Darren Doherty & The Heathen Choir with support from D-Day and Blackbird & Crow
Wednesday 4th April 2018 – Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey
Paying my first visit to Ballybofey’s Balor Theatre for their (increasingly popular) monthly The Ghostlight Sessions (this was number four), I’m pleasantly surprised by the cabaret layout in the intimate venue.
First up are Donegal’s own Blackbird & Crow, a new name to this reviewer, but one that most certainly will not be easily forgotten. The two piece consist of guitarist Stephen Doohan, and vocalist Maighread Ni Ghrasta, and deliver a mesmerising and eclectic set. It’s easy to see why Janis Joplin’s name gets mentioned a lot when describing the vocalist’s voice and stage presence. Easy, but somewhat lazy – even at apparently less than full throttle (due to a recent flu), she has the full attention of the room for the entire performance. The straight talking but likeable singer is as comfortable delivering the stunningly beautiful ‘The Ugly Duckling’ as she is blasting out the stomping ‘Shoot Me Down’, ably assisted by the extremely talented guitarist and boom box player Doohan. A captivating experience, and the bar is set extremely high early on.
Next up are Galway’s D-Day, who have to be applauded for bussing it up country on a baltic Wednesday evening. The fellas have been around for a few years, but are still scarily youthful, tonight operating as a three piece, with usual guitarist Cathal taking on bass duties. Single ‘Movin’ On’ makes an early appearance, and a varied set showcases the band’s expansive musical tastes. The lack of a second guitarist, coupled with a member playing in an unfamiliar role means the set lacks a certain flow, and the stage presence will develop with experience. It takes a few songs for me to pinpoint who singer Darragh Whyte reminds me of – Supergrass’ Gaz Coombes. No bad thing, it fits the music extremely well, and there’s also a tinge of Brandon Flowers to the talented vocalist, especially during set highlight ‘Misunderstood’. I look forward to seeing them at full force in the near future.
Finally (and long awaited for this reviewer) Strabane’s Darren Doherty & The Heathen Choir are introduced by organiser Dean Maywood, who reveals the headliner to be his current favourite songwriter. By this stage the room has filled out even more, and we’re treated to an incredible set from a very talented man, and a band who are clearly not just a bunch of hired hands. Opener ‘Stay The Night’ benefits from a beefed up live sound over its recorded version, and suddenly sounds like one great song as opposed to two good ones. ‘Tiny Steps’ remains heartbreakingly beautiful, Doherty’s honest lyrics shining through. ‘Deep Breath’ has Maynard James Keenan’s influence unashamedly written all over it, and drummer Chris Patton even takes a breather from tub thumping to add extra acoustic guitar. On that note, the rest of the band doesn’t take away from the stripped down sound of the debut album ‘What You Do’. The aforementioned Patton is an animated, hard hitting (and very capable) drummer, and amazing to watch live. Bassist Lauren Bird and guitarist/keyboardist David Dougherty both add greatly to the overall sound with their vocal prowess. Personal favourite ‘Knockavoe’ is introduced by Darren with tales about his return to his beloved hometown after many years away. ‘Dye Your Heart’ ends what has been a hugely successful and extremely wee organised and received evening. I’ll certainly be back!