The Winding Stair
Rather than sweat it out with the masses at The Young Knives or the MC5 I have elected to spend a Saturday night in a bookshop on Botanic Avenue, quaffing mulled wine. This may not be the most propitious of beginnings to an evening out, but tonight there is nowhere I would rather be. David, proprietor of No Alibis, has regular jazz and blues gigs and the books prove for surprisingly good acoustics!
The slightly inauspicious start to the evening comes from Mark Fannin, a singer-songwriter who suffers from preceding two of the most interesting acts in Belfast today. 'Lonesome' Steve McCann treats the packed bookshop to great guitar playing and a nice line in mournful lyrics laced with black humour. His version of Bert Jansch's 'Black Water Side' is of particular note, as is his own instrumental guitar pieces and 'Drink to Remember', a keening song of love and loss. McCann's superb strumming secures his superiority among this city's singer-songwriters.
The main course, The Winding Stair, arrive on stage, admittedly looking a little like they've got lost on the way to a tutorial on Nietzsche. But the moment their first track, 'Bandage My Hands', begins, they hold the audience spellbound and don't let go until the last note. Mary O'Halloran's has a pure, strong and melodic voice which works perfectly acapella or with accompaniment, and Ciaran Tracey, formerly of local metal hopefuls Hexxed, is a remarkable guitarist, oscillating between folk and more heavy rhythms with ease and skill.
Clare Galway's violin playing was intricate yet never too imposing, her harmonies with Mary are spine tingling, and Tom Hughes' brooding cello provides the darkness that sets them apart from traditional music. Of particular note is the stunning 'Revelry', 'Promises', and the version of the traditional love song 'I Will Give My Love An Apple', which featured the remarkable four-part harmonies that holds everyone rapt.
With so many bands in Belfast shamelessly following London-based music fads, it was a delight to see four talented musicians and singers giving us such different sound. While this was a very special evening, I hope to see the band again soon in a venue where more people can enjoy their impressive folk-noir.
Photo by Andrew Martin