wed 22/05/2024

Conchúr White, St Pancras Old Church review - side-stepping the past to embrace the future | reviews, news & interviews

Conchúr White, St Pancras Old Church review - side-stepping the past to embrace the future

Conchúr White, St Pancras Old Church review - side-stepping the past to embrace the future

Northern Irish troubadour pushes forward

Conchúr White: gently edging towards trip-hop

If there’s a feeling of déjà vu, it isn’t detectable. Conchúr White played St Pancras Old Church in April 2016 with County Armagh’s Silences, the band he fronted. This evening, a mention of having been here before is absent. Nothing in the body language suggests any familiarity with where he’s playing.

Perhaps paying no heed to history is understandable. Conchúr – pronounced Conor – White is in London following the January release of Swirling Violets, the follow-up album to his 2021 self-issued solo debut. He, presumably, views where he is now as a clean break with a past which doesn’t need acknowledging. However, for most of the hour on stage he is accompanied by Christopher Harbinson who was also in Silences. At the end of tonight’s set, after Swirling Violets’s title track is played, White says “I was in a band with Chris.” Silences are not brought up.

Conchúr White is confident, chatty but not too much so

Back in 2016, the Belfast press described Silences as “indie folk”, comparing them with Jeff Buckley and Coldplay. White had played solo before the band's formation. He also did so when the band was going. Swirling Violets, to a degree then, resets a dial. The album’s 11 tracks are stylistically hard to pin down: there’s a folk influence, nods to Americana and lyrics addressing death, allusively interpreting his past as well as dreams and memories which remain tangible. The gospel-esque “Righteous (Why Did I Feel Like That)” is amongst the tracks featuring electronic beats, gently pushing some of the album towards trip-hop: or, putting it more clunkily, folktronica. It’s a full-sounding album, with fleshed-out arrangements bringing a drama. Odd associations bubble up: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Fleet Foxes, Tunng. Seeing White live brings an opportunity to get to grips with what’s beneath the surface.

Swirling Violets is played in full. There’s also a version of the 1969 Townes Van Zandt album track “Lungs”, and “Killing Us”, from an EP issued before the album. What’s heard is about now, not then. And, it turns out, possibly about the future too.

White is confident, chatty but not too much so. Looking over the church’s nave, he remarks there’re many faces he hasn’t seen before. He explains that the lyrics of “The Women in the War” draw from his experiences working with young people in the CAMHS services. He says the album’s “Red House Parlour” – which also alludes to his medical encounters – was originally titled “Dead House Parlour”. When he realised the album had other “dead” songs – “The Holy Death” and “Deadwood” – a title change was necessary, one chiming with his liking of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and its red room.

Live, White is as hard to pin down musically is he is on album. Harbinson joins him from “Fawn”, which is third up. He plays guitar and keyboards, and contributes backing vocals. After this, Stephen Reilly also comes on. He also plays guitar and keyboards, while handling the programmed rhythm tracks. White picks up a Telecaster for "Before Ten". Otherwise, it’s an acoustic guitar. As the set progresses, odd touchstones emerge: “Killing Us” implies “I Shall be Released" and the pre-Born To Run Bruce Springsteen; there’s a bit of Mike Scott in "Righteous (Why Did I Feel Like That)"; “The Women in the War” has a Fleet Foxes feel.

It’s all held together by White himself, much more forceful than on Swirling Violets. “Lungs”, especially, is attacked with a power the album conceals beneath its surface – the studio take on his music is more measured than what’s evidenced here. With his past behind him, and based on this show’s departure from Swirling Violets’s restraint, Conchúr White is moving forward. Keep an eye out for where he goes next.

@MrKieronTyler

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