Only four months after Conor O’Brien last played at the Oran Mor, he’s back.
This time though he’s relocated upstairs, setting up under Alasdair Gray’s famous murals and for an artist whose work is itself dense with symbolism it’s a perfect setting.
Before the main act however, their guest for the evening takes to the stage for a short set.
Holly Macve is a 20 year old from Yorkshire with a touch of Lana Del Rey’s lilting vocals and Fiona Apple’s song-writing craft.
Her duet partner provides Spanish guitar on a couple of tracks, but for the most part it is Macve alone onstage.
She’s not developed a natural stage persona yet, but there’s some promising signs in form of the countrified ‘Heartbreak Blues’ and a strong piano cover of ‘We Don’t Know Where We’re Going’ by eccentric folk singer-songwriter Melanie Safka; there’s enough hints of talent here to make her one to watch.
Villagers’ last album of original material Darling Arithmetic was his first not to be nominated for the Mercury Prize; rather than move on from the heartbreak confessionals, he’s chosen to revisit them again and strip them back augmenting the songs with harp and keys
Rather than the second album musings on the creative process, Darling Arithmetic dealt often stinging blows toward the bigotry and prejudice O’Brien encountered in his native Ireland and he’s at his most passionate when delivering these stinging diatribes.
In particular ‘Hot Crazy Summer’, a tale of a passionate affair amid social disapproval, soars but the always rather clumsy ‘Little Bigot’ is still not his finest moment.
‘Nothing Arrived’ goes from the closest thing he has ever written to a Snow Patrol song to a fingerpicked lament, with even his bandmates laying down their instruments in hushed reverence, while the set closes with the Sylvia Plath influenced ‘The Waves’ and an equally stripped back version of ‘No One to Blame’ on harp and piano.
Returning swiftly for the encore to huge cheers, O’Brien delivers a bell clear cover of ‘Wichtia Lineman’ and two old songs, ‘That Day’ and ‘Courage’, that sees the audience finally join him in song.
As the figures in Gray’s murals look on, it’s the perfect setting for a show that seems to make rapt wonder come easily.
Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Ingrid Mur