Hannah Peel, Laura Groves
In recent months, close friends and fellow singer songwriters Hannah Peel and Laura Groves have gotten into a rather wonderful habit of playing together whenever one of them books a gig. Both purveyors of quietly charming music, they complement each other perfectly on stage, and No Alibis proves to be the perfect venue for the two of them when they come to Belfast.
Although a popular bookstore may seem like an unusual place to hold a gig, in practice it works so well. On the night, the shop floor has been almost completely cleared and a series of comfy mismatched chairs are placed out in rows for the audience. At the back of the room, a small, simple stage has been created. There's something so intimate about the whole set up that it almost feels like you're coming to see a gig in the house of a close friend when you first walk in through the front door.
True, the venue is not remotely glitzy or glamorous, but in some ways that makes it even more suited to a performance by Hannah and Laura. They both come across as two normal, down-to-earth girls who just happen to be extremely talented.
Before they play, however, the crowd is first treated to a performance by John McGurgan. A local Belfast singer, he comes across as so laid back he may as well be lying across the stage rather than sitting on a stool as he performs. Using his lilting voice and acoustic guitar to good effect, he sings and strums his way through a series of songs. His music is simple and straightforward, but also captivating, and the audience remains silent throughout his performance.
When Hannah and Laura come on stage a few minutes after John, both wearing floral dresses, they launch straight into a special set containing a series of songs lifted from their respective solo records. Their voices are excellent live, so clear that it is possible to make out almost every intelligent lyric, and they have a great, positive dynamic together on stage.
The audience, already relaxed after John's set, seem to get even more chilled out as they lose themselves in Hannah and Laura's pretty music. Some audience members close their eyes and simply listen.
At times, there's something almost quaint about Hannah and Laura's performance. During one song, Hannah gets out an old-fashioned xylophone. On another few, she plays part of the tune from a simple music box. For the most part though, they rely on a single electric guitar and keyboard to accompany their tunes.
Throughout the whole hour-long set, the gig continues to be understated and just lovely. It's hard to imagine better way to unwind after a long, hard day than coming here to listen to the wonderful Hannah and Laura.