Sons of Southern Ulster have been dredging through the silt of their formative years in Bailieboro, to unearth the quirky authenticity of rural life from the seemingly mundane. Hence in their song The Pop Inn they sing of the jukebox populated by Brendan Grace and Gloria, modest fruit machine jackpots, a man who sold dead men’s suits shipped in from Glasgow, and the prospect of spending an entire working life in a boot factory.
Whilst the jukebox in the local eateries may have been updated in the intervening decades and the old idiosyncrasies exist only in frontman Justin Kelly’s hardback notebook - kept within reach for Friday’s gig in case he needs a prompt for his own lyrics - there’s new equally charming quirks to take their place. The gig in the still divine Wesleyan church was like no other.
Has anyone been at a concert with the band’s introduced by the local TD, who cheerfully admits the band are from before her time?
The scores of wooden school chairs were populated by ages ranging from single digits to nonagenarians; surely family ties, neighbourliness and curiosity coaxed them through the door, rather than a grá for melancholic indie rock.
A half time interval saw free tea and biscuits served; I was almost disappointed there was no raffle. Bemused or amused by proceedings, some children wandered up to the stage and sat peering out at their neighbours as the band sang of teenage angst and trying to court girls from Carrickmacross or Crossmaglen. It was that sort of night, and all the better for it; a community thoroughly at ease in their own skin. As the wistful lyrics of ‘The Pop Inn’ show, maturity has given Kelly a new found appreciation for the town: ‘Fresh faced and fifteen I hyperspaced and disappeared/only to reappear halfway across the world/middle aged and lined/longing for all that used to bore me/embarrassed by all I once held dear.’
A middle aged Kelly dressed in dark blazer, specs perched on his tightly shorn skull, his maroon Dr Marten’s prowling up and down the stage’s two steps. He wryly notes the appropriateness of the opening track of the night, a song called, ‘I live in past’.
The Sons are a two-piece with superb guitarist Justin Kelly’s understated melodies and occasionally raucous leads driving the tunes. For this gig they teamed up with their former Panic Merchants bandmates Paddy Glackin (bass) and Noel Larkin (drums), making this a reunion of sorts after a quarter of a century.They rattled through their album Foundry Folk Songs, which, as Kelly explains, is “basically about growing up in Bailieborough”
After a muted, though enjoyable, opening half they let loose with the amplifiers and drums in the second. Save for a couple of ill advised covers it was a cracking set, rounded off by a fully loaded reprise of the Pop Inn. Hopefully it won’t be another 25 years before they hyperspace back home once more.