Hidden Machine #05 – Ciaran Lavery, SPIES and Runabay
Thursday 24th July 2014 – Voodoo, Belfast
Since its inception earlier this year, Hidden Machine has hosted some great line-ups and acts. Their latest night added a few more to that list.
The first act of the night, Runabay, were finalists in our very own Kickstart competition. That night was the group’s first ever gig but here, with a few more shows under their belts they delivered a more confident performance. The five piece, with a cello to bolster their sound were in good form.. Having known it already through Kickstart, the upbeat folk pop and foot-tapping of ‘Love Affair’ was a highlight along with the rolling folk of new single ‘Sequences’. Mumford & Sons comparisons are a little out of fashion but their final track, a foot-stomper rather than tapper, has an anthemic chorus in the same vein. Elsewhere one of their newer songs features a pitch perfect acapella outro to coo over and in ‘Bounce’ they show a more sombre side. Fans of delightful folk melodies should keep an eye out for these guys.
Next up was some alternative rock in the form of Dublin 5-piece SPIES. A band that takes their cues from 80s post punk such as Echo & the Bunnymen or modern bands such as Interpol, are always going to sit a little strangely between Runabay and Ciaran Lavery but they are an intriguing band.
SPIES’ sound is characterised by strong, pulsating drum beats and guitars that have been dropped in a pool of reverb with no way out. Opener, ‘Distant Shorelines’ has plenty of the post-punk soundscape to it. The band sticks to their formula religiously where perhaps some variation would benefit them, however the sound during their set did them no favours in this regard. It is a style they do very well and there are some great moments. Frontman Michael’s vocals float over the music as he grasps his mic, his near theatrical voice and lyrics akin to Morrisey. Their third song reinforces this, with the guitar in the intro moving in a way reminiscent of The Smith’s ‘How Soon is Now?’. It’s great to see a band like this performing in Belfast.
Finally we have Ciaran Lavery. His opener, ‘A Ragtime Song’ is moody and atmospheric, and while Lavery may not be taking his set to Ibiza anytime soon, it has a great rhythm and groove to it. Lavery and his band treat us to a perfect segue into latest single ‘Left for America’. Ask anyone familiar with Lavery’s music what it is that appeals to them and his voice will surely come up before too long. Coming from a similar school to the likes of Ray Lamontagne, Lavery’s voice is as worn and gravelly as it is soul-stirring. Lavery also seems to possess such an air of confidence in his songs and his interactions with the audience. Most of the set focusses on the new EP, ‘Kosher’, with the band proving a real asset but older material is brought out as well.
How does one pick a highlight from a performance void of mediocrity? Is is the entrancing opener? Lavery’s utterly unique take on Lionel Richie’s ‘All Night Long’? Or the mournful and emotive harmonica at the end of ‘Turning to Rust’? Everyone will have a favourite in what seemed a cruelly short but flawless set.
Hidden Machine have put on another night of great music which furthers claims that in Ciaran Lavery Northern Ireland has a major talent.