GIGGING NI | LIVE REVIEW – One of the best nights of live music I can remember – SKYLITE ROOM

More than an hour before stage time, Warrenpoint’s Skylite Room was already packed to the rafters. The 10ft tall poster outside heralded the coming of Newry’s finest, The 4 Of Us.  An excited buzz skittered around the capacity crowd and when they took to the stage just after 10pm, for once the band’s name actually made sense as Brendan and Declan Murphy, John McCandless and Peter McKinney made an all too rare appearance in the full band line-up.

The kick-off, Sunlight, was a welcome diversion from the dreary, sleety night outside.  Peter McKinney left us in no doubt as to why he is the “go-to” drummer for so many Northern Irish musicians. He’s spectacular. Bass player John McCandless too is exciting to watch, he just oozes cool.
Their UK top 30 hit She Hits Me was next and it sounds astonishingly good with the full band. This was a high octane show and it was clear there’d be no interval tonight – the audience would never have let them leave the stage.  Fresh from a show in London the night before, Brendan’s performance was not short on energy, and the buoyant Just A Drop was really entertaining.

Songs from the most recent album Sugar Island were interspersed with old favourites such as Gospel Choir and Maybe It’s You.  Being as we were just down the road from their home town, this was an audience full of friends and fellow Newryites and so the Sugar Island songs which were inspired by growing up in the town were received particularly well – none more so than the title track. Fans will know the story of the “bridge of sorrows” in the town’s centre and its reputation as a break-up spot for young lovers. Tonight though the tale had particular significance given that the young couple who’d inspired it were in the audience. Hilariously dedicating the song to Louise and Martin, Brendan told us that they were each there with their respective spouses.

The joyous Boomtown was a treat for fans. This little trinket from the Man Alive album rarely gets an airing since it’s not on the setlist when Brendan and Declan perform as a two-piece.  Then came the funkiest version of Sensual Thing showcasing Declan’s extraordinary guitar skill and with both Murphy brothers demonstrating their best moves.  This song is always a winner but tonight it was especially clear just how much the band enjoy performing it.  Sustaining the funky vibe, they followed up with Little Things.

During the live shows, You Make Me Feel gives Brendan an opportunity to wander off into spontaneously improvised lyrics about the venue and the audience.  Tonight’s epilogue was strewn with local references, name-checking local venues they’d frequented in their youth and lamenting the difficulty of getting a taxi to take them home to Newry after a Saturday night out in “the Point”.  The nostalgia continued when they revisited their debut album Songs for the Tempted, playing Jolene and One Strong Hammer.

Then came that point in the evening many fans look forward to – Declan’s turn to sing! A slick mash-up of Working in the Coalmine and Coconut gave the audience what they wanted.  It’d be nice to hear Lightning Paul one of these days, but as usual Declan’s performance went down a storm.

The perennial Drag My Bad Name Down threatened to lift the roof right off the Skylite Room. Everyone in the room was on their feet for this one, which sounds as exhilarant today as it did in the early ’90s when it used to bang out of speakers every Saturday night in every nightclub across Northern Ireland.   Of course, they ended with Mary, before the encore comprised of two gems, Washington Down and James Taylor’s Traffic Jam.
Having seen The 4 Of Us in Whelan’s a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have expected that a gig in a fledgling venue like the Skylite Room could have matched that show in one of Ireland’s premier music spots. In fact, it surpassed it. The appreciative audience, the fun the boys themselves were clearly having, the electric atmosphere all made for one of the best nights of live music I can remember.