Ciaran Lavery brought the curtain down on the 2017 Eastside Arts Festival with a rousing gig in The Tumble Circus Big Top, C.S. Lewis Square in Belfast. It is somewhat fitting that a singer/songwriter held in high regard for his songwriting ability play in a venue synonymous with possibly the greatest writer this country has ever produced.
The Tumble Circus Big Top is a fabulous venue with a draped red velvet curtain backdrop to the stage and an intimate feel bringing the artist and audience within touching distance.
Opening the show tonight is Joshua Burnside, Northern Ireland born, and playing songs mainly from his debut album Ephrata, named after a small town in Pennsylvania, USA.
It’s a stripped back version of Joshua Burnside tonight as he sings solo, albeit with a trumpet accompaniment at times but this does nothing but show him in his rawest form, heartfelt lyrics born through difficult times in his life and a spell living in South America, a time which spawned most of the songs on Ephrata.
He sings “Red and White Blues”, displaying a somewhat childish reluctance to play it now that East Belfast has become his adopted home, giving his thoughts about growing up in Northern Ireland but not properly understanding all the symbolism. He need not fear though as it is well received.
Songs like “26 Street” written, whilst in South America, about the death of Honduran political activist Nelson Garcia and the title track “Ephrata”, about small town America, from his same titled debut album, show Joshua Burnside at his best and his touching take on life away from home and the inherent trials faced no matter where in the world we live.
A stripped back version of “Little Blind” played with just a guitar and trumpet loses nothing of its original madness,ever changing direction and noise levels.
And so that was it, Joshua Burnside held the audience throughout and was a perfect opener for what was to come.
Ciaran Lavery started and finished his set in the same vein, on his own with just his trademark raspy outpouring, but it was what came in between that set this gig apart and proved a fitting finale to the very impressive Eastside Arts Festival.
Opening on his own with “Let Bad In” he is then joined by a whole bunch of talented musicians and the 5 piece who in turn just roar into life, akin to CS Lewis’s great lion Aslan and the Ciaran Lavery we know is transformed into a bit of a monster with full blown versions of his normally raw, raspy and somewhat serious song now the order of the day. It is not anger but there is an aggression in the full band versions of his songs that breathe a brand new life into them.
There is more than a hint of country America in the song “Train” with its gentle reminder that no matter what life don’t go by faster if you run, a lesson given to sit back an enjoy whatever road in life we are on.
Crowd favourites like “Shame” and “Left for America” are as always well received, even in their newest form and indeed playing with a full band may just find them a new appreciative audience.
What Ciaran Lavery does well and it is somewhat maybe not always understood, he always seems to exude a serious demeanor, is that he is very funny and has a great interaction with his audience. His story telling is unique but heartfelt and sometimes half way through a tale he has a tendency to completely lose his train of thought, but will always normally find it and finish the story, in the process making his audience laugh. It is an endearing trait of a singer who has gained recognition as an excellent crafter of songs.
A superb cover of “Bad Man” by Bonnie Prince Billy is dedicated to the 3 people in the audience who are aware of him, Lavery’s words, but the version the band perform of “Return to Form” is the song that seems to resonate most with this packed house. It’s just the singer with his guitar and the other 4 band members in a semi circle singing perfect harmonies. He has assembled a very talented group of musicians for this show.
Ciaran Lavery finished his set as he had began it, just him and that amazing raspy voice playing a cover of Tom Waite’s “If I Have To Go”. No one was leaving and no one was not listening. A truly fitting end to an excellent gig.
And it was obvious throughout that Ciaran Lavery and the band properly enjoyed their experience tonight.
A nod must also go to the organisers of Eastside Festival for bringing this very talented artist to East Belfast.