(photo: Paul Bowman)
What can a song do? The power of the song for transformation, spiritual and societal has been my thing for many years; I did an MTh on it. Well tonight Ben Kyle did everything that I believe a song can do. Something way more than entertainment went down here, though entertaining it was. This was a remarkable happening of a deeply spiritual kind.
I’ll get back to Kyle. First, more than a mention for the other acts on the bill. Jonny Fitch was doing his first ever gig of this sort and did more than enough to tell us there would be many more. With a fresh voice, a contemporary rhythmic acoustic guitar style and the ability to get more words out per minute than a rant preacher like myself Jonny captivated. Covers of James Bay and Ed Sheeran sets the sights on who he wants to sit alongside. Jesse J’s Price Tag was given a new slant. Maybe best of all was his original Africa (I’m Waving At You). The next thing for the young man is more songs and some gig playing fitness that will bring confidence to reveal even more ability.
Chris Wilson has more match fitness than Ryan Giggs. Having spent years on the American Christian music tour bus Wilson originally from Indianapolis is rediscovering himself in Belfast and tonight we got the fruit of his past year living in Belfast, discovering new kinds of songs that are being recorded with Stephen McCartney right now. Wilson’s voice is a force of nature, husky and when he lets it go as powerful a thing as you’ve ever heard. That he is strong adding songs to that raw ore is wonderful and tonight Fragileand Lower were particularly emotional. The cover of Round Here by Counting Crows reinvented the familiar too!
Ben Kyle? Well this young man is something else. He is effortless on every level. The guitar playing, the voice, the melodies, the lyrics. With all this easing out of every pore of his body Kyle adds heart and soul. Nothing he sang tonight was throwaway or crowd pulling. There was a depth to all he does that touches emotionally and spiritually.
He had me at his first words, “I feel like God whistles in the wind…” Wow. Followed by “I wanna know what key he's playing in…” That might be what he tried to do for the rest of the evening, These are the songs of a man wrestling with God in the most positive ways trying to understand, family, fatherhood, heartache and death; attempting to make sense of life and faith and how to make a contribution.
That first song is God Walks On The Water and a previous blog tells you what it means to me. After the first three minutes I was drained and elated all in one emotion. Mercy became a prayer for Northern Ireland in a bad place just now. His cover of Bobby Womack’s “the bravest man in the universe/ Is the one who has forgiven first” seemed to preach into our sectarian inertia.
Drinking The Night Away was perhaps the most harrowing as Ben told us the story of his friend at Methody, a school a few hundred yards away, who was killed in a car crash in Donegal. Ben surmised that had his family not moved to America he might have been in that car. When he came to write the song, confused about this particular key that God was singing in, he said the song wrote itself and he got the answer in the last line, a line that I think is one of the most potent twists in the tale in rock music… (you’ll have to and buy it!)
We were back to a line from the opening song that declares that “a song can understand.” Maybe it was the setting in a Church but Kyle was in the zone tonight, choosing songs carefully, wearing his soul on his sleeve and eking out every fibre of each song’s muscle. It made for a very special evening where no one left untouched. This was the song at its best. Understanding, soothing, lifting, fuelling, transforming. What a night!