Friday 27th November saw the release of Songs of Love and Fate, the second EP from Tony Villiers and the Villains; a follow up to 2012’s ‘Thin Wild Mercury.’ The Sunflower Public House, Belfast (Pub of the Year 2015) hosted the launch, and featured a plethora of local talent before Tony and The Villains took to the stage.
First on the bill was NJ McClean, his gruff Springsteen style voice delivering some great original tunes such as ‘Remember Me’. The combination of a great voice along with his skilled fingerpicking on resonator guitar ensured that NJ really set the tone of things to come.
David McCann took to the stage after NJ. An imposing figure, David had a surprisingly light and melodic voice, paired with some great acoustic guitar playing; his stage presence and musical talent held the floor with barely a whisper from the audience apart from the inevitable rounds of applause and cheering when he claimed with a wry grin that he had left all of his happy songs at home. David was my favourite of the supporting acts; his songwriting, singing and guitar playing all came together as a fantastic package. David plays in The Sandrunners who are currently promoting their new single ‘Speakeasy Polka’ which is available on Amazon and ITunes.
Next on the bill was Chase the River, a two piece comprised of Stuart Lunn and Lizzie Little who joined forces after playing separate solo gigs in their hometown of Belfast. Chase the River are a popular fixture in the local music scene right now and it’s easy to see why; their onstage chemistry cements their credibility as a two piece, and they strike the perfect balance as a singular act. Their self-titled EP as well as their new single ‘Everything’s Ok’ a feel good showcase of their chemistry and song writing ability.
One can’t help but get the feeling that all of the acts who played on the night were one big family of musicians at intersecting paths with a common love for folk based music and a knack for entertaining. This was made very clear when Mandy Bingham took to the stage and introduced herself and accompaniment as Chase the Rivers Mummy and Daddy..
Mandy is backed up by steel guitar with herself on acoustic, and the steel guitar certainly added to the haunting beauty of Mandy’s set. With songs reminiscent of the feeling one might get listening to a Leonard Cohen album for the first time, Mandy’s album Volume 1. has been hailed as a “Musical Novel” by Bearded Radio and “..a work of truly individual and original beauty.” by Folk and Tumble.
Around 10pm the main act Tony Villiers and the Villains were ready to take to the stage having had a front row seat to enjoy the supporting acts. Something to understand about Tony Villiers and the Villains is that they are the essence of a travelling folk/blues/country band; Tony embraces the audience and allows you to get sucked into the performance; aside from the music the only thing you might hear is foot tapping, clapping and the occasional high pitched ‘Yeoo!!’ as the Guinness flows. The audience get hyped up as the band come straight out of the gate not holding back with Bob Dylan’s ‘Leopard Skin Pill-box Hat.’
When Tony is playing there will always be a few Dylan songs; it is expected and encouraged by his audiences. Tony breathes new life into Dylan, even playing stripped down with just guitar, harmonica and vocals you get a feel for how Dylan would have played many of his post Nashville Skyline songs in the earlier style of ’63 Dylan with a smooth voice and impeccable delivery.
The new album ‘Songs of Love and Fate’ is a fantastic body of work, and is a strong leading step after 2012’s ‘Thin Wild Mercury’ which Ralph McLean described as “..Excellent…superb songwriting rooted in a great tradition.” Tony and the Villains mixed up tracks from both albums and sprinkled in some Dylan for good measure.
One of the highlights from the first album being performed was ‘The Last Waltz’ a beautifully written and performed song introduced as “A story about how you build an army by making people poor.” This speaks volumes for Tony’s mind-set on issues of poverty and shows his heart is authentically in the roots of the music and the folk tradition of the common man which it stems from. Although I’m sure he would say he didn’t write protest songs (like someone else we know). Also from Thin Wild Mercury was the highly requested ‘Jesus was a Rolling Stone’ and the heart breaking ‘If You Let Your Sweetheart Go.’
The new album took pride of place in the set, with tracks such as the old-school bluesy ‘Rabid Dog’, ‘Big ‘ol Dancin’ Bear Blues’ and my personal favourite off the new album, introduced as ‘a song about love and drugs’ ‘Rocksalt’ finishing with the first track off the album ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ and a word of thanks and support to all the acts
“Thanks for coming along.. Making the journeys.. It’s the only way things get done nowadays, when people get together and support local music.. You won’t learn things on Facebook and you won’t learn things on Twitter, you’ll only learn to hate, this is where you learn to love.”
You could be forgiven for thinking you were being transported back to The Last Waltz – an appropriate comparison as the launch night was held on the 39th anniversary of the famous The Band concert, given Tony’s penchant for all things Dylan you have to wonder if this was intentional.