LIVE REVIEW: Lisa O’Neill @ The Fire Station, Sunderland (25.10.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

This was the plan: after being genuinely overwhelmed by Lisa O’Neill’s Gateshead gig back in March, this time I’d pay closer attention to the details – the instrumentation and such. No such luck: Old Note was the fourth song in, remains the best song I’ve heard this year (at least), and I was once more a mess. That’s just how it is with me and Lisa: she sings, I sob.

After a lovely solo opening with Blackbird (one of a trio of songs from her gorgeous River Lea album Heard A Long Gone Song), she was joined by her band (just a hammered dulcimer and double bass player this time) for a truly affecting cover of My Lagan Love that probably outdid the many other versions I’ve heard. Her voice is raw and swooping and a thing of wonder but never as banal as merely ‘pretty’ – there’s too much texture for that. Preceded by some comments on sex education in eighties Ireland (“they just said ‘don’t’”) she softened us up with a lovely Silver Seed before Old Note hits like a beautiful punch in the throat, a soaring ode to the mysteries of song that has obsessed me (and many people I know) since I first heard it.

The set wasn’t hugely different to last time – The Globe was sadly missing but we got a cover of Ivor Cutler’s Squeeze Bees which made me almost as happy as performing it seemed to make her, all grins and shruti box (on subsequent dates this was switched with an apparently very moving version of Brothers In Arms, played as a reaction to the Gaza situation). Once again, between songs she shared her thoughts on nature (“beautiful and intelligent and cruel”), cuckoos, the demise of the cash economy and how music is all around us (I had a sudden mental image of her on her knees, ear pressed to the ground listening to the bugs and the worms and, yes, the songs). She remains one of the most compelling performers I’ve ever seen, both in a world of her own – eyes closed, dancing for herself – but also with a real need to communicate about the things that matter to her. Her old organ was beautifully clanky and wheezy and I was struck by how fluid her guitar playing was and then it was all over with a double whammy of her All The Tired Horses cover (recorded for the finale of Peaky Blinders, bizarrely) and a magical Goodnight World, a perfect lullaby and a perfect ending.

Goodnight stars

Goodnight sky

Goodnight moon and sunshine

Everyone I love lies under you tonight”

Like this story? Share it!

Subscribe to our mailout