Ciara O’Neill & Edelle McMahon
Sunday 26th October 2014 – The Sunflower Bar, Belfast
Intimate folk gigs are a fine way to round off a Sunday evening. Thankfully The Sunflower Bar regularly hosts its own acoustic and folk nights, courtesy of The Lagan Sessions. Sunday’s session saw folk songstress Ciara O’Neill take the stage to officially launch her latest EP, ‘Primroses’. Ciara entitled the event ‘An Evening of Melancholy’, and despite the warm atmosphere, musically it was a fitting title.
Supporting Ciara on the night was Edelle McMahon, herself no stranger to The Lagan Sessions. The folk singer-songwriter described her own music as ‘misery porn’, and while that in no way gives her soft, well crafted songs full credit, it certainly seems suits. From the opener ‘Dear Ruby’, Edelle’s lyrics are bursting with imagery, with references to “red embers and pearly clouds”. As Edelle gently finger-picks her way through her set, the listening atmosphere that The Lagan Sessions pride themselves on is impossible to ignore. Throughout each performer’s sets, silence and attention are impeccably observed and with both Ciara and Edelle happy to chat with the crowd, the night has a friendly, intimate atmosphere.
‘Genorosity’ may well have been written on the way to a wedding but through its intricate guitar lines it tells a story of relationships gone wrong. ‘Ships Will Sail’ is the one happy song in Edelle’s set, with more up-tempo finger-picking to match but the highlight is new single ‘Belle Curve’. “If life is a bell curve then the tail’s a lonely place” is the poignant sentiment expressed within, it’s a suitable illustration of Edelle McMahon’s lyrical folk.
There was plenty more melancholy to come however with Ciara O’Neill on next, accompanied by John Conway on upright bass. With Ciara having gone all out for the show, including well appreciated cupcakes at the door, the two performed with the further accompaniment of a visual backdrop. They began with ‘Lagan Love’, with the focus on Ciara’s immediately stunning vocals, merging into ‘Dead, black’ with the introduction of picked guitar accompanied by John’s bass playing.
Not enough can really be written on Ciara’s voice which is absolutely striking all evening. Indeed when glancing over at Edelle, her own admiration for Ciara’s Lisa Hannigan reminiscent vocals is clear. However what Lisa does for cheerier, quirky songs, Ciara does for melancholy infused folk. The vocal highlights are abundant, whether it be the key change in ‘Ghosts’ or her almost signature falsetto throughout. In ‘Primroses’ Ciara rises and falls into that falsetto seamlessly, while on the outro of ‘Strange Days’ it soars over the musical backing.
Ciara’s set bursts with well-crafted songs and covers, including a wonderful a capella version of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and a cover of Chris Issak’s ‘Wicked Game’ that gets a great reception. However the strongest praise from myself would be reserved for the duo’s rendition of ‘Gloomy Sunday’, the Hungarian suicide song. Perhaps not the cheeriest Sunday evening treat but it’s a beautiful cover that the duo flow, via a driven bassline, into ‘Invent Me’, complete with great guitar and bass interplay. As the visual backdrop of assorted old home footage from the 50s and 70s plays behind the duo it’s easy to get lost in the images and the beautiful melancholic folk.
The Lagan Sessions provided a wonderfully friendly atmosphere, with a respectful crowd intent on taking in the performances. Ciara O’Neill is a real talent capable of a wonderful performance.