Review: The Bonnevilles, Mandela Hall, Belfast

On Friday night The Bonnevilles played one of Mandela Hall’s final gigs, and what a show!  Northern Ireland’s coolest live band in Belfast’s most revered venue, this was one not to miss.

Having two comedians on the bill for the night was inspired and both MC Conor Keyes and Colin “Barry the Blender” Geddis had the crowd in stitches.  Keys’ “culchie” jokes and Geddis’ lament on the improper use of the phrase “get ‘er bucked” were hilarious.

MC for the evening, Conor Keys

Musical support for the night came from Lisburn singer Amy Montgomery. Her drum and guitar support got our attention, and then she came on stage with all the attitude of Joan Jett. In feathered bra-top, leather-look leggings, war paint and biker jacket this girl is ballsy. And she has the voice to match.  Throughout their set, the three musicians switched instruments with ease.  The young songstress got a little emotional at one point, saying, “never in my life did I think I’d be standing on the stage of Mandela Hall.”  Some songs were more memorable than others, but the performance was strong, it’s like she’s channelling Janis Joplin.

Amy Montgomery

Finally, it was time for the headliners.  In a change from their normal monochromatic look, front-man Andy McGibbon and drummer Chris McMullan were dressed in black shirts with pink ties to co-ordinate with the new album artwork. The stage too was decked out with pink flowers and a brand new Long Runs the Fox banner. Silhouetted against the lit backdrop they kicked off with Good Bastards from the new album and it was epic! It was easy to tell that this was going to be a night to remember.

The crowd went crazy to Machine Born to Think and just three songs in Andy was saturated with sweat.  As he moves around the stage, every pose he strikes could be the next album cover – little vignettes of cool.  He was clearly overwhelmed by the crowd’s reaction, prompting him to stop and say, “My, my, my! This is cool as fuck!!” But he told us he didn’t want to talk too long, he just wanted to play through these “fucking awesome songs”.

The Bonnevilles don’t do many covers, but RL Burnside’s Po Boy is one that they have done in almost every show they’ve ever done. During this song Andy backed up against Chris and they played back to back. The bond between these guys is so evident, you can tell they just love each other. At in or around six feet, Andy is pretty tall but he tells us when people meet him they are constantly surprised by that fact because in pictures he’s dwarfed by his six foot five buddy. For anyone who hasn’t yet heard the band, their signature sound is Chris’s frenetic drumming, and Andy’s slide guitar and voice full of gravel, which adds up to one of the most authentically bluesy bands out there.

Chris McMullan

The title track from the album Dirty Photographs, is apparently an homage to Andy’s wife’s ass.  It’s very sexy song – that behind must be pretty special. From there it was straight into Poacher’s Pocket. I really like this song but each time I hear it, as uncool as it is to admit, it reminds me of The Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane.  A slower, smoother mood ensued with Kneel at the Altar; in the right company it could even be a smoochy number. The song ended with Andy on his knees.

That mood didn’t last for long and Panakromatik brought them back to their gritty best, blasting out against the backdrop of whites, blues and pinks of the impressive light show.  A dedication then to Andy’s dad, Andrew McGibbon senior who was in the audience and who is the inspiration behind Good Suits and Fighting Boots.  Also in the audience were what Andy described as a higher than usual Lurgan contingent; what better reason to play a couple of Lurgan tracks, Hardtale Lurgan Blues and No Law in Lurgan?

All too soon and it was the last song of the night – the rollicking 10,000. Throwing the flowers that had adorned the stage into the crowd after the fashion of Morrissey (or Dame Edna), Andy and Chris certainly know how to end a show. This is a killer song and here in Belfast they gave us the best version of it I’ve ever heard. Sadly, no encore, but after such an exhilarating show we still didn’t leave disappointed.

Post-show I nabbed a quick interview with Andy who told me that he was thrilled with the turn-out and the crowd’s response.  Belfast is so special to him and Chris because although they play to much bigger crowds in rock festivals right across Europe, these are their people who know them and come to see them because they love them.  Most thrilling of all was that their friends and family were there, making it particularly special show for them both.  That, and the opportunity to play this great venue before it’s lost forever.

Andy McGibbon

By chance, I got to meet his handsome dad and his beautiful wife and it was easy to see why these two inspired such fabulous songs.  Both Andy and the newly married Chris are family men and the love and support of their nearest and dearest is at the foundation of what they do. Another track on Dirty Photographs, the instrumental track Robo 6000, was named after a drawing Andy’s youngest daughter had drawn when she was little.

I happened to be there with people I’d never attended a gig with before; me and my music loving neighbours, thrown together by a common love of garage punk blues. On the way home, we agreed it was a very special night and the band’s finest moment to date.

This was probably the sixth time I’ve seen The Bonnevilles live, and from the first song I could tell it was going to be the best yet.  This was their crowd.  The spectacle of lights and the stellar performance cemented their place one of the best live bands around.  It’s sad that Mandela Hall will soon be no more, for my money, it’s the best room in Belfast. But if this was, as Conor Keys put it, the venue’s “wake”, we can be satisfied that we gave her a good send off!