This reviewer is a recent transplant to Manchester and — frankly — a bit of an out-of-touch old man. So with tickets in hand for Dermot’s sold-out visit to Gorilla, I had no idea what to expect. When I told a friend about the gig I heard “Oh yeah, my 15-year-old loves him” and when I told Google, I read that Taylor Swift loves him too. So far, so good; Taylor didn’t let me down when she vouched for Ed Sheeran, after all.
Entering the venue off Whitworth Street West under the railway tracks, I found the suitably-authentic black-box performance space to have that perfect repurposed industrial vibe that tells you you’re about to watch a proper gig. It’s the kind of room that looks like it should be sticky all-over with spilled beer and dank with the must of a million smuggled joints, but in fact Gorilla keeps the place tip-top so hey, best of both worlds.
I bounded up to the balcony and grabbed one of the venue’s 6 seats, counting my arthritic blessings as I watched the crowd of younger, fitter people swell out beneath me.
The show opened with a 30-minute set from Bournemouth boy Jack Vallier. One man and his guitar, Jack opened with a slow and soulful tune that showed off a steady and capable voice and then, planted firmly behind the mic for the duration, did the same thing 5 more times. His songs are exclusively about love, and all the various ways it lifts and lowers the spirits of the young.
A balladeer with an obvious busker’s pedigree, Jack comes off a bit like the aforementioned Sheeran without the dorky affability or the bounciness of composition. But though he trod familiar ground, I could feel a genuine emotional charge in the high notes and sensed an infectious joy in his performance.
As Vallier rounded out his set, I noticed the crowd seemed a touch laconic. Was it Monday night vibes keeping them down? Did they not dig Jack, I wondered? C’mon guys, that song Rebekah was a jam! Turns out, they were just waiting for the star of the show to take the stage.
Dermot Kennedy, a proper Irish dreamboat in a tight black t-shirt, appeared behind the mic to raucous cheers and from the very first bar of music the crowd was chanting along, wearing their obvious fanaticism on their collective sleeve.
Silhouetted against moody minimalist lighting and accompanied by 3 enthusiastic bandmates, Dermot got right into it and lead his adoring crowd through his catalogue of personal, often autobiographical songs. His appeal is immediately obvious and undeniable: His voice is a presence, and from a whisper to a shout it lifts and cradles, seduces and slams.
Big, driving percussion and crackling, grimey electronic noise back Kennedy’s guitar playing to an effect that feels modern and energetic without descending into gimmick or stealing focus from the songs themselves, which explore recurring themes of hope, friendship and the power of memories both good and bad.
Kennedy prefaced many of his songs with little stories of their origins and inspirations, most notably about how the song Boston was inspired by his time in that town (Lincolnshire or Massachusetts, he didn’t specify. Personally, I savour the mystery.), busking for a living and cementing his intention to pursue his musical dreams.
Kennedy could barely speak 5 words without being drowned out by cheers of “We love you, Dermot!”, and the old fogey in me wanted to tell the excitable Irish lasses to my left to stuff a County Cork in it, but more so than anything it was charming to share the intimate space with devout fans and the obviously flattered object of their worship.
At the end of the gig, as the crowd filed back out to steam in the cool night air, I chatted briefly with local Kennedy fans Sean and Bethan, who were positively glowing and chattering excitedly about their favourite moments. Their top pick? When Dermot, toward the end of the show, began to belt out last year’s hit Moments Past. “I didn’t think he was going to do it!” crowed Sean. “And then he did… Amazing!”
Discover Dermot Kennedy for yourself on your favourite streaming platform and at http://www.dermotkennedymusic.com/