In The Willows At Smock Alley Theatre – Review
With its multi-tiered railing-lined walkways and ancient church wall, it’s fair to say that The Smock Alley Theatre’s Boys School is like no other venue in town. So intimate is the Exchange Street space, you suspect microphones are barely necessary for musical performance. Unlike, say, Whelan’s, any audience chatter echoes through the high ceilinged building which thankfully demands silence throughout and serves as the perfect location for tonight’s folk-infused lineup. Getting the evening underway, FIELDS proves why it’s always worth turning up early with an excellent support set. The Monaghan singer-songwriter has a close vocal similarity to David Gray, while also sharing the Englishman’s poetic lyrical turn of phrase, with ‘In The Morning’ and ‘Nothing Left To Lose’ highlights of an assured set.
Waterford 6-piece In The Willows feel like an act rejuvenated, with the release of the excellent Fallen Bird EP just a week previous and some changes in lineup since their 2014 debut album. The slowly fingerpicked ‘Outro’ starts the set with some nice harmonic touches before the upbeat ‘Valentine’ relaxes the quiet atmosphere as the band hit their stride. Melodic 2014 single ‘Sirens’ gets an uptempo rework complete with some neat verse stoppages while ‘Wake Me If I’m Asleep’ morphs from a dreamy folk opening section into a full on celtic-rock stomp midway through. Co-vocalist Tara Heffernan spends the opening songs behind the piano before taking centre stage with a sublime cover of Bell X1 fan favourite ‘Bad Skin Day’. A darker, more sombre affair than the Kildare group’s original, In The Willows use all their strengths to interpret the song in their own unique way and it’s one of the unexpected highlights of the night.
Early EP track ‘Time Of Year’ is a beautifully slow burning and melodic ode to lost love and the changing of seasons as frontman Dave Green and Tara Heffernan’s vocals sync up perfectly midway through while stunning piano ballad ‘It’s Over’ is performed in beautifully hushed reverie. Rowan Sherlock’s violin lends some real emotional heft to many of tonight’s songs, none more so than here. As the end draws near, some fresh material from the new EP gets an airing, with one of the band’s finest moments ‘Tempting Me’ sounding as good live as it does on record.
The rootsy bouzouki-led ‘Rowing Boats’ wraps up the evening in style with its melodic vocal refrain ringing throughout the room from both band and audience before the 6-piece bow and depart to a rapturous reception. In The Willows play their music with such passion and joy that it’s difficult not to get swept along and tonight was the perfect combination of band and venue as much of the magic would have been lost in noisier rooms. With an eclectic collection of songs and wonderful musical chemistry, In the Willows are an act as enchanting as their name suggests. Highly recommended.