photo: Gary Burnett
Well the first open event at 2017’s 4 Corners Festival was everything we had dreamed that it might be… and a little bit more!
The choice of Iain Archer to launch the Festival was not to do with his songwriting accolades with James Bay, Jake Bugg and Lisa Hannigan among others. This year’s Festival theme Our Wounded and Wonderful City drew us to Iain as his own music catalogue explores Belfast spaces and personal and societal wounds.
If that sounds like we were looking for some psycho-geographical lecture, not at all. Art has a profound power to make incisions where the spoken word struggles. Last night Iain Archer took us into our city, country, wounds and wonder and caressed our souls with healing, grace and insight.
The evening began with a short conversation that allowed Iain to share some detail about his Northern Irish songs; commentary for the concert to follow. Holywood Seapark is the song that took us deepest into the themes. Iain stands on the beach looking across at Belfast docks where his Grandfather found vocational satisfaction. The song leads us right into this wonderful scene on Belfast Lough as Iain mourns the acute loss of a beloved Grandfather. Iain sang it like a beautiful piece of catharsis.
The concert that followed was multi-dimensional in its effect. The guitar playing. Even if you are not a guitar playing obsessive the way Archer makes those high notes sing at times is breathtakingly beautiful. The seeming leisurely simplicity of his finger dancing melodies. Wow!
His voice. For some ten years Iain has been a writer and producer more than a recording artist or performer. He shared his fear of being stage rusty. There was no need. His voice was strong yet light, warm yet convicting.
The songs. Some remarked that this was the widest range of songs Iain has had in his set list for some time. We even got back to his debut album Playing Dead, with a rare version of Drink Your Fill to delight those who have been there since the beginning. A request for Crazy Bird, the title track of his second record, was met with immediate response. Why someone has not cover this song and made it a ginormous classic evades my rational.
Two new songs cracked open a chink of a new Archer record but also revealed the continuing maturity of Archer’s craft. Square Root of Love and Carry were breathtaking in poetry and melody but were the place to introduce another dimension; depth of heart and soul.
Archer’s songs are massive clues to life and where some rays of light might be discovered. This was concert packed full of ruminations on love, loss, healing and dealing with impossible questions.
The Northern Irish songs of Black Mountain Quarry, Frozen Northern Shores and Luke’s Point took us into these themes, then When It Kicks In blew the lid clean off the Church. Archer nonchalantly invites his mate Nathan Connolly to play along with him. The crowd start muttering the words Snow Patrol and before we know it an almost reflective evening explodes like the bomb that goes off in the first verse of the song. Connolly and Archer go at their electric guitars like they are filling the SSE, indeed Nathan was missing a good length of stage to throw those stadium shapes! It was blisteringly good!
In the end however, Archer was in control of the night like a preacher, maybe learning from his father. The last two songs were effectively chosen. Frozen Lake. Well, how good… great… magnificent a song this is. For a Festival trying to build new relationships across Belfast’s divided corner:
" I wanna be someone who makes you feel beautiful
I wanna be someone who does
I wanna be someone who makes you feel beautiful
I wanna be someone
Who covers you with love.”
Oh that we might... every last Corner of us!
Then into Everest and a way for us to deal with our history, present and future:
“Hold my hand and don’t go looking back
Hold my hand, don’t look back
I know a way to find an open track
Hold my hand, don’t look back”
... before the next lines finish with a congregational-like spiritual:
“Some other day
When my morning comes
I’ll be the one that’s waited all night”
Communal prayerful hopefulness… may it be so, Belfast.
Wow! What a night! 4CF17 is go!