Photo Credit: Jono Symonds
It’s a bitterly cold West Country evening outside The Fleece as the intimate venue waits to open its doors to the already sizeable crowd outside. Inside though, it’s a different story. With warm lamplight from the stage and drinks in hands, the atmosphere of the expectant crowd is genuinely heart-warming. The mood of the audience alone set the tone for what was to be a superb night of music, one meant to be shared with people you love. In short, this gig felt special for everyone involved.
Whether down to the freezing temperatures or Vance’s devout fanbase, the flagstone floor of The Fleece is very nearly covered by the time sole support act and fellow Irishman Ryan McMullan walks on stage. Though visibly taken aback by the size of the crowd so early, McMullan wasted no time in getting the audience warmed up with a string of acoustic ballads and bluesy stompers underpinned by his frankly huge voice. It’s the kind of music that makes you lean back and open your eyes and mouth aghast. It demands to be heard and made for a gripping set, including a few cracks about flogging merchandise, a surprise final number, and a traditional folk song done a capella that left the crowd enchanted. The stage was set for Vance and his band to do the same.
Strolling casually onto the stage, moustache waxed, flat capped and wearing a work shirt as though he’d just stepped off a 30’s construction site and onto a piano stool, Foy Vance’s entrance is met with thunderous applause. With his band in position and a quick “It’s an honour Brizzle” to the crowd, they’re underway with a flurry of songs from latest album The Wild Swan, released back in May. Though the record may be fairly young still, the crowd receive opening tracks Be Like You Belong and Ziggy Looked Me In The Eye as though they were old favourites. Vance pauses before another new song, Bangor Town (his home turf) to tell the story of Terry and June the “town alcoholics”, who held some inspiration over the song. Like any good songwriter Vance is full of good stories, including a more recent tale of getting in touch with Noam Chomsky (a hero of Foy’s who even has a musical dedication on the album in Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution) and receiving “the most eloquently worded ’fuck off’ I’ve ever read”, that has the crowd heartily laughing with him.
More electric numbers Casanova and Upbeat Feelgood follow, with the crowd as in the swing of things as the band are. Everyone is dancing and belting choruses with smiles on their faces, much to the delight of Vance and his group. Another big reaction comes for singles You And I and more recent hits Coco and She Burns. The band play solidly, scarcely breaking to catch a breath, aside from the latter track where Foy affects a redneck accent and slows down the intro explaining, “they really loved it over in the States”. As the set comes to a close the band break out the ballads, much to the delight of an audience eager to sing along with them. For the last track of his main set, Vance beckons McMullan back on stage to duet with him on hit single Guiding Light. The crowd gladly bellow the chorus as the music fades out and the band say their farewells.
“We were gonna go off at this point but there’s no back stage”, Vance laughs as the singing dies down, “so we’ll just stay and do the encore, keep singing”. The crowd gladly oblige for the sake of a few more songs, meanwhile Vance urges people to support Movember (in which he and his band are taking part) though it seems he’s preaching to the converted a little - most of the audience are carrying the kind of stubbled specimens you need a license for. Still, the double whammy of new song Fire It Up’s rousing hook and the sombre folksiness of title track The Wild Swans On The Lake is a magical conclusion; leaving the crowd holding a single note in unison as his band slowly leave the stage and Vance’s voice trails off through the bar and out the back door. Then the lights are up, the cheers are bellowed and we all spill slowly out into the cold air once again. This time, however, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside and I’ve got a strange urge to grow a moustache and have a Guinness - I suppose that’s Vance’s job done really.