Lowly Knights, Push Borders, Boathouse
If there was ever a good night for seeing some of the best of Norn Iron talent it was on February 19th. Oppenheimer, Panama Kings and Foy Vance were among the bands that were filling up venues right across Belfast city. However, despite the competition, there still was a large line of people patiently queuing round the corner of the Limelight to see the Lowly Knights and their two support bands Push Borders and Boathouse.
The venue was pretty much packed from the start when Boathouse took to the stage, with Amy the guitarist in a fedora and Mickey the bassist in a red woolly hat. Gerry, the lead singer, kicked off proceedings with a newly written song, as yet unnamed, which soon got the crowd going. 'What I Remember' and 'It Was A River' followed on, accompanied with sporadic clapping, maraca beats and trumpet toots, which gave these songs a playful dimension. The instrumental versatility of this six-piece is astounding with Gerry effortlessly gliding from keys to guitar to maracas between songs and Amy playing the glockenspiel intermittently before going back to the electric guitar strapped around her neck. The highlight of their set was the last song they played, where with a pair of lone drumsticks for percussion, Amy took centre stage to sing their new song 'Floods'. With her powerful and emotive voice exposed in all of its glory, a new musical territory was signalled for the band, where the usual back up singer stole the show.
Next up, all eyes moved to Push Borders who stirred the crowd with 'Sine Waves'. With guitarist Pete on his knees and the suited JP singing with gut wrenching heartfelt vocals, it was hard not to be moved. The tempo was then brought up a notch for 'The Garden State' with the unison of voices from keyboardist Andy, bassist Conor and singer JP really adding colour to one of the band's most well-known songs. 'All I Want All I've Got' and 'Dover 10 03' were then performed, before the band launched into an evolutionary clockwork orange build up of keys, percussion and guitar into their last song 'The Answer'. With hints of Placebo in JP's vocals, and sweat pouring from his brow, this was an almighty song for the five-piece to finish on. And with his formerly pristine white shirt now practically hanging off, there was no doubt that JP had given it his all.
With the arrival of fresh white daisies fastened to mics, affixed to the tops of instruments and stuck into peoples hair, it was time for the much anticipated Lowly Knights to come onto the stage - all twelve of them. A newly penned song was first introduced by Neil Mullan, who sang an understated melody accompanied by the cellist, before the full band kicked off with 'Baby, Don't Leave Me'. The radiating choral singers and the excitable fans made for a really uplifting atmosphere; the effect this band seems to have wherever they play. Delivering hook after hook in 'Devotion', 'Hold On, Rebel!' and 'Disappointment', you could see everyone in the crowd singing along, and that even the professional photographers were mouthing the words. Songs were built up in layers with unified clapping rhythms, clarinet sounds from the choir and lead singer Steven Caswell playing the mandolin, not to mention the two percussionists with their maracas and tambourine. 'You Can't Help Who You Love', for me, was the epitome of what this band represents right now; an upbeat collective that beams sunshine in whether you like it or not. Luckily for me I didn't just like it - I loved it.