Joshua Burnside – EPHRATA Album Launch with support from Alana Henderson
Sunday 30th April – Duke of York Belfast
Alana Henderson wears brocade flares and a black velvet jacket. Vintage vibes, mesmerising music. She sings her own songs and plays cello and ukulele, elements of pop and folk. Connor Burnside sits at the snare drum and floor tom with a beer in his hand. She starts with pizzicato cello, playing her broken chords plus agile string-crossing in ‘Song About A Song’.
The crowd is gathering while Henderson plays ‘Wax and Wane’ this time bowing the cello. You can hear the energy and enthusiasm in the bow strokes, bringing an element of theatre to her songs. There’s a Hoover noise outside the door and she jokes, “I asked them to do that”. She talks about her tour with Hozier and how drummer Burnside had joined her for a few dates – a familiar face on a two-year world journey. On the very last night, she wrote ‘Byzantium Blues’, a postcard from Istanbul and she plays it tonight.
The final song is a duet. She asks Joshua Burnside to break “support slot rules” and join her. She claims she wrote this one with Burnside in mind, but adds, “it’s not about Josh – but I wrote it with his voice in mind”. The song ‘Deep Blue Sea’ begins with Burnside on guitar and Henderson on ukulele. It’s a “sea themed duet about someone who is reluctant to believe a lover’s promise could be true”.
Joshua Burnside returns after the interval. He stands with the audience, politely asks for quiet and begins with an acoustic version of new single ‘Blood Drive’. It is intimate and personal, no microphones needed. Some glasses at the bar crash after this ends – he claims it is “fantastic timing”.
He’s joined by Rachel Boyd on violin, brother Connor on drums, Clark Philips on bass and Sarah Martin on trumpet. ‘Tunnels Part 1’ starts with chaotic radio samples. Each player chimes in with clashy motifs, adding to the uneasy tone.
Joshua Burnside calls Henderson back up and reveals that he too wrote a song with their voices in mind. The song is “holllllogram”. Don’t ask him why there are five ‘L’s in it! This song contains the poignant lyrics; “If I have to dance alone, I will”.
New song ‘26th Street’ is inspired by a recent visit to Colombia and the story of the murder of political activist Jaime Garzón, who was shot for his outspoken views in 1999. Burnside sounds angry and it’s a feeling that recurs in his new work.
‘Ephrata’ is the album title track. Burnside explains that it’s a small town in Pennsylvania where himself and his band were stranded. He wound up sleeping in the recently deceased Minister’s bed. That night the local market went on fire and as they were next to fire station they heard sirens going off all night, like a “nuclear holocaust”. The lyrics begin to make sense after hearing this anecdote.
The line-up changes are messy, but it’s a tiny, sold-out venue and he’s playing to supportive friends. He plays his “controversial” song, ‘Red and White Blues’, about sectarian colours and tribal stresses around his home place of Lisbane, Co Down.
There’s a reluctant encore with ‘Black Dog Sin’, full band style. Everybody applauds. Joshua Burnside has brought an experimental and bold debut album into the world, and we’re the first to hear it live. Melodic and folky riffs, politics and passion, strings, brass flourishes and talented friends. One of the best gigs I’ve been to.