Tom Baxter Concert Review
Posted: Tuesday March 2nd 2010Tom Baxter at the Ulster Hall 27 Feb 2010
It takes a brave festival director, some might say foolhardy, to book a venue with a capacity more than double that of your largest ever previous festival audience. Yet, for the 2010 Belfast Nashville Songwriter Festival, that’s what festival director Colin Magee did in booking the famed Ulster Hall in Belfast for the Festival’s headlining final night show, Avalon Presents Tom Baxter & Guests.
The line-up was packed with talent, all with strong song-writing credentials but also artists who possessed the kind of stage craft required to keep an audience enthralled in this vast, ornate 150 year old space without a band or props or even a distracting backdrop. Up first, the youngest contributor on the evening, Northern Ireland’s John D’Arcy opened the show. Still a teenager (only just), John’s whimsical songs – observation’s of teenage melodrama blended with unexpectedly mature reflection on relationships – are becoming hallmarks of his exceptional song-writing talent. His confident guitar playing beguiled the onlooker by making complex chords and progressions look deceptively routine.
Iain Archer took to the stage next, building intensity and emotion in the hall, with songs drawn from his sensitive and melancholic soul. Audience ears attuned to the whispering vocals and gently plucked guitar strings – despite the grandeur of the venue, it felt like Iain was imagining the entire audience gathered around his fireside on the chilly last Saturday night of winter.
When you have genuine Americana musical DNA, as Holly Williams (grand-daughter of legendary Hank Williams) has, expectations run high. But she doesn’t make any big thing about it and why should she, as she set about burnishing her own, well deserved artistic credibility in a set that showcased her wonderfully smoky country vocal and orthodox Nashville guitar playing.
A busy stage hand readied the place for the final performance of the evening by meticulously setting up the percussionists gear and mic and then ridding the stage of extraneous bits and bobs. What a pity the numpty forgot to set-up a mic for Tom Baxter. Too late; the star of the evening was introduced to loud applause and he bounded over to where the mic might have been. Never mind. As the embarrassed stage hand rushed back to make amends, Tom just sat cross-legged on the end of the stage guitar in hand, summoned the audience into a hush and sang ‘A Day In Verona’ as if he were Romeo himself serenading under Juliet’s balcony. Spellbinding stuff.
Joined by percussionist and a mic, Tom revealed the full array of his considerable talent – mesmerising guitar playing on both steel and nylon string and a vocal performance that had the audience hanging on every word. Clearly enjoying himself, Tom, who hasn’t performed for over a year, relished this performance every bit as much as the audience appreciated it. His well chosen set, ideally suited to the place and occasion, included songs from his Feather & Stone and Skybound albums. A standing ovation for ‘Better’ was followed by new material that included some refreshing Flamenco style guitar playing. The final song of the evening, ‘Almost There’ raised the vocal performance to new heights, literally, with a three octave range.
The last word goes to the vindicated festival director; in six years of the Belfast Nashville Songwriter Festival, this was the best concert of the lot.
A big thank you to FlixelPix for permission to use the photos. http://www.flixelpix.com/