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13 Nov, Wednesday
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Review: Twin Bandit & Steph Cameron – Out To Lunch 2019

In the unassuming basement of McHugh’s—many a Belfaster’s local pub—the usual program of trad Irish ensembles gave way last night night to the sweet strains of two Canadian folk acts as part of the Out to Lunch Festival currently sweeping the city. On a brief winter ramble through Europe that is the Winterwood tour, which showcases their latest musical endeavors, songstress Steph Cameronand duo Twin Bandit comprise a double bill that guarantees to move and delight audiences in equal measure. 

These two fantastic artists performing in this dimly-lit, intimate club setting was reminiscent of the heyday of folk, yet they both brought a fresh take to the classic genre. While the majority of the crowd may not have been, like me, transported back to the varied landscapes of Canada’s West coast that the story-telling gals (and I) call home, they were nonetheless carried to ecstasy and back by the musicians’ mellifluous and scintillating performances.

As accompanying guitarist Matt’s pint of Guinness settled at last (as pointed out lightheartedly by the night’s emcee) we were able to welcome Twin Bandit to the stage—a Vancouver twosome noted for their matching stage attire and silky sweet harmonies. The girls, Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliot, have just released their second full-length album entitled Full Circle,which charts not only some personal growth over a period of unpredictability, but musical growth for the artists as well. Case in point to the changeability of life, this tour sees Jamie sitting this one out as she is expecting a baby, but Hannah’s sister Mercy has filled in seamlessly. 

Even though the act was one “bandit” down, Hannah and Mercy still rocked their signature identical outfits (in this case rad floral jumpsuits) looking a proper class act and sounding like they have been singing together their whole lives—oh wait, they have! Settling into a dreamy two-part harmony reminiscent of a Hawaiian-tinged Andrew Sisters standard, the ladies premiered Bandit’s new single “Seven Days”that released in tandem with the start of this tour. 

By the time the duo was warbling an impressive rendition of Emmylou Harris’ “Black Hawk”,I was completely hooked, craving more and more of this crisp and sultry brand of Americana. With gentle guitar strumming and trance-like vocals soaring over the “Lakes of Canada”and waves of chorus and verse washing hymn-otically over “Tides”the audience was overwhelmed with pure, unsullied beauty. 

The loveliness of the music was matched only by the loveliness of Hannah’s demeanor, calming presence, and earnest banter between songs. The woman spoke candidly about how the authenticity of “So Long”,an ambivalent little love song with equal parts pain and tenderness, heralded a relationship’s premature end. She recounted playfully their jam session with some musicians in a Dublin pub who initially mistook her for Feist. The warmth and passion in Hannah’s voice as she spoke, all the while delivering a live-stream to fans back in her homeland, imbued the songs with a deeper sense of identity, elevating the experience exponentially.

With a measured cover of Barenaked Ladies tune “Jane”(worked into the setlist at the request of what Hannah dubbed “their one and only fan in Glasgow”) and a final sentimental ballad from the new album entitled “Six Days to Sunday”,the trio humbly wrapped up their set.

To quite a bit of glowing praise and hype by the emcee, the second act for the evening took the stage—the indomitable lady that is Steph Cameron. Her 2014 debut record Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady garnered a lot of positive attention in the industry and the 2017 follow-up Daybreak Over Jackson Street did not disappoint. Both albums strive to capture moments in the artist’s fascinating wandering past, tidbits of which were revealed throughout the concert last night. 

Commanding the stage, stamping her boots and swerving her acoustic guitar from side to side, Cameron used her whole body to express fine finger-plucked melodies and rip-roaring guitar lines, producing a sound as freeing as running through a forest. I instantly appreciated how unafraid the singer was to really strum heartily, bending those strings happily, while tampering the sounds with her vocals, ranging from muffled and breathy to bold and belting. 

From spaghetti western to gyspy folk, Steph accounted for her varied musical influences by explaining humorously that her mom’s side of the family are Saskatchewan truck drivers who loved Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, whereas her dad’s side from the West coast are all social workers, so they love Simon and Garfunkel. To my mind, the easiest connection to draw with Cameron would by Dylan, embodying his 60’s candor as she crooned punctuated tales with halting vocalisations like in that of the titular track from her second release. 

There is a certain freewheeling audacity in Cameron’s songwriting that came through all the stronger in her live performance, flashing mischievous grins between enthrallingly articulated lines. This shined through in the rolling and rambunctious “Five Dollars”,which had the audience hanging on every word. I couldn’t believe the fun of this ditty could be matched until I heard “Little Blue Bird”off the new album, which hit my ear like a kid’s song for grown ups, all the which bearing a profound message. Steph’s joy couldn’t be contained to the little stage, radiating up and out as the woman poured everything into the songs she was clearly delighted to be sharing. The feeling was infectious and the audience cheered raucously.

Much like her tour sisters Twin Bandit, Steph Cameron had no shortage of stories to accompany her compositions, offering the audience a unique chance to glimpse into the woman’s past. “Richard” contained the spirit of a friend from Vancouver’s rough downtown Eastside, causing a hint of melancholy to flash across the singers features. Stately track “Winterwood” told of many a hitchhiked journey from province to province, and the feisty “Goodbye Molly” was written at a time when Steph’s limited income saw her living in a shack pieced together by scraps and she wanted to write a song to the rhythm of the rain resonating on the tin roof above her head. 

While the crowd cheered for more and Cameron took her encore, I knew could have happily sat for hours more listening to the music of both of the wonderful artists featured in the event. Not only did the night bring me back to memories of home, it inspired me to get back in touch with a genre that defies place and time. Whether you’ve from Canada, Northern Ireland, or anywhere else in the world, the next generation of folk is in good hands with these women.