The Emerald Armada, Fatherson, In Their Thousands and Conor Scott
Monday 17th March 2014 – Voodoo, Belfast
Snakes were in short supply but merry revellers were aplenty as folk-rock custodians The Emerald Aramada brought their mighty St. Patrick’s Day showcase back to Voodoo for a third year in succession. They warned us it was going to be a bumper turn out, but very few could have predicted a sell out within thirty-five minutes! Turning crowds away before 9pm? It just does not happen in Belfast. Before we’ve even settled into our surroundings, personal space is sparse.
Being billed as ‘that guy from The Voice’ probably got old months ago for 19 year old Conor Scott, but it’s going to be a hard tag to shake. That kind of exposure will open many doors for you but there’s no denying the uphill battle the Belfast singer-songwriter faces to win the affection of your average Voodoo attendee.
But what he lacks in muso street cred he more than makes up for in self confidence. His energy and enthusiasm doesn’t dip for a moment as his artfully soulful voice captivates an already overflowing room. Obvious reference points include fellow ginger haired crooner Ed Sheeran, but there are flashes of Irish globetrotters Foy Vance and Hozier peppered throughout the performance. With an equally baby-faced assembly behind him, tracks such as ‘Move On’ & ‘Take All The Time You Need’ sound as good as anything you’ll hear from this kind of indie-folk solo project. Vocal hooks are bountiful, but instrumentation feels restricted. Piano or guitars coming to the fore in the future could give this collective a potent edge to their routine. The addition of a tin whistle for their final track is a memorable quirk and a fitting nod to the occasion.
Four EPs in two years from Letterkenny’s In Their Thousands has led to an extensive catalogue of noises for the rural quartet to choose from. Originally known for their rustic harmony-led acoustic folk, diversity has crept into their sound over the course of twelve months. And that ‘diversity’ in 2014’s EP ‘Ends’ has been an electric guitar. A scuzzy one at that too.
That release serves to be the bedrock of the set as ‘The Storm’ is given an early runout. It starts out as a tepid, slow-burner before the pace builds into alt-rock ballad of virtuous heartbreak. Declan McClafferty’s vocals throughout the night are a tour de force on the ears. Rattling you with piercing, sweeping melodies which could shatter glass.
However McClafferty is not the only lead vocalist on stage (he’s not the only McClafferty either). Ruairi Friel steps up to the plate on numerous occasions as they play table tennis with lead vocals. Friel’s delivery is more passive and zoned-out, yet is just as enchanting.
‘Vive La Revolution’ showcases the band’s rip-roaring Radiohead-esque rock chops. A juggernaut of succulent breakdowns, twined with a red-blooded guitar solo which leaves you craving for a rollicking pit to jaunt about in. Larger stages and expansive sets loom. There is a near perfect musical journey being crafted in Co. Donegal they just need the time and place to unveil it.
Ahoy, invaders ahead! Voyaging across the Irish sea to join in on the festivities were Glaswegian gatecrashers Fatherson. Making their second appearance on Irish soil in the space of just over six months, their first outing being another sold out show in the form of More Than Conquerors’ album launch in September. (These boys sure know how to pick ’em.) With a debut album merely weeks away and admirers of the indie-powerpop four-piece growing in their troves by the day, momentum is undoubtedly on their side.
They drift through their opening repertoire, a warming broth of hearty soul tunes, but they’re lacking their usual spice. This is promptly addressed with resounding new track ‘I Like Not Knowing’. Tip-toeing dangerously close to Twin Atlantic style turbulent emo-rock, stormy guitars rise and fall, only to be surpassed by towering torrential choruses. All looks well until their zest is lost one again, this time a culprit has been found – a haywire guitar pedal board.
The Scots’ set sways, their arsenal a step more tempestuous than Frightened Rabbit yet not as bodacious as Biffy Clyro – however blooming breakdowns are not in short supply.
They’ll definitely have better nights on the road, and if their ascension continues at it’s current rate it won’t be too long until they’re selling out their own shows in the city. ‘Hometown’ ties it all together with a rumbustious finale. But if it wasn’t obvious, on this night the luck of the Irish was just not with them.
After a prolonged wait, taking to a dark empty stage with epic walk on music (Mojo Fury’s ‘Safe In The Arms’ in case you were wondering) creates a sense of dramatic expectancy which most local bands can’t live up to. In short, it’s a bold move. Playing your most popular song second? That’s just straight up ballsy!
But do The Emerald Armada look worried? Far from it. In fact, their inaugural swagger borders on cocky.
As the opening bars of ‘Glasses Raised’ ring out the venue comes alive. Typically on a day like St. Patrick’s Day the crowd is in a rampant mood. There’s jumping, there’s dancing, and even some moshing. Very few in attendance can resist getting in on the action and but by the end of a hectic rendition of ‘I Don’t Mind’ the entire place is in raptures. So much so that frontman Martin Allen has to tell the rowdy revellers to calm down. But even he knows that’s the last thing on their mind.
The Belfast folk collective draw on the electricity of the room, channeling it into an extra sparky blast of ‘Strangers’. Smooth electric guitar picking fuses with choppy acoustic sweeps of etherial ramshackle which dabbles into Mumford suburbia before foot stomping its way into a rather a more disorderly territory.
Trad is an integral element in what makes the ‘Armada a genuinely unique prospect and it’s often evident as Dermot Moynagh provides the heartbeat of a number of their most breakneck hoe-downs.
The ‘Armada leave the stage with their congregation still yearning for more. It’s less of a request for another tune from the crowd, and more of a demand. A roaring chant of ‘Everyone’ bellows throughout Voodoo until the band return on stage and duly deliver with the exuberant closer.
This is not the first and it will be far from the last time The Emerald Armada will rock a Belfast venue to it’s foundations. As they prepare to set sail and play venues in Scotland and beyond, you can’t help but feel that they can’t stay one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets for too much longer. A new EP and another intriguing festival season looms. Catch them while you can.