Features - Photo

Villagers Irish Tour


Our writers and photographers report back from three of Villagers’ hugely successful dates across Ireland, including shows at Dublin’s Olympia, Cork Opera House and Belfast’s Mandela Hall.

Saturday: Opera House, Cork w/ Gavin Glass
Photos by Brid O’Donovan

May 23rd, 2015 will forever be remembered as a landmark in Irish history, a momentously happy day, as the passage of the marriage referendum finally allows two people that love each other to marry and be recognised as equal citizens of our young, progressive nation. The eyes of the world are upon us, and they are smiling warmly as word filters around the world. The air is thick with the best of human feeling as the Opera House packs up quickly for an evening with the Villagers.

Gavin Glass (below) and (some of) the New Shakers head unassumingly to stage and set the tone for the evening, a charming, reverb-laden folk that fully suits the glow of the evening, with ‘Good Fortune’ hitting home. Joking and messing with a receptive, loved-up crowd, the band strikes up a warm and relatable, yet atmospheric polished set.


“I love you Cork, and now I know you love me too…” This is the first of several standing ovations that Conor O’Brien, triumphant in the positive result after the depths explored in new album ‘Darling Arithmetic’, receives in the company of his Villagers. “…and now to depress the fuck out of you”, he laughs. A sense of release, of celebration, and of catharsis punctuates his performance, with a set almost entirely drawn from the new record. You get the sense that O’Brien’s explorations of his feelings and experiences are radically different to even himself today.

Inbetween cracking jokes about the Eurovision and how un-Eurovisiony his tunes are, it’s clear that the themes explored on the new record have met with their happy ending. “This is a song about how I used to feel”, prefaces the mesmeric ‘Nothing Arrived.’ “This is a farewell to invisibility,” he says before flying into ‘Hot & Scary Summer’, and a soaring, transcendent ‘Little Bigot’. The band are on form and O’Brien is on song as the collective tensions of the prior few weeks give way to celebration. A brief solo set takes in ‘Ship of Promises’, and the obligatory singalong of ‘Becoming a Jackal’, before the encore leaves us with a stirring rendition of ‘Pieces’ and the perfect song to end this victorious set, ‘Courage’, leaves us wandering into a warm, already joyful night, with a sense that the positive effects of today will reach far into people’s lives and memories. Mike McGrath Bryan

Mandela Hall, Belfast w/ Ciaran Lavery
Photos by Alan Maguire


It’s been a big week for Conor O’Brien. As well as being a high profile ‘Yes’ campaigner in Ireland’s Marriage Equality referendum, he’s also been playing some of the biggest shows of his career so far, and tonight he’s reached the end of a two month tour. Despite Mandela Hall being Villagers’ largest headline show in Belfast to date, the fact that it’s a seated gig lends it a feeling of intimacy, something also aided by the living room lamp present at the back of the stage. Opening act Ciaran Lavery (below) also adds to this atmosphere with his witty stage banter punctuating his solo acoustic offerings, his husky voice recalling Tom Waits, while the gradually arriving audience find their seats.


While the Villagers live experience became a louder affair on the tour for previous album {Awayland}, with more electronics, guitar effects and percussion, things have been stripped right back this time to reflect the quieter and more personal nature of new album Darling Arithmetic, something that’s immediately apparent on sight of the stage set up, where electric guitar and bass have been replaced with a harp, double-bass and flugelhorn. The Darling Arithmetic tracks come to life in a live setting, while many of the earlier tracks are reworked to fit the new live lineup, ‘That Day’ and ‘Set The Tigers Free’ being almost unrecognisable. It’s a daring move at a show of this size, but it pays off as a showcase of O’Brien’s impressive versatility. Few seem to bemoan this new more relaxed setup, though any who do should find themselves satiated with ‘The Waves’, reworked but still as intense as ever, the thunderous drums sounding extra violent when compared with the hushed nature of rest of the set.

Elsewhere, songs like ‘Little Bigot’ and ‘Hot Scary Summer’ tackling the issue of homophobia feel particularly relevant in relation to recent events, and it’s heartening to hear the mass applause when O’Brien comments upon the referendum result, particularly considering Northern Ireland continue to sadly lag behind on this issue – if only ‘Little Bigot’s refrain of “Throw that hatred on the fire” were able to transcend this room.

As with all Villagers gigs, the most truly engaging moments come when Conor goes solo, and the audience filling in on backing vocals at the end of ‘Becoming A Jackal’ feels like a special moment, before the full band return to close the set triumphantly with ‘Courage’, which feels apt for more than one reason.  Conor O’Brien has matured a lot recently, and it suits him. Cathal McBride

Olympia Theatre, Dublin w/ Jennifer Evans
Photos by Mark Earley



is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.