Ciaran Lavery Let Bad In album launch with support from In Their Thousands
Friday 6th May 2016 – St. George’s Church, Belfast
Ciaran Lavery is fast becoming the poster child of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. The Belfast based singer, who has played the festival numerous times and was last year’s artist in residence, is a reminder of the organiser’s keenness to promote local artists as well as bringing top class international talent to the city. Lavery’s career trajectory has been very much on the up since his 2015 appearance, with that year’s Sea Legs collaboration with ambient artist Ryan Vail opening up new avenues for both performers. Since then, he’s played at Willie Nelson’s ranch and recorded a new album, ‘Let Bad In’, for which this year’s gig served as an album launch. St. George’s Church, the beautiful highlight of the Cathedral Quarter, served as a fitting venue for Lavery’s gentile performance.
Kicking off proceedings were Donegal alt-folk outfit In Their Thousands. The group were stripped of their usual bass and drums due to the confines of the stage, with the rhythm section relegated to providing backing vocals. However, with the band’s sound stripped back with only guitarists Ruairi Friel and Declan McClafferty for instrumentation, it allowed the strength of the four vocalists and their harmonizing to really shine. Friel and McClafferty traded lead vocal duties throughout their short set. Friel is a fine vocalist, lending a strong sense of authority to the country style ballad ‘Too Many Times’. If In Their Thousands have a trump card however, it’s in the unique voice of Declan McClafferty. His gentile, almost-warble, that is at once peaceful and strained, may well draw comparisons to fellow North-Westerner Soak, but a more accurate comparison may be Swedish troubadour Kristiann Mattson, AKA The Tallest Man On Earth.
Guiding the already almost-capacity crowd through the tender ‘Tear It All Apart’, Townes Van Zandt cover ‘Poncho and Lefty’ and current single ‘Woodcutter’, whose earthy imagery recalls both the lyrics of Fleet Foxes and the poetry of Seamus Heaney, the group capture a timeless, emotive quality in their music that brought referential hush from the hugely appreciative audience.
Sea Legs was the sound of an artist determined not to be pigeonholed within one sonic template, and fittingly his new album has seen him further expand his sonic template. Taking to the stage accompanied by Dan Byrne-McCullough on guitar and Rachael Boyd, initially on keyboards, Lavery’s acoustic guitar and famously husky vocals greatly benefited from the new soft rock sound as they ran through new tracks ‘Blood Red Fist’, ‘Return To Form’ and ‘Overkill River’, as well as old favourites like ‘Little More Time’. Lavery laughed that although he enjoyed playing and singing with others, he enjoyed the attention of performing solo too much to forgo it entirely, before accompanying just himself on new track ‘Train’, with his delicate guitar work taking the full benefit from the building’s wonderful acoustics.
Lavery was in a fine, chatty mood all night, pointing out the inherent humour in performing an album launch for an LP that isn’t physically available. “Just stick your name and details down if you want to order the album,” he told the crowd, “It’s not as dodgy as it sounds.” Lavery was clearly enjoying himself, delighted at how his songs were beginning to take new life in this live context, with the beautifully understated work of his backing adding light and shade to the soundscapes. McCollough’s electric guitar work is a wonderful addition to the night, but multi-instrumentalist Rachael Boyd threatens to steal the show with her delicate keyboard and violin work, as well as her fine high harmonies that sailed above the gruffer male vocals.
After hilariously abandoning a strange monologue on how growing older affects drinking habits, Lavery took out the big guns for the home stretch, with ‘Left For America’ and the call and response of ‘Orphan’ flooring the crowd. Inviting In Their Thousands back on stage for a haunting take on Bon Iver’s ‘Blood Bank’, Lavery truly delivered on the faith shown in him. His album, should it ever physically arrive, should sell by the bucketload.