Ciaran Lavery – Live at the Mac | Review
The Mac Belfast • Monday 19 December 2017
Cara Gibney •
You’d think after the summer ’16 release of Ciaran Lavery’s second album Let Bad In that he’d feel no compunction about leaving it for a while before bringing out his third album.
He’s made no secret of his discomfort at sitting still though, and it is now apparent that even while mixing and recording the tracks for Let Bad In there was a third release bouncing about in the background.
It all started at Christmas last year when Lavery performed a couple of special shows accompanied by a string trio, at the Mac. The performance was recorded and consequently made into Live at the MAC, consisting of Lavery’s own songs, a few covers, and a seasonal “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for the day that was in it.
A year later he was back at the Mac as part of a small series of shows for the new album, mirroring the original performances. His string ensemble were back on violin, viola and cello, and Dan Byrne-McCullough, the man who had arranged Ciaran’s music for the string performances, joined him on stage on guitar.
Before the music though there was Joelle Taylor to shake us awake. She’s a spoken word artist, a slam poet, a playwright, a hypnotising, gut wrenching, bold, raw, cutting, enlightening shard of reality. It was all a gorgeous contradiction to Lavery’s carefully assembled beauty and arranged classical hues. Not that Taylor’s work isn’t meticulously put together. The words that fired the realities of Britain’s underbelly at us across the Mac’s nice theatre space weren’t just an articulate stream of thought. They’ve been laboured over, hunted and stroked and teased into lines that make them hum and bellow and rattle. And the beauty of it is that she tells them, performs them, like she’s in a conversation with someone who isn’t listening. This is how it is out there, she’s saying; this is who is being pissed on, and how they’re being pissed on. And this is why it matters. She talked of people “clutching six-packs of children,” of “You who found your dream but could not spell.” She dedicated “Everything You Have Ever Lost Is In Here Mate” to Pace, a dear gone friend and fellow poet whose suicide occurred around the same time that she and Lavery first met. “Everything you have ever lost is in here mate” she told us over and over. “And it wants to come home.” Do yourself a favour and type Joelle Taylor into Google.
A short break later Ciaran Lavery, his string ensemble, and accompanying guitarist walked silently on stage and took position. Just back from their “exhausting 3-stop tour of England” they were well settled into the format and the rhythm of the show that was in front of them. As Dan Byrne‐McCullough’s guitar set sparks to Rachael Boyd’s violin they opened up with “American,” a Lavery classic. Boyd’s voice became another instrument as she joined, delicately, behind his words. The strings shifted from the smoothness of bows to the plucking of strings, mimicking the clear landing of dropping water. “I’m chopping down trees” he was singing as the second guitar spilt small glass beads into the song. They fell down the cracks of the words. You’ll never get them back now.
The opening to “Shame” was layered and delicate and particularly beautiful. Lavery’s voice was eased by Boyd’s harmonies; the violin and viola keeping it light to the touch while the cello’s deeper rolling notes kept us reminded of the heavy feeling underneath the song.
“I’m trying to think of something good to say” Lavery told us, “but I’m too nervous.” The room responded with a massive “awwwww…” and he paused, slightly, before pointing over to the right. “So while I’ve got your sympathy, the albums are outside …”
Between the songs and the strings and the hand on heart words he kept this up – the mild banter, the dopey jokes, the wee stories. He had all the time in the world up there it seems. He interrupted the opening bars of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to tell us he had watched a Michael Bublé Christmas special. Then he carried on, only to stop again. “That’s a joke, I didn’t” he assured us. But he needn’t have worried because his Aghagallon accent that seems to add an extra vowel to certain words, put paid to any notion that Lavery had studied Mr Bublé as an art form. “From now ‘ow-in’ [on] our troubles will be out of sight” he crooned in his sandy tenor. “Gather near to ‘uh-is’ [us] once more” he serenaded, dropping us way deep inside Christmas. The strings were heavy with that yuletide atmosphere, the one where you may as well enjoy it because it’s going to happen anyway.
It all seemed to fly. All too soon they were on their feet and walking off the stage. There was long applause calling them back for an encore, and on Lavery’s lone return, as he stepped towards the mic, there was a loud “No! No!” shouted from somewhere in the darkened seated room. The audience erupted, the comic timing was perfect. “That’s my da” Lavery told us dryly. “He’s always been supportive.” His four collaborators returned on stage for “Philadelphia,” the final song of the night, introduced with more stories and craic and an apology to his nephew Finn for playing this song instead of Finn’s requested number.
Finn – it looks like uncle Ciaran may have ruined your Christmas, but, maybe, just maybe, if you’re a very good boy, he’ll write a bloody song about it.