Ciaran Lavery, with support from Joelle Taylor
Monday 19th December 2016 – The MAC, Belfast
It’s been a busy year for Ciaran Lavery. Between performances at Great Escape, Latitude, even a break from the summer festival circuit to play a casual gig in Ontario, Canada. The singer-songwriter’s efforts have seen him clinch the NI Music Prize, and now we come to the year’s end with his long-awaited performance at the MAC, to celebrate the appropriately titled live album ‘Live at The Mac’.
Opening, we have lyrical support from talented spoken-word artist, self-ascribed ‘council-estate oracle’ Joelle Taylor, international orator for the British Council and artistic director for youth-empowering SLAMbassadors UK. Supporting Ciaran Lavery after connecting at a London Sofar gig and being immediately struck by the other’s creative identity.
The poet negotiates themes of censorship, women’s rights and the modern urban condition. At heart grappling with our universal right to our bodies and creative identities, despite the sometimes invisible, sometimes concrete, estate-sized boundaries of age, class and ethnicity – a caustic body-punk – Joelle’s voice has a lyrical intensity to match that of any stadium-rock performance.
‘No Man’s Land’ and ‘Last Poet Standing’ take firm hold of the issue of voice in the modern world. The former against censorship, using the legal crisis of freedom of literary expression and censorship in Zimbabwe for its illustration, written from the perspective of an immigration officer.
‘Crystal Kiss’ is centered on the urban female experience of life under the modern class divide. A sobering slam piece that shines a much-needed light on ‘underclass’ lifestyle and the real challenges of the working-class, often delivered to us in media frenzy by daytime TV caricatures that neglect the very fundamental nature of their existence as a real, lifestyle-living people; that we all have creative passion, process and potential.
‘Everything You Have Ever Lost’ is a tribute to companion and fellow poet PACE. A bittersweet and hopestruck elegy that breathes warmth and inspires memory for the poet’s friend. A touching finish.
Before too long, Ciaran Lavery and accompanying players take to the stage. Lavery is joined by talented string trio David Campbell on Viola, Zarah Fleming on cello and Rachael Boyd on violin. As well as writer, instrumentalist and backup vocalist Dan-Byrne McCullough.
Under subdued lighting, the entire ensemble walks on stage. After introducing themselves with their music, Lavery is typically soft-spoken when naming the cast of string players and friend McCullough. As a performer, the Antrim native is professional in sensibility and crafting atmosphere.
No doubt lighting a fire of festive spirits in the audience, the celebratory set is equal-parts beautiful and heartbreaking. ‘Train’ with its father-leaving-son imagery is tender, balancing delicate chords on Lavery’s acoustic guitar against painful, passionate realism in the vocal line: “Papa left here yesterday morning, you can wait but he’s not gonna come.”
‘Return to Form’, ‘All Apologies’ and ‘Left for America’ – along with the obligatory Springsteen cover – showcase the cast’s musical competence and confidence as performers. Lavery and McCullough’s skill as guitar players is given even deeper emotional strength by the talents of the string trio, alongside the additional vocal accompaniment by Boyd and McCullough.
The hand-painted backdrop of the stage lends atmosphere to the evening, in gold and blue. And of course, we’re given the quintessential ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ in gilded Lavery-style, the ensemble takes hold of the festive atmosphere and make it entirely their own, with only a handful of Michael Bublé references.
A touching performance from Joelle Taylor, Ciaran Lavery and players. One that left a tender impression on its audience. Uplifting in a festive sense and deeply grounding in its emotional clarity, the perfect performance to start off a restful, musical Christmas break.