Hannah McPhillimy ‘Wind Machine’ launch with support from Beulah Kim & The Rhythm Rascals
Friday 6th May 2016 – Redeemer Central, Belfast
Last week’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival featured numerous launches and big shows, but in terms of Northern Irish music few could have been as special as Hannah McPhillimy‘s ‘Wind Machine‘ EP launch. It’s been three years since her very first EP release, ‘Seeing Things’. Since then there’s been singles and most recently ‘Disappear Here’, a collaboration with novelist Jan Carson. ‘Wind Machine’ recorded in analogue in the aptly named Analogue Catalogue studios marks the next major step in McPhillimy’s music career.
To mark the launch, McPhillimy and the festival opted for the surrounds of Redeemer Central. The church, known to McPhillimy herself, is certainly a favourite of ours. A huge number of tickets were sold for the night ensuring there was a good atmosphere in the beautiful surroundings.
Opening the show was Belfast singer-songwriter Beulah Kim. Kim started us off with a short set of her soft acoustic tracks, setting the mood for a laid back night. Despite taking the stage very promptly, Kim was playing to an already sizeable crowd. By her last song, Kim encouraged the whole crowd into a bit of a singalong, with “ooos” on one side and a chorus of “don’t tell me that I’m not good enough” from the rest of the room. As crowd interaction goes it was pretty successful and an endearing ending to Kim’s short but sweet set.
With the church filling up in the intermission, a ten-piece band featuring drums, strings, bass, woodwind, brass and backing vocalist had no problem equally packing out the stage. The band, was closely followed by Hannah McPhillimy herself, taking centre stage behind the piano to a big reception from the audience
Beginning her set with ‘Still Lake/Blue Fire’ is the perfect choice. After an intro of McPhillimy’s poised vocals and piano, the slow burning track blooms into life as the band rises and falls, following the song’s many movements. As McPhillimy brings the track to a quieter ending, the crowd is in a stunned and appreciative silence. McPhillimy has played many shows over the years but the chance to see her with a band sound that spreads to every corner of the large hall is not one to be missed.
As the performance progresses, dipping into McPhillimy’s numerous releases, the band disperses and returns showcasing versatility in the set and the songs themselves. ‘Still’ remains a highlight and is always an emotional experience. The track’s tearful nature is further enhanced here with percussion building behind McPhillimy and backing vocalist Eleanor’s words.
For many, this would have been their first glimpse of ‘Wind Machine’, released earlier on Friday. So it was only fitting that, after a short introduction, McPhillimy and her cast of musicians chose to perform the EP from start to finish. The flowing arpeggios of ‘Heart’ move towards a stirring climax as McPhillimy sings “lift me up”. The emotions of ‘Heart’ switch to the jazziest track in the repertoire, ‘Breeze’ which has the band in full flow with emphatic trumpet throughout. ‘Ruins’ will surely be a new live favourite, while the softer ‘Running’ is another emotional number featuring now perfected musical crescendos.
After an enjoyable and unexpected run-through of the classic ‘Careless Whisper’, and a duet with Beulah Kim on a track that didn’t make the EP, McPhillimy invites the band back on stage to close with ‘Homecoming’ from her first release. What stands out through the night is the vast songwriting talent Hannah possesses. Every moment of the evening, songs new and old, instantly feel familiar and often display McPhillimy’s penchant for exploring dynamics through her songs’ movements. This couldn’t be clearer tonight, with such an expressive backing band adding extra colour to the performance.
‘Homecoming’ encapsulates many of these things, with the instrumentation layering under her vocals before they’re stripped away again. The applause at the song’s close continues well after the performers depart the stage and is evidence of Hannah McPhillimy’s immense talents. To set yourself apart as one of the most talented songwriters in Northern Ireland today is one thing but McPhillimy possesses the ability to translate these songs into a live setting. Her music is both stunning and moving in equal measure, with songs that rise into crescendos then fall away to leave her jazz-inflected piano and poignant vocals
With the EP launched people begin to talk, help themselves to tea and coffee and even depart as The Rhythm Rascals bring the evening to a close with a mixture of jazz and swing. A more than successful EP launch in a stunning venue, what better way to spend a Friday night?