photo: Gordon Ashbridge


By the time Margo Timmins had delivered her first line… “Pushing through the market square…” my mind was awash with the utter beauty of that Cowboy Junkies sound and was traveling back to 51 Grange Road, Ballymena, my teenage best friend Rab’s house, listening to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Spiders From Mars. 

I was thinking of how 50 years after Bowie wrote it that this song was right on the world crisis all around us. We are doomed he warned. We got five years. The kids have everything they desire, the parents have lost perspective… “5 years left to cry”. 

It wasn’t lost on Janice and I that it might be the number of years that I have before retirement… “It’s a sign” she whispered only half joking. 

The Junkies are only minutes into their Mandela Hall gig in Belfast and I am all over the universe, searching around my soul and back to the sublime sound they are making. Five Years is from their most recent Songs For The Recollection record of covers and as much as I am thinking Bowie it is so reconstructed Junkies. Their version is just making me realise how close to Lou Reed this sounds as the band breaks into Reed’s very own Sweet Jane from their most revered album The Trinity Sessions. They took the thoughts right out of my head…

We are only two songs in and I am so thankful for live concerts. I had become gig-weary before Covid closed live music down. I was in no rush back post lockdown. Tonight had me marvelling again at how at its very best live shows can be so transcendent, taking you to a place where a record can really go.

Cowboy Junkies are so understated. As indeed their audience. A big production U2 show, this is not. I imagine Bono will use more visuals for his Book Reading Tour (but that review is for next week!). Just a few musicians scattered, functional lighting, though there are colour changes and Margo sitting on a stool with a bunch of flowers on a table and an ever present cup of tea in her hand.

All the drama is musical and drama it is. It is almost theatrical, Margo the sole actor speaking into the soundscape of her brothers and the others as well as being MC and comedian. Every single note played seems crucial, nothing more than needed. Can something be so fragile and yet so solid.

The sister centres the show and the sound with that voice, so clear tonight. Was the tea, a medical brew for a voice struggling with a cold? If so she over came, from the whisper to the scream.

The two sets seemed to go too quickly. An array of covers the best of which were the aforementioned Five Years and Sweet Jane as well as Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down heading up the first half

The originals are equally powerful. Cause Cheap Is How I Feel and Sun Comes Up, Its Tuesday Morning reminded me of Michael Timmins’ own poetry, while the acoustic version of Horse In The Country is an utter songwriting gem. 

These Things We Do To Each Other is a prophetic preach for the day that we live in, I Don’t Get It a existential rage near prayer for spiritual answers and Those Final Feet about ageing and death were again so heart piercing. 

My soul left lit up, even if they admitted to doing no happy songs. The night was alive with questions and a new determination for the search. Cowboy Junkies had taken us in all kinds of adventures while we utterly enjoying a string of songs right here and now, Mandela Hall, Belfast.

Don’t take 30 years to come back!  


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