Pic by Ruairi Conlon
We’re in sunny Belfast for The Magic Numbers in the beautifully appointed Empire Music Hall. Early comers get a sweetly harmonious appetiser in the form of Morrissey And Marshall. The London-based Dubliners have a simple set up, with two guitars and the duo's voices front and centre. They’re a fine complement to the headline act. Amid a punishing touring schedule, the pair have no backup equipment with them and when Greg Marshall breaks a string, he excuses himself from the stage to make a quick repair leaving Darren Morrissey to carry the song. He rejoins, to applause, at the perfect moment to add a lead flourish to the song in progress. Although they’re from Dublin, they sound like they’re from the North West of England. When they sing together, it’s like John Lennon sharing a stage with Cast’s John Power. Any fans of ‘60s and ‘70s folk and rock acts will enjoy them. There are noticeable overtones of The Beatles and The Small Faces as well as American acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash and Simon & Garfunkel.
After the shortest of intervals Ren Harvieu appears onstage without fanfare. So sudden is her appearance that there are double takes as her ululating voice rings out, accompanying a backing track. Her effortless, classically influenced voice is entrancing. Romeo Stodart from the main act then joins her with a warm sounding guitar. There’s a feeling of cabaret and old school musical theatre to her performance. Her short set is made up of songs with the connecting theme of “accepting yourself even when your brain tells you you’re useless”. It’s definitely something I can relate to, even if the music is not what I would otherwise listen to.
The Stodart and Gannon siblings take the stage and beckon the scattered crowd nearer to the front. I mainly know the band from their first album and have to own up to not following their career all the closely, despite meeting them in a Dublin hotel in 2006. What is most surprising is Michele’s performance with the bass on the new material. If Caitlin Moran were auditioning for a Dee Dee Ramone biopic, she could do worse than imitating the Stodart sister.
Meanwhile, the Stodart brother gets to work on ‘Love’s A Game’, working the audience and getting them to sing backing vocals. They open ‘Forever Lost’ like it’s an Iron Maiden tune; Michele raising her bass aloft with her foot on the monitor like Dave Murray. They play at a higher tempo than the studio version, matching their newer, more muscular material. Angela Gannon doubles up on guitar and keyboard duties while brother Sean, on drums, looks like he has been there and done it musically. You would imagine him being equally comfortable playing in AC/DC as he would be in this band.
New song ‘Runaways’ has, wait for it, three part harmonies. No surprise there, but it has a dark undercurrent and insistent bass line that brings to mind Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. Mac are a big influence on the new album and even a solo song from Romeo Stodart sounds like Peter Green. ‘Shot In The Dark’ sees Romeo ripping through a couple of solos and squealing feedback during an extended jam. Subsequently, and very old fashionedly, they play a slow set. Romeo plays his Peter Green-esque solo tune before ‘Sing Me A Rebel Song’, during which Angela admonishes an obtrusively noisy group of audience members at the bar. They close out the main set with another Fleetwood Mac extended jam on ‘Sweet Divide’. One phoney baloney encore break later, and they are back with the crowd pleaser ‘Mornings Eleven’. The whole room is singing along, and soon it’s foot on the monitor time again for a stonking version of ‘Love Me Like You’. Those last two songs and ‘Forever Lost’ are bonafide pop classics and the new songs are satisfyingly groovy. Things are looking good for The Magic Numbers.