Internet trolls are a small price to pay for engaging comment sections

Upon reading Jessica Valenti’s recent article for The Guardian “the case for ending online comments” I was aghast to read her argument against keeping online comments sections running. It seems to me the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and singing to block out hearing other voices.

Nonetheless, it has got me thinking about whether “cyber-bullying” and internet trolling are indeed enough to legitimate her case. Valenti argues that “comments are a place where the most noxious thoughts rise to the top and smart conversations are lost in a sea of garbage” yet I have frequently found the opposite. Like many, I cannot wait to read the comments sections after reading an article as, I feel, they extend the narrative beyond the parameters of the article itself and probe subjects that word counts perhaps simply couldn’t allow for. More often than not I see engagement in debate as opposed to “a sea of garbage” but then again, perhaps one man’s garbage really is another man’s treasure I suppose?

Comments sections are like driving. Perhaps a strange comparison but stay with me. Most of the drivers you encounter on your commute are reasonable and abide by the rules of the road. But eventually you’ll come across a driver with a crazed sense of entitlement and importance, in a rush somewhere and willing to speed, beep, overtake and endanger others to get there. Still with me? Great. Like communicating via the web there is a (wind)screen between you and the outside world that means you can get away with a bit more than you would in a normal face to face encounter with someone.

Having been on my R plates for almost a year now and making some small driving errors with other drivers’ eyes on me, I am almost fully convinced that the real ugly, nasty cores within (some) people are awakened whenever they get into that drivers seat. And the same goes for typing up a comment under an article, there’s ultimately nobody else to stop you. Like a vehicle, you’re completely in control of it.

CONVOLUTED DRIVING COMPARISONS ASIDE, despite the “garbage” in comments sections there is some real gold among comments and that shouldn’t be undervalued because some ridiculous stone age, sexist comment is posted among it. Most of the time narrow mindedness reaps what it sows whenever a multitude of people urge a troll back into its cave through retaliation. I mean, if said troll posts his/her comment they are equally taking the risk of criticism also. As someone who trawls through many, many comments in articles simply because I find them fascinating to read, I’ve seen more discouragement of trolls than engagement with them from other commenters. But, it’s completely dependent on the article.

It feels as though the risk of criticism from internet trolls is a risk worth taking if it brings a fresh perspective and one that is perhaps not always agreed with but ultimately valued in bringing colour to an issue and stimulating debate. A friend of mine recently stopped himself from unfollowing Twitter profiles that were at odds with his own point of view. His reasoning behind this was that if you block out everything that is at odds with your own point of view you will be surrounded by only that which you consider correct and bring about the illusion that a certain stance on an issue is the only one that matters. The same is applicable here. Blocking out voices isn’t a viable option for news platforms such as The Guardian.

As someone who edited the opinion section of my university’s student newspaper for a year, I thrived upon reading others opinions on issues. I still (evidently) really enjoy reading opinion articles even the ones that make my blood boil through how (SUBJECTIVELY) wrong I think they are. But surely that is the beauty of opinion writing? I am slightly shocked that as a columnist Valenti would be discouraging engagement from her readers. Her own writing is dependent upon her opinion and opinion articles exist to provoke debate and stimulate thought, they ultimately thrive upon reaction.

The part that hit the hardest in Valenti’s article however was the notion that “Outside of the few places that have rich and intelligent conversation in comments, what is the point of engaging in debate where the best you can hope for are a few pats on the back from strangers for that pithy one-liner?” What’s deemed rich and intelligent is completely subjective and while most aren’t paid to air their opinions, that doesn’t undervalue them. It also seems that a lack of pats on the back from strangers has been the very fuel to Valenti’s fire.

It would appear “the never-ending stream of derision…that you or what you write is stupid or that your platform is undeserved” which Valenti complains about is simply being re-applied to those delivering such notions to her. She’s simply engaging in a never ending “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I?” battle.

Ultimately, internet trolls who post ridiculous comments simply for the fun of it are a small price to pay for the stimulation of real online debate. And with individuals being able, more than ever, to engage with issues online, de-sensitisation to trolls is imminent if not already happening.


Over-qualified but no Experience: What is a Degree Worth Nowadays?

The way we understand a university education is changing rapidly. The idea that a university degree is the ticket to your dream job is not one that is relevant or true to a large extent now. With more than half of UK graduates in non-graduate jobs, it feels pertinent to stop and ask whether university is actually worth it nowadays. Have we reached a point where school leavers should turn their backs on the assumption that university is really the next logical step?

Okay, there is no doubt that university is a great experience. A first taste of real independence, meeting new people and getting involved with societies can teach you a lot about yourself, bring you out of your shell and simply change you for the better. The university experience is, and always will be, a positive one for personal development. Yet of course this experience comes with an exceedingly large price tag – tuition fees, student accommodation and everything else in between.

While it’s true that student loans don’t have to be paid back until you’re earning over a certain amount, it can still feel pretty demoralising to know that there is somewhere between ten and thirty thousand pounds of debt hanging over your head before you have even reached your mid twenties. So, it is really no wonder that graduation day had a certain bittersweet feeling to it. All the hard work paid off in achieving the grades I wanted but I feel I speak for many fellow graduates in saying that I don’t feel any more employable than I did before I completed my degree, combine that with the pile of debt and you have a very bitter feeling indeed.

The assumption that university is assuredly the best option for school leavers is one that should be altered. Although, I’m glad I completed my degree and thankful I had the opportunity to do so, I also feel I would have benefited at the time I was applying to uni from some advice that a degree is not the only means of attaining a “good” job or indeed your dream job.

We have all faced the deflating moment checking the criteria for a job only to find that it is essential to have a certain amount of experience to even be considered for it, no matter how enthusiastic you are about it. Indeed, a mere glance on the requirements for a job you’re interested in will show that there is much besides a degree that will make you a desirable applicant. As a graduate I bitterly have come to understand that work experience and skills really mean a lot more to a prospective employer than simply a degree. And that isn’t even to say I don’t have work experience either. I’ve worked part time for the guts of five years whilst studying.

While a degree shows you have the dedication and hard work to persevere with something difficult, it is just common sense that your degree won’t measure up beside someone who has A-Levels and three years’ extensive experience in the field you are applying for. Would it have been better to leave school, try to get some work and work your way up from there? Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief executive Peter Cheese has stated that “It’s crucial we as a nation take stock now of whether our higher education system is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations, and society,” further outlining that apprenticeships may be a better option for school leavers than higher education. You can earn money, learn workplace skills and gain valuable work experience all at the same time. Yet, an apprenticeship wasn’t even something I had heard of until recent months, it was never something I’d came across in careers classes at school.

Yet with a record number of students heading to university this September in the UK, the university option for school-leavers is not losing any of its popularity. While workplace skills and experience count for a lot when applying for a job, the abundance of young people in the UK who will have a university education will very likely, in the long run, have an impact upon qualifications criteria for jobs. This means that with work experience held in high esteem combined also with education expectations being raised, jobs are very likely to just get harder and harder to attain.

Review: The Late Twos – HMV Belfast 4/07/2015

Local Belfast band The Late Twos performed a free, afternoon gig in HMV in the midst of one of Belfast’s busiest times of the year – the Tall Ships festival.

For an up and coming band this festival atmosphere could only work in their favour and indeed for a small gig, The Late Twos attracted a considerable crowd to hear what they had to offer. The five piece band was formed in late 2010 and in that space of time have produced two EPs and their single “Never Mind.”

Without a word the band immediately kick off their set and what is striking from the start is how despite having a small stage the band aren’t put off by it, instead lead singer Matty is dancing and making full use of their space. Their sound is ultimately influenced by a range of musical styles from indie toT pop punk to Brit pop and this is evident within their first two fast paced songs. They bring it down a notch slightly with their more melodic offering of “Modette to Ladette.” This is the first song that the audience seem very familiar with, singing along to it and indeed it is easy to imagine this song in particular being belted out at a summer festival. It has that certain irresistible summer, anthem-like quality.

Keeping the audience on their toes after this slower number they jump right into the faster paced “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” and even from the title of this song the influence of Arctic Monkeys is evident. Like Arctic Monkeys, The Late Twos have a laid back, down to earth attitude and their music deals with similar topics such as parties, drinking and get togethers. Yet alongside this laid back attitude their enthusiasm for performing shines out and it highlights simply how comfortable they are on stage.

A dramatic, guitar infused build up at the start of “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” won’t be the first occasion during this gig that the band’s music can be strongly compared to the heavy, fast paced but melodic sounds of The Vaccines. The Vaccines’ music is absolutely emboldened by the degree to which it is associated with summer music festivals and it is increasingly difficult throughout The Late Twos’ set to not imagine their music being played at a sunny festival. Indeed it is the simplicity of the chorus of “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” that renders this song particularly infectious to sing along to and gives off the sense that this band are really hitting the nail on the head with potential festival anthems.

Providing relief from the declamatory “Get Down Before I Pull You Down” is the slower paced “Sierra Leone” which is the first song thus far to really showcase the vocal range of lead singer Matty. Hitting the high notes in the chorus coupled with an impressive guitar solo, “Sierra Leone” despite not being one of the band’s better known songs really showcases, overall, the musical skill of The Late Twos.

The remainder of their gig is comprised of songs that the audience would be most familiar with such as “Don’t Wanna Stop This Dance” and their self titled track “The Late Twos.” These songs in particular feel as though they are the ones that the band themselves enjoy playing the most. Encouraging the audience to sing along, their lyrics are difficult to resist engaging with, especially their self titled track that sings about “A fridge full of Stella and a bag full of songs.” It is The Late Twos’ layered sound that moves from pop punk to something more reminiscent of The Strokes, combined with relatable lyrics, that makes their music so gripping and ensures the fact that they have much more in store.

Review: Laura Marling and Gill Landry, Waterfront Hall Belfast, 8/5/2015

Beginning her career in music at the young age of just sixteen, singer-songwriter and guitarist, Laura Marling, now twenty-five and still a young artist, has spent so many of her formative years within music. Personal growth is undoubtedly reflected through a music catalogue that can boast of five albums in just under a decade of musical activity. Associated most prominently with ‘nu-folk’ and acoustic music from her first albums ”Alas, I Cannot Swim” and “I Speak Because I Can” her latest album “Short Movie” marks an undeniable development from her folk-infused, acoustic beginnings, somewhat unexpectedly exploring an overall heavier sound that prefers the electric guitar more than the acoustic.

Beginning the night as support was Louisiana born, Old Crow Medicine Show member and singer-songwriter, Gill Landry. He entered the stage without a word and jumped right into “Funeral In My Heart” the first song off his new album suitably named “Gill Landry”. His simplistic, acoustic mellowness was the perfect pre-cursor for an audience of Marling fans. Although perhaps a song that includes the lyrics “Why do all good things have to die” threw the audience in at the deep end from the onset, he picked up straight after with the fast-paced, “Never Coming Here Again”. With strong, irresistibly husky vocals coupled seemlessly with finger-picking guitar solos that punctuated his set throughout, the sheer talent of Landry feels starkly obvious. The addition of violin brought into the latter part of his set lent an emotional depth that complimented the rawness of his acoustic skill. Not only this, but the transformation from an expected one-man set into collaboration with his violinist on a second mic made “Waiting For Your Love” into a duet that could rival Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan but with an undoubtedly country/folk twist.

However, the song that really made the set something to remember was “Take This Body”. With a simplistic guitar riff that brought attention to the intensity of the lyrics, this was only built upon by the addition of the double bass and drums brought in for the chorus. Taking the second part of the song, Marling unexpectedly and casually stepped out on to the stage. She sang with a quiet intensity that has you hanging on to each word, leaving you wanting to hear more, yet inevitably the chorus came along -“So take this body babe, and hold me tight. Give me more than flesh and bone” Marling and Landry make an emotionally fuelled collaboration seem effortless but intimate, as if you’re simply witness to a particularly special late night jam session between friends.

Marling’s own set had for its backdrop, a picture of a desert that varied from light to dark throughout the night, representative of emotional highs and lows that make Marling’s music so notable. Getting her show off to a particularly intense and if not slightly long-winded start, she combined “Howl” from her newest album with“I Was An Eagle”, “You Know” and “Breath” all from her fourth album. This combination showcased not only stamina but development upon her vocal skill. She showed a great deal of vocal variation ranging from calm, controlled almost quiet vocals at the beginning of “Howl” to the loud, declamatory “I will not be a victim of romance, I will not be a victim of circumstance” from “I was an Eagle”. Indeed, this combination of such different songs with moments of musical highs and lows exposed the candid parameters of human experience related within her lyrics.

Up until this point a word hasn’t been said to the audience, Marling utters a quick hello and jumps straight into her next song “I Feel Your Love” from “Short Movie” at this point it becomes evident that this is going to be an evening focused determinedly upon music. The heavier rock influences of her new album come out within this second , fast paced song. Following this up with one of her more popular new offerings, “How Can I” this is a song that retains its folk influences showing that despite her musical development, Marling has not let go completely of the genre she is so associated with. Yet, the vocals again are the most notable part with the infectious and smooth chorus of “How will I live without you?”

At this point there has been a favourable mixture of her old and new styles, showing that rather than an artist that has changed musically, Marling is an artist that is simply showing the ambitious musical range that she is capable of. Yet with an audience member shouting out “Do you have any banter?” the lack of conversational interaction has evidently left the her fans wanting. Simply replying with “Have you been to any of my shows before?” this purposeful focus upon delivering her show as a singer/musician rather than an entertainer is a clear feature expected from a Marling show. Beginning the eagerly awaited “Rambling Man” however, she stops abruptly, remembering some “banter”. This is the fact that she actually wrote “Rambling Man” when she was in Belfast. This provided a light-hearted counterpoint to an evening that has so far been musically intense. The folk infused “Rambling Man”, one of Marling’s most famous songs with the lyrics of “Let it always be known that I was who I am”, garnered the biggest engagement from the audience thus far. For many, this song would have sealed an overall interest in her music.

Marling is sure to throw in many of her early songs, not simply promoting her new album, but the show takes an undeniably heavy turn with offerings such as “False Hope” and “Master Hunter” (see link below). These more fast-paced songs reflect an edginess to her music that contrasts with the more modest offerings such as “Rambling Man” Indeed, with lyrics such as “You let men into your bed, they don’t know you well. They can’t get into my head, they don’t have a hope in hell” and fast singing that is at points, dare I say, Alanis Morrisette-esque, Marling again resists any easy categorisation as simply a folk artist. Yet, it cannot be denied that many members of the audience would have been there expecting a night consisting wholly of folk and easy listening acoustic.

Unexpectedly, one of the most enjoyable songs of the night is a song called “Daisy” a song that didn’t make it on to her new album but that Marling feels “Maybe should have”. It is a song that differs quite a bit from the heavier music on her new album with a definite folksy feel. Like much of Marling’s music the song feels almost as though she is simply relating a conversation or story yet somehow is able to make it intriguing. She wraps up the night with “Short Movie” – the song that takes the name of her album. It feels like the perfect song to end the night with the lyrics of “Who do you think you are? Just a girl who can play guitar” and “No I’m not gonna stop” Despite having no encore, Marling is an artist that successfully gives off the feeling that after almost a decade in music, she has still retained passion for it and it doesn’t seem likely to run short any time soon.

NI Arts Sector in Sad State

“Across the arts council as a whole, optimism is in short supply. In fact, in 16 years we’ve never known morale so low with so many arts organisations facing closure or on the brink of collapse.” These are the first deflating words you will read if you happen to pick up a copy of the programme for The 16th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.

Although CQAF was able to retain its original funding, many upstanding organisations such as The Lyric Theatre and The Grand Opera House trust have had their funding cut substantially. Worse yet, six organisations including Blackstaff Press have had their funding cut entirely. Despite the fact that 23,000 people wrote to the Northern Ireland Executive voicing their aversion to the proposed cuts of £1.38 million, this has failed to make any kind of impact upon the decision.

It is easy to connect with the arts, that is what makes them so essential to life itself. Film, literature, and music are just some of the ways in which we connect with the arts on a daily basis. They enhance our well being, and our connection with others, not to mention how they promote growth to the economy and to tourism.

What is not easy to connect with however, is the impersonal, and bureaucratic government of Stormont ministers, who at the top decide where funding is meant to go and where it isn’t. This has an effect that trickles down into the now bleak prospects for the arts in Northern Ireland. In 2014, through campaigns such as the ’13p For The Arts’, awareness in anticipation of upcoming cuts was striven to be spread of the extent to which cuts were already affecting organisations. Arts Council Chief Executive Roisin McDonough has outlined how “The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) is one of the smallest departments, representing only 1% of total government expenditure, yet it is set to sustain one of the largest cuts in the NI budget 2015-16.”

In such a corporate world, the arts have a narrow reputation of appearing frivolous. This is being reflected through the decision to make cuts to a sector that has been proven to promote an enormous amount of growth with McDonough further pointing out how “The arts have become one of Northern Ireland’s main sources of job creation, wealth and competitive strength, feeding the creative industries, which employ 40,000 people and generate annually £714m Gross Value Added to the local economy. That’s bigger than agriculture.” Indeed, in a 2014 press release from their statistics found that for the UK more broadly, creative industries generate 8 million an hour to UK economy. Therefore, we must question to what extent are these cuts to an industry that was already struggling in terms of funding, in line with what is best for society and what society actually wants, when 23,000 contesting voices went ignored.

It is the mindset of political figures such as Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, that are harmful to the reputation of the arts. In November 2014 she said that “The subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects” STEM degrees are undoubtedly highly prized, but the mindset that they are the only route to a successful career is one that is harmful to society and the fate of the arts sector on the whole.

While it is disheartening to see that such narrow mindedness and undervaluing of the arts appears to be permeating into governmental logic at Stormont, perhaps the ramifications soon to be felt will be the catalyst to recognise what has become so unappreciated and fragmented in Northern Ireland. Maybe in recognising what is being lost, will the worth be realised and come to the surface.

Things like cuts have a way of falling through the cracks unnoticed. To remedy this, show your support for the arts, attend shows at a local festival such as CQAF or a local theatre show. A march for the arts and against the cuts is also being held in Belfast City Centre on May 2nd alongside the May Day Parade.

Live review: Nicki Minaj, Odyssey Arena Belfast, 1/4/2015

Arguably, the first and foremost thing that, ahem, sticks out, so to speak, about Nicki Minaj is that of her elaborate, risqué image. When she first exploded into the music scene back in 2012 she was adorned with bright neon wigs, elaborate make up and even more elaborate outfits. To say that this doesn’t have a certain amount of bearing upon how her status as an artist, and a female artist at that, is perceived would be wrong. A Nicki Minaj concert comes loaded with a certain amount of scandalous, boundary pushing expectations. Many may see her racy get ups as the only thing that defines her yet she’s the only female that has featured on the Hip Hop Cash Kings 2013 list, earning more than Eminem and Kendrick Lemar. Superficial or not, Minaj is clearly doing something right within the male dominated realm of rap and hip hop. Indeed, as the fans flooded into the Odyssey in their hundreds it’s time to figure out if there’s more to Nicki Minaj than racy outfits.

Opening up the night was support act Trey Songz, promoting his new album ‘Trigga’. As the arena is left in darkness for his entrance, the screen displays the cover art for his new album. Said artwork equates Trey Songz with Christ through an image of him in a cross position. It was enough in itself to confirm that this portion of the night was going to be one big ego-trip. His entire show was tirelessly punctuated with cries to the audience of “Who is gonna be my girl?” and other empty cat calls to that effect. Greeted with hundreds of girlish cheers from the audience he gained himself exactly the reaction he wanted but it wasn’t for his music, it was for his physicality. Musically, Trey Songz is reminiscent of Chris Brown or Ne-Yo. Yet his music feels slightly derivative, the kind of songs that sound like something else that you can’t quite place. Song after song devoted to the subject of sex, with lyrics that lack any kind of vigour, Trey Songz’s portion of the night feels extremely repetitive and elongated. Just when you think he’s going to close his portion with his cleverly named ‘Na Na’ he jumps right into ‘Touchin, Lovin’ and asks his audience “Who wants to touch me?” An artist that clearly has no sense of the fact that he is not in fact Kanye West or Jay Z, there is a palpable relief when he finally exits the stage with an unearned ego of abhorrent proportions.

As a support act, Trey Songz was tiring. It was lucky that there was an interlude for the audience to collect themselves. Finally, however a dramatic opening that displays a video of various clips of Nicki being photographed by the paparazzi builds up a certain sense of tension only intensified by smoke snaking around the stage. While this intensity is built through the video clips, it does feel slightly longwinded, almost as if it’s preparing us for Nicki Minaj: The Movie, yet eventually, the eagerly awaited singer rises up on a lift from underneath the stage. Dressed from head to toe in black with a veil over her face, the colourful eclectic association we have of Minaj appear in this moment to be obsolete. There is the sense that she is challenging these widely held, narrow notions of who she is and showcasing to the audience how she has deeper dimensions.

Her latest ‘The Pinkprint’ album which the tour is promoting, was written in the wake of a break up with a long term partner. As she begins the show with the first song of the album ‘All Things Go’ the sense of mourning the end of her relationship is strongly clear through lyrics such as “Cherish these days, man do they go quick, just yesterday I swear it was ’06” Seemingly a far call from the days of her fun, upbeat club anthems such as ‘Starships’ which perhaps she has become most associated with, right from the onset Minaj shows herself as a developed artist musically.

This deeper vein continues right throughout the show as she continues with more offerings from ‘The Pinkprint’ such as ‘I Lied’ and ‘The Crying Game.’ However, this is not to say that the entire show was bereft of the colourful, scandalous side of her we have come to know so well. Indeed, lacking the skirt she was wearing at the beginning of the show, she begins her song ‘Feeling Myself’ which Beyonce featured in on ‘The Pinkprint’. More energised, this risqué song, evident even through its title, throws the audience in at the deep end after the slow beginning we were subjected to. At one point she steps back on to the stage lift for a costume change and is lowered down with one fist in the air appearing like some kind of backwards superhero, which indeed, could arguably be a fitting description of her overall.

Returning to the stage in a gold outfit donning gold thigh high boots Minaj looks more in line with audience expectations. When tree stump stools are laid out on stage it becomes instantly evident that the song so many people have been waiting for was about to happen. Yes, up next was the controversial ‘Anaconda’ with some extremely elaborate dancing with her back up dancers. The stark transition from the dark, gloomy beginning to the shouts of “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun” show how much diversity is abundant throughout the show.

Yet, perhaps the song that shone out the most, was unexpectedly, ‘Marilyn Monroe’. Introducing it with the words “For anyone that’s ever doubted themselves, that’s okay, I get that way too” she jumped right into the highly emotive, piano infused song. For an audience that had such a dominantly female audience it felt extremely prominent in how many girls and women alike would see her as a role model. It’s easy to see an artist that reaches sky high heights of fame in only one particular light, they feel somehow fictional in a way through the continual projection of a certain image. Yet ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and indeed the concert overall humanised a cultural figure that has become subject to so much scrutiny by the media and through her music videos.

Bringing the show to an end, she invited three members of the audience on stage to dance with her, the one that stuck out most was a twelve year old boy with so much enthusiasm for her music. He left the stage with the heartfelt statement ‘I don’t care what anyone says, you’re the queen of rap’ it caused the biggest reaction from the audience as they confirmed his statement through cheers. Returning for an encore wearing a blonde wig and performing a string of her more upbeat hits such as ‘Bang Bang’ it was clear that the upbeat and energetic side of Nicki Minaj has not disappeared through showing the more candid side of her in ‘The Pinkprint’. The show simply displayed an artist that is exploring ways of developing more mature musical inclinations while maintaining the more lighthearted side.

Live Review: Morrissey, Odyssey Arena, 24/03/2015

Morrissey, is undeniably an artist that so many people have a love hate relationship with. Animal protectionist, monarchical abolitionist, he has always used his music as a platform for promoting his frank, outspoken views. His show at Odyssey Arena was no different. Still retaining his harsh veneer throughout some thirty years in music, you cannot fault his perseverance in upholding his principles. If you came to his show solely for a musical experience, then you were in for a perhaps, dampening surprise.

Canadian folk singer and Native American rights activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, was the support act of the evening. Before even entering the stage she kicked the night off with an extensive offering of spoken word. Vaguely Patti Smith-esque, this unconventional opening set the precedent for a night that was to be filled with unconventionalities. Entering the stage with boundless energy, you wouldn’t for a second believe that Buffy Sainte-Marie is in fact seventy-four years old. Wasting no time she greeted the audience with enthusiasm and jumped right into the first song ‘It’s My Way’. Accompanied with folk-infused guitar, this song is off her 1964 album of the same name. With the lyrics of ‘I’ve got my own life, I’ve got my own strife’ the sense of the long, independent rise in music that Buffy Sainte-Marie has made since the 1960’s is conveyed strongly.

Explaining how she got an academy award back in 1983 for the infamous ‘Up Where We Belong’ this led into performing the highly emotive power ballad, just three songs in. With one member of the audience feebly waving a lighter from side to side, there was a palpable sense that it was much too early in the evening for this song to be performed. Perhaps better reserved to the end it rendered her set slightly erratic. Asking the audience the question of “What do you think about the power in your DNA?” and jumping straight into a fast-paced song off her newest album, ‘Power In Your Blood’, it had an extremely jarring effect with the power ballad we were just minutes ago subjected to. Her politically infused set of songs all felt mawkishly benevolent in attempting to rally the audience into the various vague causes that may as well have been simply condensed down to world peace. Describing how her final song ‘Starwalker’ is for all the generations passed, all future generations and also, for “all the pets”, she gives us a roundabout way of explaining that her music is for everyone. Yet, I’m not so sure.

Overall, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s enthusiastic folk music, was a choice of support that was jarring with the musical tastes you could expect of a crowd of Morrissey fans. Yet it felt as though challenging the audience expectations of what is in store at a concert was one of Morrissey’s aims as the night went on. During the interval, exposed to a bricolage of cultural video clips that included music videos, Spanish dancing, tv clips, and a reading of Anne Sexton’s poem “Wanting to Die”, the audience was increasingly left unsure of the artist’s motives. Yet eventually, after tirelessly trawling through a seemingly endless list of clips, the screen falls and operatic music ensues with a meme-esque picture of Queen Elizabeth flipping the audience off. After being exposed to this slightly uneasy opening, the eagerly awaited Morrissey enters the stage with his band mates, pays homage to Louis MacNeice, utters a hello and the immediately recognisable drum driven opening of ‘The Queen Is Dead’ begins. The screen changes to a picture of Will and Kate with the words “United King Dumb” and the fact that this concert will be rendered a political polemic, whether the audience likes it or not, becomes evident.

Despite being some thirty years on from when he began his career in music, Morrissey’s smooth baritone vocals that make him so distinguished as an artist remain unchanged, surprisingly they could even be argued to have improved throughout the years. Providing some repose from the politically driven ‘The Queen Is Dead’ next is his debut single as a solo artist, ‘Suedehead’. The emotionally fuelled chorus of “I’m so sorry!” is infectious in beckoning the audience to sing along. The Smiths were well known for the quirk of swinging bunches of flowers around, and even handing them out to the audience at gigs. Morrissey opted simply to swing his microphone lead around excessively throughout the show as flowers appeared absent. Members of the audience however, engaged in this quirk swinging their own and throwing them on stage in homage to The Smiths.

After performing a handful of his older songs, he performed some of his new songs from his latest album ‘World Peace Is None of Your Business’. Performing the fast-paced ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ he reveals this will be his latest single and that we should buy it if we are feeling “benevolent”. But the song that gets the biggest reaction is ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’. It is ironic to witness an audience stirred and energised by the melancholic, lamenting chorus of “Everyday is Like Sunday” however celebrating broody lyrics might be a quirk exclusive to Morrissey fans. Indeed, had it been ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ it would have garnered a similar celebratory reaction.

Playing a diverse mix of his musical catalogue, and even throwing in The Smiths’ hit ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ the show had seemingly steered away from the realms of making a political statement but this could only go on for so long. As a strong advocate of animal rights and having, in the past, subjected his audience to grotesque videos of animal slaughter, the audience was at least braced for what was to come. Asking the audience to purchase a stencil promoting animal rights in order “to blanket Belfast in something beautiful, not for us, but for them” the eyes of the audience are diverted toward the dreaded video along with which the lament of ‘Meat Is Murder’ is performed. As Morrissey reaches out towards the screen in an overly dramatic way, the show feels transformed into a theatrical piece on animal rights especially with the addition of a gong echoing threateningly and repeatedly throughout the arena.

It would be untrue to say that the video didn’t put a dampner on the evening, but what becomes clear as the show comes to a close, is that Morrissey didn’t perform with the ambition of ensuring his audience enjoyed it, it was performed with a goal of provoking his audience and trying to alter opinion on animal rights. It is only through coming face to face with what makes people uncomfortable, that Morrissey could attempt to alter the opinions of his audience. However, did the majority of people leave the venue as vegans and vegetarians? Not likely. He closed the show with an energetic performance of ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ which despite the previous harrowing video, didn’t detract the audience from engaging with and singing along. Yet you left the venue still feeling slightly uncomfortable, and that was certainly the intention.