THE 4 OF US – BLACK BOX, BELFAST | REVIEW – Meticulous guitar playing … an acoustic masterclass.

The juggernaut that is the ‘Out To Lunch’ festival 2018 rolled into the Cathedral Quarter in Belfast for the 13th time and the opening weekend gave us a wealth of talent including this interestingly timed gig with Newry stalwarts “The 4 of Us”.

It was in fact “The 2 of Us” today as brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy took the stage at around 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, noted early in the proceedings by Brendan, to deliver an acoustic masterclass which brought 30 years of music to a full house at the Black Box.
Opening the show with songs from their latest release Sugar Islandthe album told stories of the brothers lives growing up in Newry during the 70’s. “Birds Eye View” gave us an overview of the town, long before it became a city, a story of brotherly love and ultimately how they choose to believe that music saved them. Or as Brendan said “maybe it didn’t”.

“Hometown on the Border” is closely followed by “Sugar Island”, a song about the perils of finding love as a teenager in Newry and whether you could dump your girlfriend in time to catch the last bus home from the beauty spot known as Sugar Island, slap bang in the middle of the town.
Declan has a bent over intense style while Brendan comes across a little more relaxed. They seem very different in character but the two piece version of the band works perfectly with meticulous guitar playing and a backbeat provided by Declan stomping his left foot on what appears to be just a towel but obviously there is a little bit more to this illusion.

“She Hits Me” takes us back to 1993 and making the UK Top 30, albeit temporarily, and the story ends with a simple question. “Where is Simon Bates in 2018?”. The sound is tight and oozes feeling, with the stripped down version having the same depth of feeling as the original but with a little added Wah Wah on the acoustic guitar from Declan. “Sensual Thing” gives the younger brother Declan a chance to funk it up and he funks up the song to within an inch of its life. These guys love playing together.  It is an intense listening crowd and this fact shows the respect the The 4 Of Us have gained as one of the top Irish bands over the last 30 years. They appreciate the music and it is not difficult to know why.
“Maybe It’s You” talks about the a bigger city bringing a greater loneliness. Brendan talks about writing three and a half minute songs, which wrap up all your feelings and emotions, that people will listen to. Try and talk to them about the same thing and they will switch off after about ten seconds. This is a band that appreciate the essence of engagement with their audience and are genuinely down to earth.

It’s an afternoon of music but also tales of their youth, Brexit, Butlins Mossney and travelling across the border in July. Not for the faint hearted. Half Time comes and goes and the band returns with a song called “Just A Drop”, a song they wrote to sound like Johnny Cash for their father who was a big Johnny Cash fan. “Sounds nothing like Johnny Cash” was their fathers retort! Declan then takes centre stage, an infrequent occurrence and delivers a mash up of Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coalmine” and Harry Neilson’s “Coconut”. Declan looks like he enjoyed it and laughter fills the room as Brendan quips “The 1 of Us”.
The audience get their chance to participate in the show through “Drag my Bad Name Down”, accompanied by Declan’s seriously heavy stomping backbeat and quickly followed by what could be easily described as their greatest ever song “Mary”. You wonder sometimes do they ever get tired of playing the song but judging by the level of involvement from the sell out crowd no one has got tired of hearing it.
That would appear a fitting finale for a perfect Saturday afternoon out but no, they come back for more.

They play a fantastically intense arrangement of “Washington Down” taken from their debut album Songs For The Tempted, and its hard to know if the band realise or appreciate the fact this would not look remotely out of place on a Counting Crows album. But still the tunes keep on coming. A request for “Blackbird” by The Beatles, and the final song, “Traffic Jam” gives us only Declan on guitar, with that left leg working overtime on the backbeat and Brendan taking his tambourine on a lap of the room to finish what was an amazing acoustic “The 2 of Us” show.