Will Varley with support from Molly’s Lips
Friday 25th November 2016 – Sunflower Bar, Belfast
English singer-songwriter and Smugglers Records Co-Founder Will Varley this week brought his latest headline tour overseas to Ireland for the first time this year, with a Belfast date in the Sunflower Bar. I was lucky enough to attend this gig in an amazingly intimate setting, a year to the day before he will headline the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire in London, to 2,500 people. I had been familiar with a few of Varley’s songs before, but it was his latest album, ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ that really caught my ear when it was released at the start of this month, boasting twelve of the strongest folk songs to be released this year.
As the seats filled up, the atmosphere was amazing in the pub. Everyone was incredibly chilled out and obviously excited for Varley to play, who silently stood at the bar with a pint in hand. The show was opened up by Molly’s Lips a band from Varley’s hometown in Kent. The duo, made up of members of the band Coco Lovers, played a set made of delicate folk tunes with amazingly sweet mandolin & electric guitar lines, played by the group’s lead guitar player. A real standout track from the set was called ‘501’s’ which was dedicated to the classic pair of Levi’s Jeans.
After their set, the anticipation grew for Will Varley to take the stage. The room was filled with a great buzz, everyone at the tables were chatting and what was great was you could see people introducing themselves and making connections with people over Varley’s music, even before he had played.
Varley stepped on stage and began to play his guitar, almost instantaneously the chatter disappeared and all eyes in the tiny room were focused on him. Varley kicked off an absolutely amazing set with a song I was unfamiliar with, but which was gorgeous. It was the tracks from the newest album that really stood out, tracks like ‘To Build A Wall’ which pulled at everyone’s heart strings, as well as ‘When She Wakes Up’, the fantastic single from Kingsdown Sundown.
It was Varley’s absolutely amazing stage presence that really amazed me. Multiple times during his set he’d go from songs that were absolutely heartbreaking, take ‘February Snow’ as an example, into the next song, like ‘I Got This Email’ which could make you fall of your chair laughing with it’s witty sarcasm. It’s this kind of diversity that really makes him stand out so much as an artist. Just like an early Bob Dylan with only a guitar and his voice, he can be angry at the world, with lyrics as ferocious as a Downing Street protest or he can tell stories of absolute heartbreak weaved within the soft and delicate strums of his guitar.
Varley chatted to the small audience as if we were his friends, and the audience talked right back. With two audience members (one of which was my mother) buying him a pint before his set had ended. He finished his set with the amazing ‘King For A King’, an old track from his debut album which I was familiar with and the audience were absolutely loving singing back every word to him.
An incredible gig from start to finish, it was definitely a special thing to witness such a fantastic performer in such as intimate a setting as the Sunflower Bar. Will Varley is no doubt going to gain a huge new set of fans throughout his tour in Ireland, and when he comes back I’m sure he will find a bigger room with an even bigger crowd waiting on his arrival.