Sweet pop tunes and charisma on a special evening
Brian Kennedy, Tom Baxter, Gareth Dunlop. In the round, Holiday Inn
The Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival resembles one of those parties where attempts to keep everything organised start to agreeably fray at the edges.
Keeping it loose on Saturday night were Brian Kennedy, Tom Baxter and Gareth Dunlop and it was the contrast between these performers that was to make the evening so special.
The atmosphere was helped by more subtle lighting than usual and a coterie of Brianettes there to cheer their man, which, in the unspoken competitiveness that pervades these 'in the rounds', meant that each artist was on his mettle. Brian, though, was a natural compere, even instinctively harmonising with the other artists.
Tom Baxter, the token Englishman, who brought a lush romanticism that echoed Nick Drake and Colin Blunstone, was aided by a fiddle-playing sidekick called Olly and so was able to conjure a baroque atmosphere on tracks like Skybound.
Gareth Dunlop, though understated, was the most compelling performer, interrupting the burgeoning bromance between Brian and Tom with bluesy stunners like Bittersweet and a gravelly intonation that recalled Tom Waits which left Brian nothing to offer except sweet pop tunes and charisma.
Star turn of the evening was favourite from Kennedy's back catalogue Christopher Street which showcased his underrated guitar playing. Darker themes were hinted at by the inclusion of new track Only All the Time which, as he confessed, he nearly left off his new album, but had now become many people's favourite.
His timing, spot on, was not limited to the music either. "Love you Brian," shouted a fan. "Love you more," he shot back, not missing a beat.
It was an evening when all three artists were capable of producing songs to knock the audience cold, Baxter told how he managed to get one of his songs covered by Shirley Bassey, and delivered it with all of that lady's showbiz pizzazz.
Dunlop got perhaps the biggest cheer of the night for the slap guitar blues of Safe Haven. The musicians finally played together on a rousing version of Brian Kennedy's first single Captured, a suitable finale to a stunning evening.
When is some bright spark going to start recording these shows?