REVIEW: Joshua Burnside

Bathed in blue light and supremely air-conditioned to directly counter the relative sauna of a very hot and humid Belfast summer, the Empire Music Hall is perfectly set up for Joshua Burnside and the launch of his new EP, All Round The Light Said: (colon included in title).

There's an excitable vibe in the air as Simon & Garfunkel classics play everywhere. It is enough to make what is already a rapidly filling house in the Empire very calm and at ease – the ideal mood and tone for the CQAF 2018's Artist-In-Residence and his acclaimed, alternative, experimental folk, championed by the likes of Lauren Laverne.

First we will be warmed up – if the weather hasn't done enough of that already! – by returning veterans Lambing Season. This sextet blend brass, guitars and vocals, sometimes more successfully than others, drawing upon familiar life experiences and a mixture of familiarly genial influences harking back to the more innovative mainstream acts of the eighties. A bit of ska is detectable, so too a bit of new wave without the synth as strong trumpet solos and intriguing vocal harmonies compete for our attention. Elements of uncertainty in the performance can be excused, this being their first gig for some time.

Second support act Brash Isaac are preceded by the sound of David Gray over the Empire speakers. To my horror, lead vocalist Andrew Cameron, alone with his guitar, initially appears to be channelling Gray – Babylon aside, I'm no fan – but it's not long before his backing band joins him and the bland balladry trap is entirely avoided for high tempo, guitar driven tuneage, co-vocalist and keyboard player Beulah Kim shining. Their "sad pop" (it's nothing of the kind) is more like joyous folk rock with a hint of funk, with beats to swing and jive to, and choruses to hum along to. Better times surely lie ahead.

Maintaining the folky tone, but sticking with the alternative theme, the evening will be full of surprises by the time the easy-going Joshua Burnside hits the stage.

An exceptionally relaxing performance of Blood Drive from debut album Ephrata opens the set, his warm, clear and heartfelt delivery casting an aura of pleasing calm over the Empire instantly. You could hear it for longer.

The mood is identical for second number Grapes, but with a full band alongside him, the overall effect is stronger, Burnside's vocals audibly brimming with confidence. Even that doesn't prepare us for the sudden stop, raised tempo and key change in the middle of Little Blind – all of which transform the performance for the better and re-energise the night beyond words. See what I mean by surprises?

Striving, and generally succeeding, to be a combination of comforting and distinct, reassuring and unexpected at once, Burnside seems equally at ease with warm-hearted, steady folk and higher energy folk rock – the very thing that both hugely complementary support acts have prepared us for. You could say, if a direct comparison must be made, that he is Northern Ireland's answer to Ryan Adams - lyrically both edgy and poignant, musically both calm and energetic - plus just the right amount of distinctive emphasis on local identity.

The evening simply reeks of passion and power, Burnside driven by thought and feeling to present a series of musical highlights for a consistently entertained and expectant audience. Among the most notable are the touching Hollllogram – penned and originally performed with Alana Henderson – and the politically-minded Red And White Blues, each delivered as professionally as you'd hope.

As Burnside leaves the stage, he finally gets to enjoy a Carlsberg – but there's no "probably" about the success of this gig. Definitely not from me, and surely not from the Empire.

Simon Fallaha

Joshua Burnside performed at Belfast's Empire on June 29, and will also perform at Portrush's Atlantic Bar on July 11 and at the Stendhal Festival. For more information go to

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