The intimate venue of The Sunflower bar made the perfect setting to showcase and promote some of the thriving musical talent that Belfast has to boast of. Although the evening was main act Owen Denvir‘s EP Launch, overall it felt more as though it was simply three friends getting together to play some music.
Kicking off the evening with a finger-picking guitar set was David Brown Murray. Right from the onset he manages to gauge that uniquely captivating quality that finger-picking guitar style has the ability to bring about, leaving the audience with no doubt as to his talent as a musician. Immediately fast-paced with a layered sound, it at moments has something of Latino influence but moves beyond this into an unashamedly creative sound that is extremely fun to listen to.
A highlight of the evening was his cover of Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” from the film Flashdance. Not immediately a song that would strike you as working particularly well adapted to guitar never mind finger-picking guitar and without vocals. Yet it worked extremely well and the novelty of hearing such a popular song creatively reworked into the finger-picking style confirmed the audience’s investment in the music. Covers work particularly well for David Browne Murray due to how different the sound is from the original yet how seamlessly he has been able to translate the song into the finger-picking style.
Other covers included “Cavatina” from the film Deerhunter. Undeniably Simon and Garfunkel-esque, it provided a touch of repose from the up until now, fast-paced sound. He finished his set with a cover of The Beegees “Stayin’ Alive” which was immediately recognisable to the audience. It’s infectious rhythm even managed to get a couple up and dancing. Yet such a short set ultimately left the audience looking for more.
Next up was Hannah McPhillimy who started off her set with her song “Kindness.” Sang simply with the accompaniment of her ukulele, this ensured that her distinctive voice stood out. Simplistic but charming, her songs enthral right from the onset. Her voice and musical style are Gabrielle Alpin meets Regina Spektor, with a bit of Laura Marling thrown into the mix in places too for good measure.
In her second song “Heart” the influence of Regina Spektor rings out markedly through both her vocals and her piano style. With ardent, conversational lyrics that mull over relationships and our place in the world, her songs have a maturity and a relatable element that renders her music memorable.
Alternating between her ukulele and the piano throughout her set, Hannah showcases her talent as a musician in the space of her short set. You are left with the feeling that you have discovered an artist who is really something quite special.
The evening progressed from finger-picking guitar to piano and ukulele infused folksy vibes and over to acoustic goodness with the third and final act of the evening, Owen Denvir. His first song of the evening “Jack Hammer” is a slow but utterly infectious tune that flaunts from the onset, Owen’s impressive vocal range. With a simplistic but memorable chorus “My heart beats like a jack hammer” it is an undeniably catchy song that piques audience’s attention from the onset.
Although catchy, “Jack Hammer” sets the tone of good old bittersweet melancholia infused acoustic music. While Owen very much keeps to the musical expectations of an acoustic artist, he does this with evident talent and a passion that shines throughout his set. His emotionally fuelled singing on songs such as “Coast of Spain” and “Stones from Paris” has the ability to keep the audience rapt by verses that hope for better times in sunnier climes and the difficulty of keeping relationships adrift when geography gets in the way.
One of the highlights of his set however was his duet with Hannah for the track “Staring at the Sun” the second track of his new EP. With a chorus of “I still hold a light, a little light for you” this song approached a more lighter, feel good territory of sound with both Owen’s and Hannah’s voices complimenting each other right the way through the song.
This more uplifting theme is continued right into the next song that Owen explained was written and performed as the first song at his brother’s wedding. With an instrumental intro played on the viola it definitely has the feel of a wedding song as it is right from the onset both uplifting and emotional in sound. The addition of the viola certainly made for an interesting turn from acoustic expectations and added another intriguing dimension to the evening. Owen manages to hit the high notes perfectly in this song and with a chorus of “It’s easy to see that you and me are meant to be” it’s easy to envision this at a wedding.
Owen’s set goes above and beyond the expectation of him as simply an acoustic artist. While this element remains intact for most of his set, it becomes evident on certain songs throughout the night that he is exploring a more experimental and varied sound that rings more of Ed Sheeran than say James Morrison. Describing how he’s “Gonna go hip hop” on a ranty song about an old boss, you are met with a sound more likely to make you dance than to contemplate life and it adds an interesting layer to his sound. Overall it displays a progression as an artist and a willingness to explore sounds outside the sometimes predictable nature of acoustic music. It highlights a certain maturity as an artist and will ensure in the longrun that his sound retains and welcomes interest.