Gareth Dunlop + Lee Rogers + Nathan O'Regan
Thursday 20th October 2022
St. Pancras Old Church, London
With a separate Wrinkly Rockers Club contingent heading eastwards to see Deep Purple at The O2 Arena, some might have thought it was a bit strange that we were going in the opposite direction and heading towards church! Indeed, with Messrs. O'Regan, Rogers and Dunlop's compatriot, and good friend, Simon McBride, also playing guitar for Purple, you could have said that a very special part of Northern Ireland had come to London tonight. And so it proved.
Twenty minutes of extra time in our regular footie kick-about, plus extensive roadworks during our Black Cab journey from Old Street, meant that we literally arrived as Nathan O'Regan's acoustic solo set ended. The reception that Nathan received from the packed congregation, made our late arrival all the more regretful, although not only did we get to apologise to the Belfast based musician later, but in the end we did get to witness his undoubted talent in the finale. More about that later, although Nathan has promised to bring some friends with him when he returns next time. Naturally we will endeavour to be a bit more punctual for that!
A beautifully restored parish church set back half way between Camden High Street and St. Pancras Station, you could be forgiven for not noticing St. Pancras Old Church during the daytime, however, one cannot fail to be impressed by its breathtaking illumination at night. This stunning venue has been available for concerts since 2011 and has rapidly become an established live music venue, especially for new artists and album launches. It may not have the audience capacity or massive sound systems of larger venues, but the sombre, yet colourful surroundings provided a perfect intimate and tranquil setting, such as when we witnessed Dan Reed's WRC 'Unplugged' award winning solo acoustic set just over five years ago in September 2017.
Based in Carrickfergus, just north of Belfast, experienced singer-songwriter Lee Rogers produces sounds as emotive, inspiring and mysterious as his home turf feels. His long-awaited second album, ‘Gameblood’, released in May, contained contemporary songs with strong Americana influences, so unlike Dan Reed's aforementioned solo, it was good to see the added dimension of his band, consisting Colm McClean on guitar, Simon Francis on bass and the beanie hatted Paddy Lavin on drums. Rogers on acoustic guitar, opened with one of the album singles, 'Everytime', and after breaking the ice with a quip about our current political mess (yes this was the day Liz Truss resigned!), Mclean's sweet slide on 'Ida' ensured that this very receptive congregation had well and truly parked their worries outside this magnificent building. Unfortunately, because of his very strong Irish brogue, Lee's Jaffa Cakes joke was lost on me before 'Life and Lies', although his excellent vocal wasn't, on another single from the album, before Rogers movingly shared his past rehab history when introducing the reflective 'Silent Song' with its stand out vocal harmonies.
Cue the more upbeat 'Hellbound' with it's Billy Joel 'We Didn't Start The Fire' vibe, complemented by some more delightful slide from Colm, before Lee showcased a new song, the extremely groovy 'Peace Of Mind'. And talking of vibes, the beautifully sentimental, and as Rogers described it, "very personal" 'Uneasy Love' brought to mind compatriots, Snow Patrol, and talking of compatriots, the slower 'Barefoot In The Basement', was indeed a song written by Lee, but recorded with Foy Vance. Superb. The sighs of disappointment as Rogers announced the final number of his set were palpable, although the Blues of 'Further On Up The Road' duly kept up the high standard, with some further great guitar work from McLean, plus a Bonamassa-like vocal delivery from Rogers. Awesome and with Gareth still to come!
Joined at the front of the stage by the re-appearing Simon Francis on bass plus Matt Weir on drums, Belfast born singer-songwriter and producer Gareth Dunlop released last April his own long-awaited second album, ‘Animal’, consisting of a diverse set of songs, such as tonight's opener 'Prisoner Of My Past', the trio's beautiful crystal clear vocal harmonies making the most of the venue's acoustics, solely accompanied by Dunlop strumming his acoustic guitar. Francis and the baseball-capped Weir then retreated back to their day jobs, with Dunlop now on keys adding that electronic bounce to the subtle groove of the punchy and memorable album title track. Gareth then added what a pleasure it was to be back in this incredible venue, before they launched into 'My Kind Of Paradise', that very aptly saw some hands in the air from the cheap pews, just stopping short though of a few well deserved hallelujahs! From Paradise to Lucifer, as Dunlop then joked that he feared he would burst into flames on an old 'un, given the surroundings, namely 'Devil Like You', which indeed featured on Fox's Television series Lucifer. Thankfully, no spontaneous combustion here, just spontaneous applause on Gareth's devishly good "you could here a pin drop" acoustic solo.
With Dunlop now crouching over his keys, very reminiscent of Chris Martin/Coldplay, the brilliantly atmospheric 'Sorrow' which some have said channels late period Roxy Music, was followed by another excellent slow burner, the laid-back ‘60s dream Pop vibe of ‘Humans’, with another outstanding vocal from Gareth plus a keys solo to boot. After Dunlop's commendable thank you to the Zenith Cafe label for their support, the very apt and appropriately uplifting and upbeat 'Old Friends', saw another awesome vocal from Gareth. And if you thought that was outstanding, before his penultimate song, Dunlop let slip that he had not only given up smoking during the lockdown but he had also learnt to play this keyboards! No shit Sherlock! Cue the soulful and anthemic 'Look Back Smiling’, which evoked the ‘80s yet exuded a timeless quality, that saw more jubilant hands in the air from Gareth's delighted flock. The guys closed out their stand out set as they started it, with the three amigos returning to the front of the stage with some more glorious "you could hear a pin drop" harmonies on 'Can't Stand Myself' taken from Dunlop's 2018 album, 'Many Moons Ago'. Can't stand you? Bloody loved it!
Talking of the three amigos, Gareth, Lee and Nathan then returned for an impromptu and amusingly unrehearsed encore and cover of The Band's 'The Weight', that gave us late arrivals an opportunity to finally witness O'Regan's vocal and acoustic guitar prowess, to complete a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Indeed, with a legacy boasting the late, great Gary Moore, Van Morrison, Feargal Sharkey, and more recently, Snow Patrol, The Answer and Kaz Hawkins, plus not forgetting of course Foy Vance and Simon McBride, it was great to witness tonight that Northern Ireland's musical history baton is being passed down into such safe hands.