By Georgia Mae Evans
After listening to his album, Notes from an Island, on repeat the week leading up to Blair Dunlop’s gig, I had high hopes for the performance. If you’re after an evening filled with excellently executed British folk, you need a ticket for this tour; I was blown away by the most intricate melodies, tongue in cheek lyrics and raw emotion with which the album was laced.
The atmosphere in the renovated chapel, Acapella Studios, was not bustling or electric like you’d expect usually at a gig. The foyer containing a small fire oven cooking the best pizza in the UK, according to Blair’s band, was cosy and intimate; slowly filling up with folk and wine lovers alike. The stage was a complete mimic of my great-nan’s living room, complete with a shaggy mosaic rug and an old, oversized lampshade.
Award-winning songwriter Jack Carty’s voice soothed the audience as we settled in our pews. Accompanied by his acoustic guitar, Jack’s performance of his new album, Hospital Hill, tells of growing up down under and a touring musician’s inevitable sense of loneliness. I can’t decide what most I’m most in awe of; his falsetto, song writing or ability to play the guitar and harmonica simultaneously.
After a short break, Jack graced the stage for a second time to accompany Blair and drummer Fred, this time carrying a bass guitar. Not only is Notes from an Island a captivating listen, containing political references and incorporating themes of isolation that are mirrored in Blair’s personal life, but it is also thought-provoking. I’m sure I speak for the masses when I say that I left feeling as though I got an insight into Blair’s character, personality and journey through his performance.
Without sounding cliché, Blair’s performance of the record felt much like being on an emotional rollercoaster; touching on colonialism, love and the rearrangement of furniture. “Spices from The East” was a personal favourite of the evening; exposing the harsh truth of our colonial past through a story of cooking with your partner. This showcased Blair’s ability to tell a mundane story in the most extraordinary way. “Within My Citadel” exploits Blair’s vocal range, featuring soft high notes and riffs, not to mention his incredible technique. Blair oozes musicality, in between songs he tuned and re-tuned his acoustic guitar by ear whilst chatting to the audience, before making it sing through finger picking. The audience were completely encapsulated by Blair’s story and persona, a testimony to the natural stage-presence and control that he bears with ease.
Put simply, Notes From an Island is a soul-stirring story of heartbreak, homelessness and the isolating consequences of Brexit wrapped in stunning three-part harmonies and carefully executed harmonics.