Belfast Music Week: Robyn G Shiels and more - The Palm House, Belfast
Robyn G Shiels, David C Clements, Katharine Philipp, VerseChorusVerse
The Palm House, Botanic Gardens, Belfast
Wednesday 7th November
For the 50 people fortunate enough to get a ticket, this evening’s showcase in Botanic Garden’s Palm House promises to be the most bespoke gig in Belfast Music Week’s programme. We’re met at the garden gates and ushered along a dark path to the Palm House’s rear entrance. In the main atrium several rows of seats have been set out and a small performance space cleared. Built like a cathedral of intricate glass and metal work, filled with exotic plants and illuminated by Victorian lampposts, it feels more like we’ve have strayed into Narnia than a public park.
Huddled in hats and scarfs the audience do their best to dodge the drops of condensation falling from the ceiling. The lights drop with a jolt and Stuart Bailie introduces us to the ‘maddest venue’ of the week.
First up is Tony Wright’s VerseChorusVerse. “I’ve always wanted to play here in Jurassic Park” he says. Wright plays without amplification, really digging his heels into the acoustic potential of the space. “The rain starts falling” he fittingly sings. His carefully enunciated vocals and considered intensity during ‘Held Myself’ conjure Cat Stevens but the stand out song is bold and bluesy, ‘Big Red Van’ which he dedicates to Portstewart guitarist Henry McCullough. It allows him to let loose and something of his former ASIWYFA persona comes to the surface.
Next we have Katharine Philippa who, curled over the piano, opens with ‘Fallen’. “I’m not in a talkative mood today” she later tells us “but I drew a picture to express how I feel”. With any other artist this might have seemed forced but here it adds to the charm of an extraordinary evening. We’re treated to the cinematic score of “Broken to be Rebuilt” and even a snippet of Antony and the Johnson’s “Hope There’s Someone”. Philippa has a unique soaring quality to her voice which occasionally catches in the middle of her range somewhere between tentativeness and longing, the effect is enrapturing.
Robyn G Shiels is next -a change to the advertised billing reminding us there’s no official headliner tonight. Shiels’ barely audible addresses to the audience draw a few cries of ‘speak up’ but when singing his voice carries strongly whilst simultaneously feeling slight and confessional. The quieter moments, of which there are a few, are accompanied by the surround-sound patter of condensation. The highlight though comes in the form of a medley of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ and Shiels’ ‘Hello Death’. His songs deal with vast themes through simplistic melodies and have a brutal honesty to them.
Last up is David C Clements. He gives no introductions, instead working though material showcasing precise lyrical phrasing, deft guitar playing and a hugely capable voice. Final song “On the Border” offers vocal swells reminiscent of indie act Local Natives and haunting melodies that invoke The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan. It is an immersive and mature sound which stands out despite the exceptional standard of tonight’s bill.
Words: Tom Balfour
Photo: Carrie Davenport