Friday 20th December 2013 – 101 Central, Belfast
Despite a bomb scare only a couple of streets away people begin to file into the candle lined 101 Donegal Street. Tonight provides a lovely end to the year for NI label Smalltown America, with all 3 bands on tonight’s lineup being taken from their current roster. It has been an incredible year for the label with new albums coming from Jetplane Landing, More Than conquerors and tonight’s headliners Sullivan & Gold among others.
Opening tonight is Our Krypton Son, an act that has not appeared on my radar until tonight. For this performance however there is no full band, only frontman Chris wielding an acoustic guitar. He steps up to the microphone as his shadow bounces off the wall behind, setting the atmosphere for this low key but intriguing set. Starting with Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper,’ I am immediately drawn in by his vocal performance. During the course of the set he brings on Ben & Adam of Sullivan & Gold as well as Connor Mason of Little Bear, as well as making the change to piano in the 2nd half of the set. In doing so he keeps the audience in his grasp for the duration of the set. As he plays I hear the murmurs of people comparing him to the likes of Willie Mason among others. With A new EP out in the New Year I look forward to hearing more from Our Krypton Son.
Having seen Little Bear play during their headline tour my only worry was that their style was perhaps too varied to create a coherent album. Tonight however my fears were laid to rest! Opening with a fairly new song ‘Dissonance’ the four- piece captivate the audience from the outset. Their set goes from strength to strength through songs like ‘Night Dries like Ink’, ‘I’d Let You Win’ and ‘Few and Far Between’ along with the announcement that their new single ‘An Ancient Wave’ will be released in the New Year. Closing their set they unplug and gather around the piano for an acoustic version of ‘The Devil is a Songbird’. It has been an incredible 2013 for this band, helped immensely by Other Voices who brought them from Derry/ Londonderry to London and then to their home in Dingle. They now have the backing of Smalltown America and a bright future ahead with these songs. I firmly believe they will be one of the next bands to break out of the Northern Irish music scene to achieve massive recognition.
With Little Bear’s set over I begin to wonder how Sullivan & Gold will fill the shoes of the band exiting stage left. I really enjoyed their album but perhaps didn’t connect with all of their songs. I also had slight concerns in the back of my head about how these would be played live. The 2 boys with their band step onto stage to a warm reception. The hall is very full now. Ben Robinson approaches the microphone and thanks people for coming introducing the first song as ‘Run Faster’. In a nice touch the video flashes onto the wall behind as the song plays. By the songs conclusion my concerns have left me. The set now flows from one song to the next with piano driven ‘Forget Myself’ and ‘Jigsaws’ providing variety. Due to a technical difficulty the duo unplug for a charming version of ‘Don’t Stand In Line’, showcasing the incredible harmonies away from the microphones, while bringing a new life and charm to the song.
Changing back to electric but continuing to distance themselves from the microphones they sing ‘People Talk’ the same charm comes through with this song. You could now hear a pin drop with everyone focusing on the two boys. Plugging back in Adam takes the lead vocals on ‘Lonely’, a piano driven track accompanied once more by their backing band. The long awaited Christmas cover ensues with their version of ‘O Holy Night’ finally helping me achieve some kind of Christmas spirit providing a dynamic strength that simply can’t be captured by a sound desk. The final track of the night was ‘Glory’, the next single for the band. While I did initially have concerns about the gig, I was proven wrong by the sheer talent on show. As I walked into the cold Belfast night, it was clear we had all been captivated by what I had seen from all bands.