John Andrews with support from Don Maple
Friday 7th December 2018 – The Barge, Belfast
You would think that on this fateful night, your intrepid reviewer would be making his way to the SSE arena for Gary Lightbody and Co. HA I say. HA. Instead, I find myself braving the Lagan winds and northern rain as I make a stoic march towards The Barge for a night of local music. Smaller in scale perhaps, but equally impressive.
The Barge itself is one of Belfast most unique venues. Purchased in Amsterdam twelve years ago and sailed back, it houses a unique charity and some of the most authentic Belfast memorabilia available. Bankrolled by the Heritage Lottery Fund, I was given a walkthrough by its proprietor Susan Doherty who described it’s dual purpose. On the historical aspect, she informed me “We have hundreds of hours of video footage, men and women who worked in the shipyards, in the rope works and so forth. We salvage a lot of original material… but we are a living museum” while on the performance space she stated “It’s for local artists like John (Andrews). We’re not interested in making a profit, we want to support up and coming bands, artists, educational programmes, anything that we can.”
Fully educated now, I took a quick tour of the performance hall, which was practically filled prior to my arrival. Don Maple frontman Stuart Ledgerwood sits near the front, preparing for his opening set while Andrews works the room, greeting the crowd with both open arms and smile. Andrews is joined for the first time by a full band, all familiar faces from the local scene. Doherty stressed community to me before the show as being a core value of The Barge, and in the cavernous, violet lit space it certainly seems to have taken hold.
Canada’s finest export Don Maple takes to the stage soon after I settle myself into the back corner (with, in accordance with the venue’s BYOB standards, my complimentary drink, provided by the proprieter. An appreciated gesture given my bone-dry pockets). A purveyor of psychedelia and indie rock, Ledgerwood is on rare form tonight with an audible, tangible funk present throughout the set. Maple has mastered the fine art of retaining the underground sting of a local artist whilst seamlessly blending radio pop mainstays within his songs, giving his live set a pleasing, chilled out head sway. A mix of synth, soothing bass and dreamy guitar, Maple’s set was regularly interrupted by reviews from the crowd (“YEEEEOOOOO” – guy in the striped shirt, table four), all of which were received with a gracious head nod and a smile. Standouts from the show include ‘Bluebird’, with its indie hip-hop jump step, and Never Loved You Better, a buoyant, whimsical number framed by floaty vocals and carefree clout. A local treasure, the weightless charm allows for a crowd to be fully immersed in a truly enjoyable set, headlined by Ledgerwood’s affable charisma. He retreated from the stage, an embarrassed half grin on his face, his farewell address drowned out by cheers (“Upa Don Mapleeeeee” – hat wearing man, far left table).
Following after comes the main event, acoustic firebrand John Andrews, who has to pull himself away from his conversation. Familiar as I am with Andrews, I was intrigued and excited by his inclusion of a full band. A handful in his own right, with his mixture of country, rock and hip-hop, the addition of a supporting cast allowed Andrews to share the load and fully cut loose. His gravelly vocals have a genuine element, a real kick to the teeth ethos in them, that perfectly compliments his setlist. “You have the right to remain violent” he growls, always with a cocksure smile across his face, bringing an East Belfast swagger to his international appeal. As with Maple, Andrews is at his best tonight, with a swinging rock and roll vintage style band powering a set that disregarded feelings and emphasises the blues. Andrews’ palpable grit is the perfect delivery method for his genre-blending, a true urban charm that manages to woo both the pauper and the prince.
Relentless and original, Andrews has a knack for excitement and incitement, switching between gears at a whim. A full performer with a presence, sound and pathos, the journeyman is a musician for all and was appreciated as such. Raising a hand in thanks to the applause, humbled and oddly(for him anyway) taciturn, Andrews blasted through his last song, a mix of Johnny Cash and Eminem. A microcosm for the singer-songwriter, a blend of city with and rustic bite, and the ideal end to the night.