Nathan O’Regan & No Oil Paintings
Friday 27th May 2016 – Sunflower Bar, Belfast
Compare: the intimacy of Sin-é meets the local accent of Irish folk-energy in our very own Sunflower Public House.
The debut Belfast solo performance of Cork’s own singer-songwriter, Nathan O’Regan. A daunting event for any young creative, O’Regan took to the Sunflower Public House to showcase the musical talent that has seen him signed to Grammy award-winning producer Jimmy Hogarth’s Kid Gloves record label, backed up appropriately by contemporary bluegrass four-piece powerhouse No Oil Paintings.
Opening, No Oil Paintings sit in tight formation on a small stage, level with the crowd. Subdued lighting and the room’s balanced mix of friends, family and fans ease any tension from the performance. A live kit is swapped out for a cajón and the simple instrumentation fuels the intimate tone of the gig.
‘Rise, the final track from last year’s self-titled debut EP, captures immediately with earthy quartet vocals and the hangdog delivery of Chris Kelly’s lyrics. Without the string accompaniment of Bronagh Sweeney seen on the EP, the track takes on a resigned, down-tempo tone perfectly suited to the relaxed intimacy of the small performance venue. The closing line “We’ll have peace in the valley one day” showcases Kelly’s raw vocal talent, building vocal dynamics from a honeyed murmur into an emotionally-charged howl, before elegantly easing back into the opening quartet vocals again. Friendly jokes and the mutual raising of pints tease out a strong rapport between the audience and artists, and on the back of a perfectly landed Flight of the Concords joke drummer George Sloan is able to persuade the crowd to stomp and clap along with the next song.
‘Orphan’s Lullaby’, tracked second on the debut EP, presents lyrics rooted in popular nursery rhyme with Sean Doone’s ornate banjo harmonics, working well with brush strokes on the cajón to give the song a deeper warmth that emphasises the versatility that has seen the band’s ongoing success. The song sees a demonstration of the talent of a band that build strong rhythms out of simple instrumentation while not forgetting melodic shape, not too dissimilar to the likes of Great Lake Swimmers or Grizzly Bear. Next, the band tease a new song with bassist James Doone taking lead vocals, whose mellowed baritone add a new depth to the performance while further demonstrating the band’s versatility. Followed up by a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Rake’ the band maintains a good balance between showcasing their energy and talent while respecting the relaxed mood of the room. A second new track, ‘All Our Woes’, embraces the audience with strong vocal dynamics and an even stronger stomp-along rhythm, reminding them of a towering passion for performance that sees the band on the stage again at Sunflowerfest later in the summer.
The band close with ‘Icarus’, pushing off from steady rhythms into an upbeat folk-burnout sustained by breakneck percussion. The refrain “Is it better to burn out than to fade away” becomes a rhetorical question against the searing energy of the instrumental, saturated with vocal harmonies and a red-hot banjo solo that revitalises the crowd for O’Regans set.
After the applause and a brief interval, Nathan O’Regan takes to the stage. The unassuming figure of one man, one guitar is quickly blown away with gospel-esque vocals and the emotionally-driven acoustic guitar playing that garnered the young artist’s early success and signing. The tracks ‘Nothing Wrong With You’ and a song O’Regan jokes was written as a reflection on the royal baby, “The king who had no choice”, channel acts such as Kings of Convenience with impressive rhythmic sensibilities and strong vocal lines. The following, ‘Rest Your Head’, has the singer-songwriter showcase a minor-key falsetto with vibrato echoing the likes of Matt Corby.
Pausing to reflect on the context of ‘Better Man’, a track with personal emotional significance for O’Regan, the relationship between the performer and audience gains a sense of authenticity. The sincerity clearly strikes the crowd, with the second-half of the song erupting into a powerfully emotional singalong. Relaxed into his debut gig, O’Regan uses the intimate setting to present new material. In the song ‘Someone Else’ heartfelt lyrics “love can be a dark place” blend with a simple, emotionally-driving guitar line, followed with EP track ‘They Said’ that sees pop sensibilities demonstrated with the undeniably catchy hook “they said that I can’t go on” that again sees vocal participation from the audience. In a self-styled anthem written during a Generator NI retreat ‘Come Back To Me’ the singer’s compelling delivery of the hook “to get up” wins participation of the crowd in the form of foot stomps and singalongs that further cements O’Regans competence as a live performer.
Before playing ‘Moving Closer’ the singer invites producer Michael Keeney up to join the arrangement. In the title track of the EP released earlier this year ‘One More Night’ the ballad-style composition of the song is complimented perfectly by Keeney’s piano playing. The addition of passionate chordal arrangements out of Keeney’s Nord keyboard alongside a ceaseless guitar and vocal line gives the tracks an impressive melodic depth in the small venue. The initial set is closed with ‘Like Never Before’ written with Gareth Dunlop and hinted by O’Regan that we can hope to hear recorded in October. The AC, virtually unnoticeable behind the strength of O’Regan’s vocals, is shut off for the encore and the room takes on an eager silence. In a confident use of softer dynamics and gentle guitar melodies the artist eases the performance to an end just before midnight.
A highly successful and compelling show. No Oil Paintings provided the folk grounding and energising of the crowd within the limits of a smaller live venue in preparation for Nathan O’Regan, who has built out of his success as a recording artist to establish himself as a competent live performer. Following his EP ‘One More Night’ we can expect to hear Nathan’s debut album later this year through producer Michael Keeney.