What nearly was not
At the beginning of 2020, I purchased tickets to see Steve 'n' Seagulls (hereafter SnS) in the Belfast Limelight. They are a band who are famous for playing their inspired arrangements of rock and metal classics. Unfortunately due to a certain event with global significance, this date was postponed. Then only last week I received an email saying "unfortunately a member of our band contracted Covid, we've rescheduled to next week at the Belfast Empire."
The event had completely slipped my mind, but it had been too long since I was in the presence of live music. Also, even though I only knew the band for their YouTube breakout hit (a cover of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck") it was Finnish Bluegrass! There is no way this could be bad. I made sure my ticket was still valid and made my way there.
The gig was to be in the Belfast Empire; a venue that's an authentic survivor from the 19th Century. The decor inside was suitably ornate: the stage convincingly like an old music hall, the bar like an old saloon. Remmel the vocalist remarked that it was among the most beautiful venues they'd played. The atmosphere was intimate and alcohol-fuelled. I would struggle to ask for better.
Best of all, there was a viewing gallery to the rear which I termed the "Boomer Box", where the "still got it!" 50+ generation were safely contained.
The starter course
Opening for SnS was a local bluegrass group. They took every chance to promote themselves between song breaks. Unluckily this didn't work and I've already forgotten their name, but the music was good and did its job to warm up the crowd; this support act gifted us a number of impressive banjo solos. The guitarist even let out a convincing seagull squawk!
A photo and a few yarns
Opening their set was a rendition of Metallica's "Master of Puppets". It was played passionately on electric mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, double bass (and drums). This finished with a cheer from the audience, as did every subsequent song performed.
More than once, someone else in the band played a random high note to try and throw off the vocalist mid line, which made him also grin as if he was about to break into laughter. But he never lost his place and didn't miss a note in the song.
Before me stood a lady who was proudly waving a Finnish flag. She never ceased to wave it back and forth in the air for the whole show. I was afraid the finial would make its way into my eye. As I later uncovered, she was actually a Finnish expat and had been living in Belfast for some years. Her partner explained that the only Finnish he knew was the swear words; I delighted them both with my knowledge of "PERKELE!"
We know the Finns are a people who are socially reserved; this laid the ground for some cultural exchange. There was a chorus of yeoooo-ing from the audience between each song break, so much so that the singer remarked cheerily "our awkward silences aren't so awkward with your yelling", which led to further higher-pitched yeooos from the crowd. Then one of the band returned us a yeoooo before beginning the next song. If this becomes a done thing in Finland, I hope they remember where it began.
I'd never heard a double bass live until this evening, and it is a hefty instrument with a hefty tone. Thankfully, the bassist was easily over six feet tall, so grasping it was little trouble for him. We were also treated to an extended double bass instrumental, presumably the bassist's own work.
On the way out, I approached the merchandise stall then deliberated whether to buy a t-shirt or an album. My final choice was the album, even though I liked the band's mascot and would happily brandish him in public. I purchased their latest album "Another Miracle" for £15 from the singer himself. On the way out, I realised that this was the most opportune time to sell albums: the crowd is likely liquored and therefore in a chummy mood, it is hard to walk past the band themselves and decide against buying anything. Nonetheless, they certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as much handling all the money as they did playing their music on stage!
Song of the night
Difficult to settle for one. I was grateful that they played their breakout hit "Thunderstruck" with its seriously intense banjo finger-picking. I also enjoyed the harmonies on "Sweet Maria". However, I'll have to put down Deep Purple's "Perfect Strangers" as my pick of the night, simply because of the long drawn out Accordion opener, which eventually gave way to a rapid Accordion solo. I don't think I've seen anyone have a bigger grin while playing an Accordion, except for "Weird Al" Yankovic.
Runner up, I'll have to choose "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden.
While the song choices aren't what currently fill my ears, they chose staple rock and metal essentials. SnS made many of them their own. All in all, a fine evening's entertianment indeed.