- 14 Nov 19
Foy Vance raises his head from the piano and takes a first peak at the crowd. A smile curls up from under his signature moustache as the last notes of his first song, ‘I Was Born’, play out. Much like everything on his new album To Memphis, the opening song is blues to the bone, steeped in Americana and old school RnB. If you’re first thought when you heard the opening lyrics “I was bornnn…” were “…by the river”, well, you weren’t the only one.
It didn’t take much for the Bangor-born artist to supplant his sound to the American south. His voice – somewhere between Van Morrison’s uninhibited Northern growl and Ray LaMontagne’s husky tenor – have always looked westward. So him releasing two back-to-back albums paying homage to soul and Americana? It didn’t seem so crazy.
The Olympia Theatre is seating only this evening (although that doesn’t stop a few particularly fervent dancers getting up onto their feet when the rhythm hits them). For much of the show, Foy and the four members of his band are to be found brooding over their instruments. They’re the ramshackle blues outfit at a roadside bar who unexpectedly caught the attention of every punter in the place.
Foy Vance sticks to his piano for the first phase of the evening, bringing us back to an earlier part of his career with ‘Closed Hands, Full of Friends’ (a show stopper on any given night) and ‘Unlike Any Other’ (a powerful number, sure, but the chorus could do with a few more backing singers on this occasion).
He stands up from his keyboard after the slow gospel-drawl of ‘Cradled In Arms’ and addresses the crowd for the first time. He keeps his interactions characteristically short, but there’s always a witty observation whenever he speaks, de-escalating some of the seriousness of his own songs. He picks up a guitar for the swooning pop song ‘Only The Artist’ (I can’t be the only one to hear Dire Straits in this song, especially in the “Romeo and Juliet, nothing but a writer’s dream” line). This is followed by the heart-on-sleeve ‘I Won’t Let You Fall’, which might as well be a companion song to James Taylor’s ‘You Got A Friend’.
The tempo gets ramped up after this phase ends. After interpolating a few lines form Kanye West and Rhianna’s ‘Four Five Seconds’ into the tail-end of a song, Foy genuinely seems joyful as he jumps through his back catalogue. He musters all the gravel that his voice can offer for a stirring rendition of ‘Burden’. After this, he does a pisstake Keith Urban-country version of ‘She Burns’ (his American accent – impeccable), before launching into the real thing.
Not stopped for a minute, he invites Irish trad-folk band Beoga onto the stage to help him out with the bawdy zydeco track ‘Casanova’. Beoga stick around for the lively hoedown track ‘Where The Wind Blow Chloe’, and make their way quietly off the stage as Foy loses himself during the chorus of ‘Fired Up’.
The encore sees Foy return for ‘We’re Already In Heaven’, a song which shows him at his most philosophical and literate, even if its lullaby melodies don’t make this immediately obvious. The night ends where it started, with the bluesiest track off of the To Memphis album, ‘The Strong Hand’. There’s a back and forth between Foy – singing “Sometimes it takes a strong hand” – and the audience – “from a kind-hearted woman” – which plays out as he makes his way inconspicuously off stage.
It wasn't all the hits, and there was a handful of fan favourites missing from the setlist, but there’s no denying the strength of his Foy’s new songs.