Opening for Amy in the Ulster Sports Club on Friday night was Matt McCrum, sporting redneck chic and a mullet, moustache, camo guitar strap and dungarees. His opening song about his hometown of Lisburn and what a shithole it is, set the scene for a set full of memorable lyrics and catchy tunes. Earnest songs about everyday struggles like “I’m Broke”, prompted me to jot down that I could hear the influence of John Prine, just before he launched into “In Spite of Ourselves”, a Prine cover, so my instincts were correct. He’s great; it was a fun set with great poetic verses and singalong choruses. I would definitely go see him again.
Amy’s set began with her four-piece band, all decked out in white, taking to the stage for a close to five-minute intro, teasing the crowd with Amy’s imminent arrival. In a white lace hoodie, dream catcher necklace and signature warpaint looking like a feral child, Amy bounded onto the stage and it was high energy from the get-go.
The set comprised some of Amy’s well-known recordings, intermingled with new songs. Two songs in and the anthemic “Constitution” had the crowd energised early, all singing along. Then a meandering mash-up of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was delivered with rhythmic dancing and Amy held the crowd mesmerised. I happened to be standing in the company of Amy’s dad for much of the night and he is just bursting with pride for his beautiful, resilient, talented daughter. Watching him watching her was truly a lovely thing.
Amy’s audience are a mixed lot, at a guess aging from teens to 70+, and while Amy was rocking one minute and quietly melodic and moving the next, she had each one rapt throughout. Standing front of stage at one point, Amy leaned out, the crowd leaned in, singing almost in a whisper it felt like an intimate moment. The powerhouse of a voice that emanates from her diminutive figure can be very affecting. Her band were all sensational, but it was particularly exciting to see musical genius Michael Mormecha there, alternating between drums, guitar and keys.
It’s some time since I first saw Amy live, supporting The Bonnevilles in Mandela Hall back in 2018, and the difference from then to now in terms of both performance and song writing is astounding. When she sang the poignant “Old Photographs”, lit in red, quietly beautiful, tears streaming down her warpainted face, it was impossible not to be moved. She wields the power of a seasoned performer, belying her 22 years. Later, the heart-breaking “Feeling Better Now”, penned, her dad told me, for him after the loss of his wife, gave me actual chills. The intensity of the lyrics intensified by the raw emotion in her voice.
The single “Intangible” went down a storm, and the new songs were received with enthusiasm. Highlight of the night for me may have been “Meet You in The Sun” – what a tune, the dancefloor was heaving. The much anticipated “Tree Song” kept the momentum going. Comparisons to Janis Joplin are often made but they don’t do Amy justice. She may be channelling a little Joplin energy but in fact Amy is exciting and original and really needs no comparison.
Amy finished the night with “Soul Medicine” and as the pulsating bass made my plastic pint glass of beer sashay its way across the speaker on which I had rested it, I couldn’t help but think that this had been a landmark gig. Some day I would not be surprised if Amy Montgomery were to find herself on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury or some equally venerated stage, and when that day comes I’ll be glad to look back on this night in the Ulster Sports Club and say – I was there. Pauline Bonner, photos by Frank Dillon.