I felt guilty sneaking away from an Open House at the Fitzroy Manse (my own house) to go see Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. I’d been kindly given two guest list tickets and it was too good an opportunity to miss, to take my youngest on a daddy and daughter night out.
Leaving an Open House was appropriate because that is the best way to describe tonight’s gig. It is becoming a Christmas tradition that Lightbody comes home and does a wee stripped back hometown gig for his parents, family, friends and fans. The atmosphere was relaxed and intimate from the off. Lightbody has that Irish charm and as the evening developed it became part comedy and part song. It was casual even in the middle of songs where Gary would fluff a line, stop, laugh, joke and then get himself back into the song again.
This all makes for a treat for fans. It is a little more close up than you are likely to get at the size of venue that Snow Patrol now play in. Free of such size and and sound fans can chat away, shout wise cracks and generally just enjoy a wee session.
Musically Lightbody shifts from Snow Patrol to Tired Pony to his Seamus Heaney songs to brand new works in progress. It is again a mark of the among friends feel of the evening that he can play new songs and ask that the crowd don’t share them on social media. Call My Name sounds just like the next Snow Patrol single and Empress was one to raise anticipation too.
We of course get the “hits” scattered in careful places. He explains Run as the song he hoped would change everything and of course it did. In Chasing Cars he uses the intimacy particularly effectively. Beautiful. Shut Your Eyes is a great singalong that he might have done more with. Finishing the final encore with Open Your Eyes was a risk that indeed I cried “mistake” to myself but in the end he turned it into a communal rallying cry.
For me tonight was about Belfast and the sense of this place in the songs. Singing at your own, pretty spacious, Open House in your own hometown gives a set list extra resonance. Take Back The City encored and was described as the original song about this city. It is a victorious celebration of overcoming. Since Take Back The City, Lightbody has become a bit of a rock music Heaney and Longley, using his art to make sense of his home.
I was waiting for Lifening. It fits the acoustic feel of course but tonight it had extra gravitas. When Lightbody wrote this he was dreaming of soccer successes beyond the realms of possibility but the impossible has happened and as well as his dad he dedicated it to Michael O’Neill manager of Northern Ireland and paraphrased, “Ireland in the Euros/Both north and south” to a huge cheer. By the end he had the crowd singing as if it was prayer in Church, wishing down some better days in our wee country.
This is where Gary Lightbody is a prophetic contributor. He has been a real advocate for the two communities in his homeland coming together, siding with neither and endorsing both. Again tonight my reconciliation organ took a wee leap at “It’s not one thing or the other/It’s all things all at once…” from the Tired Pony song All Things At Once. Intentional or not it is a great statement on the future of this place.
Where the sense of place becomes the raison d’être is in the songs Gary wrote for the Seamus Heaney project On Home Ground. An EP of those songs, recorded at last year’s gig at Bangor Abbey are on sale after tonight’s concert. He sings two of them that are specific to Belfast. I Still Love You and I Think Of Home. The latter, which Lightbody describes tonight as his personal favourite of all the ones he has written, takes us beyond Belfast to Derry and ends up all across Ireland. The lines of the night and maybe a career see the song home:
“The punch out teeth of Irish history
Mistakes were made let’s leave it there
There’s one thing we can all agree on
There’s beauty north, south, east and west”
By now my guilt as leaving my own Open House to be welcomed at Gary Lightbody’s has been erased. I am enjoying the songs in this kind of intimate detail, the humour of a friend not met, and I am inspired to do what I do by someone doing what he does.