Foy Vance And His Northern-Irish Contingent Claim The South Coast As Their Own
Cover Image Courtesy of Pomona PR
When I arrived at Concorde 2, Brighton, the sun was just beginning to set over the volleyball courts across the way, casting shadows amidst the lengthy queue of people already gathered outside the venue. There was a cool breeze coming in off the sea, and the evening seemed to be set for something magical.
Capitalizing on this feeling, which had quickly spread amongst the families, friends, and couples in the audience, opener Ryan McMullan delivered a smoldering set bristling with poise and poetry. Hailing from Northern Ireland, his soft voice was angelic as he crooned his way through takes from EPs Listen and A Winter's Coat, mixing things up with a glowing cover of Kings Of Leon's "Use Somebody." Initially singing over the chatter of the audience, by the time he reached dynamic single "O' Susannah" the noise had abated, all heads turned towards the stage.
McMullan showcased a masterful, natural ability to win an audience over, thanks in part to the amount of heart poured into the performance, including a brief sing-along during "In The Back Of My Mind" warming the crowd up as they finished their first beer of the evening. Listening to the likes of "Ghosts," I wondered if I should perhaps have been drinking mulled wine instead - a fireplace feeling pervaded throughout the set, an excellent atmosphere for headliner Foy Vance to enter into.
I've been a fan of Vance's music for many years now and have often considered him to be underappreciated in the densely populated singer-songwriter field, but 'underappreciation' was not a word that applied to Monday night. When Vance took to the stage, donning his traditional flat cap, it was to immediate rapturous applause, and the smile this applause sparked remained on the singer's face for the duration of his warmly received set. In an age of YouTube stars and manufactured pop-factory exports, Foy Vance is a beacon for true authenticity, and very few artists capture a live experience akin to the one he delivers. From the first note of opener "Be Like You Belong," his was a full-blooded and passionate set, every word and chord resonating, impossible not to appreciate. Vance sang from the start as if every word might be his last. Deep vocals reverberated from the venue walls and heated the air as he moved with ease from piano to guitar and then back again.
The cool blues of "Coco" were rich and smooth, while the livelier "Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution" had people stomping their feet. Between songs, Vance delighted with plucky analogies about his hometown, also highlighting the birthday of guitarist Chris, who was allowed free reign to dazzle during "Noam Chomsky..." shortly after the crowd had sung in celebration of his birthday.
It was that kind of night. Friendly on the coast, and a strong sense of togetherness settled beneath proceedings, inspired by Vance's soulful songs - each one a highlight. The live environment lent room for experimentation and improvisation, and an alternate, slower version of "Casanova" proved particularly electric. It cruised to a steady build, and in moments such as this one, Vance had the crowd absolutely enraptured.
People stared in wonder, couples linked arms and beamed, a lone man on the front row sang every word as if he was the one on stage. Amidst the low-burning light bulbs and heady ambiance, Vance was a saint, and he could do no wrong. I found myself feeling lucky to be bearing witness to the wonder, spellbound as those around me were.
"I like Brighton... that's all I have to say about that," Vance mused before the stomping "Janey," and there was little doubt that Brighton reciprocated his modest affection. During "Bangor Town" joys abounded, while an Americana alternative first verse of popular single "She Burns" had people laughing, all in on the joke. It was heart-warming in abundance, and goosebumps persisted throughout.
Despite the size of the room, and the raised stage, there was a striking amount of intimacy to proceedings, and from the offset, the watching crowd became more than just spectators, and were encouraged to participate. Rousing, extended versions of "Upbeat Feelgood," "You And I" and "Guiding Light" played out with a room full of repeated refrains, the majority of onlookers getting involved, Vance conducting from the stage with a Cheshire cat grin.
When Ryan McMullan appeared again to sing Ed Sheeran's verse on "Guiding Light," he was met with far more love than he had been previously because, as a collective audience, we were receptive entirely - no mobile phones, no talking, just a burning desire to listen and enjoy. These days, it's increasingly rare to enjoy a show in that capacity. In-between songs, you could have heard a pin drop in the packed room - Vance's hold over his audience was vice-like. It remains the sign of a true artist, stemming from a pure love of their craft, and there are very few musicians as compelling or likable in that regard as Foy Vance is.
If "Guiding Light" closed the initial setlist on a high then the encore ended the night on a far higher note. Returning to the stage to breeze through "Shed A Little Light" and then "Fire It Up (The Silver Spear)," Vance stripped things back for the finale "The Wild Swans On The Lake," standing strident as he played his guitar with a violin bow beneath lights transitioning from purple to gold. A cappella, he soon left his mic, singing his soul out into the humming crowd and leaving it with them as he took his leave. It was a contemplative, midsummer night's dream of a departure, and it lay pleasantly heavy on my chest as I made my way back along the coast to the train station, oblivious to the cold, having experienced a night of pure magic.