gay abandon at the back of the room.
Frontman Rory Moore has a powerful voice and a distinctive performance style. Bizarre track Hospital Beds & Drugs jarred a little with its offbeat lyrics referencing “your wheelchair of stars” and announcing “everyone’s a cripple chum”; it was hard to be certain just how seriously these guys take themselves. There’s no disputing the musicianship though; Manzarek style keyboard overtones, accomplished and funky basslines, maracas, what looked like altar bells and a melodica thrown in for good measure contributed to a sound that was at once hypnotic and just a little bit weird. I don’t think at our age my friends and I are Strength NIA’s target audience, but you can’t knock them for originality and they certainly aren’t dull.
Before the end of their set, everyone in the audience was gifted a mystery envelope which upon opening yielded an information slip about the merits of music platform Bandcamp and a single skittle! A quirky means of promoting their latest single La Floresta, available to download at Bandcamp now.
Myles and band began at just after eleven and treated us to a set made up almost entirely of new and unrecorded songs. As a fan of Myles’s music and after a significant wait to see him again it was a little disappointing not to hear more of his back catalogue; however, promoting the new material is obviously the objective of this current run of shows across the UK.
Not unconscious of his own endearingly gangling charm he declared his intention to keep things “awkward” for at least three quarters of the way through the gig. The band – also called Myles Manley – comprised the man himself, his towering guitarist Chris Barry and drummer Solamh Kelly, with a kit that included an upended coal scuttle! A very different experience to seeing Myles alone with his acoustic guitar which is a much more intimate affair, it was nevertheless worth the wait. His is a voice not like any other that I can think of; he captivates with high notes, unusual phrasing and the distinctive Sligo accent. Standout songs from among the new material were Use Your Imagination and what he called a Cinema/ Mild Manners Medley. The jangling dual guitars have resulted in a rockier sound than the somewhat folk inspired lo-fi rock of his debut album Myles Manley.
Myles certainly looks the part up on stage, with his buttoned up red shirt, gorgeous blue/green guitar and unconventionally handsome features, he’s beyond cool, but that’s only to be expected from an artist who once referred to himself (I think with his tongue squarely in his cheek) as the greatest Irish artist for at least fifty years!
The audience leapt to attention at the opening bars of the new single Relax; Enjoy Your Night Upon the Town, which has grown popular of late in part because of its quirky accompanying video in which he shows off his avant-garde dance moves! The new track is an upbeat number which has the makings of a pop classic and is eminently radio friendly. The track can be downloaded at Bandcamp.com, but for the true Myles Manley fan, there is also a limited edition single available in midnight blue vinyl with a hand cut velour moon on the sleeve.
For the final song of the night, what’s fast becoming his signature tune I’m In Love With Myself, Myles insisted on everyone getting up on the floor and the mood was joyous as he came down from the stage and danced in his inimitable style amongst a small but admiring audience. He’s in love with himself because he’s “dreamy, dreamy, dreamy, dreamy”, and it looks like he’s finding an audience who agree. There’s no one like Myles Manley around at the moment and I would bet my hat that catching one of his gigs won’t leave you disappointed. Anyone interested in investigating his work further should check out that exciting debut album and follow-ups Rocknroll Vicar/Rocknroll Priest, Jagger Manque, Greatest Hits 2012-2013 and 2015’s More Songs.