Back in 2016, Katie Richardson, then operating under the name Goldie Fawn, put on a pretty wonderful show named Murmur, gathering a handful of her favourite artists in The MAC. Fast forward a few years and Richardson now known as HEX HUE hosted another magical night on that very stage. LUCENT brought Beauty Sleep, Sasha Samara and Zapho together alongside HEX HUE for something a little bit special.
So much of the music in Belfast is funnelled into our fairly small pool of venues so anything hosted in The MAC often warrants some curiosity. Katie Richardson with a wealth of experience around the arts is one of the people you’d put you’re trust in to pull off a great show, helped tonight by a team including Timmy White on set design and Laura McCabe producing. The results on stage are clear to see as the crowd moves from the drinks queue to fill The MAC’s main room.
There’s no time for introductions as a handful of tonight’s musicians begin. Emerging from the darkness is HEX HUE, choreographing her performance and steadily echoing the song’s rising movements as she moves, carefully followed by the spotlight, front and centre. With applause erupting, Dublin artist Zapho settles into the next number, seemingly lit by moonlight behind her keyboard and encircled by white clouds of material. Sight and sound come together for one of the slower songs of the night. Next, occupying a space under a resplendent cloud and draped in blue is Sasha Samara. Like the majority of her songs tonight, she’s armed with a ukulele, plenty of reverb and the occasional inflections of collaborator Si Francis behind her. Then it’s over stage left to Beauty Sleep’s Ryan McGroarty and Cheylene Murphy who play their way through ‘Rainbow Ballroom’ from their 2019 debut album.
This wonderful sonic cycle is the order of the night, each artist wowing the crowd with a song before the lights, and a quick tune-up or introduction, reveal the next to perform. Far from isolated performances or the launch of a new single (closer ‘Lucent’ sounds ripe for release), tonight is a celebration of collaboration. At one point, Beauty Sleep echo the sentiments of many in Northern Ireland’s creative scene, Katie Richardson is an inspiration. The words “dream come true” are spoken by HEX HUE as well, something plain to see on the faces of everyone on stage.
A quick birthday message to mum and Beauty Sleep’s violin introduces their latest single ‘I Love It Here I Hate It’, one of the band’s best releases in recent times. Unshackled by an instrument as the song progresses, Murphy heads to the front of the stage, spinning to the sounds of McGroarty’s guitar solo. Performances from HEX HUE and Sasha Samara bring us to the last two songs of the half, pulsing electro pop and a piano led track from HEX HUE before the interval.
The second half starts with aplomb, an older track from HEX HUE named ‘Stronger’ followed by Sasha Samara’s own popstar moment. She works her way from under the cloud to the front of the stage following an outfit change at the interval. There’s a few of these tonight, with HEX HUE certainly coming out on top in the numbers game. Ukulele no longer in hand, Samara spins and smiles for an upbeat and full pop rendition of ‘Under My Skin’. The song and her performance are a world away from the Sasha Samara of a few years ago. Never seemingly shy of confidence on stage, it’s quite something else to command a stage the way she does on this track. Later however, a stripped back ‘Broken Vessel’ is the performance that really shines through, as Samara has the audience and artists alike hanging on every note. To Samara’s right, Cheylene and HEX HUE sit with the look of love in their eyes.
Beauty Sleep also perform a quieter number, taking ‘Nature Will Eat Me’, described as one of the first songs they ever wrote together, down to a gentler pace. On the other hand, Zapho hands piano duties over to Beauty Sleep’s Cheylene and retrieves the microphone from HEX HUE to perform a funky track in full flow. There’s a quirk to her vocals that sets everything off just right, aided by the backing vocals and energy emanating from the stage.
With a casual “this song is about 24 hours old”, HEX HUE drops possibly performance of the night. What ‘Wavelength’ lacks in age, it makes up for hooks and atmosphere. With synth that could be a direct lift from an 80s vinyl, it’s a shamelessly brilliant track that benefits from the full weight of tonight’s musicians taking part, particularly the backing vocal reprise. Beauty Sleep’s Cheylene even dons a white cowboy hat alongside her keytar, just to really rub it in. HEX HUE shows her range throughout the night, moving from pop bangers like the above and ‘Numbers’ into big, bold ballads that benefit from her backing vocalists and on occasion some gorgeous cello from Laura McFadden. A spirited full stage performance of Beauty Sleep’s ‘Go’ is the penultimate number before HEX HUE leads tonight’s conclusion amidst vocoder backing with ‘LUCENT’.
There are few experiences around live music quite like tonight. A beautiful stage set up and a great line-up would have been enough, but the mutual appreciation and inspiration between tonight’s performers are the spark that takes things to a new level. When everyone on stage comes together for a song, whoever’s song that is, it’s really special. A vibrant, collaborative night and a truly memorable one.