BY PETER MCGORAN
Johnny Flynn has that certain quality of being just as competent as a poet as he is as a musician and as a live performer. Lyrically, his writing is lithe and beautiful and his words glow on paper as they do when sung. It is this quality that makes him and his band, The Sussex Wit, such a joy to behold.
The intimate crowd trickles in and gathers as the two supporting acts, “Cosmo Sheldrake” and “Marika Hackman”, entertain the audience with a few songs each. Both acts are proficient in their music, with Cosmo Sheldrake’s edgy productions and surprising knack for beatboxing contrasting with Marika Hackman’s vulnerable lyrics and solo guitar-playing. The audience is already engaged by the time Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit come on stage. Johnny gives a short introduction, thanks the audience for coming and immediately breaks into “Ghost of O’Donahue” – a catchy bonus track from his first album “A Larum”. It’s a surprising song to start with but the folksy feel and the images of rural Ireland seem perfectly at home in this small venue in Belfast. The band is tight, not missing a single step along the way, and raucous applause sets the tone for the entire gig.
The band goes on to mix tracks from their newest album “Country Mile” with some older songs, keeping things fresh and holding the audience’s attention. Then during a short interlude about half way through, Johnny introduces the rest of the band – including his sister Lillie Flynn – who are given their due ovation. This leads into renditions of some crowd favourites, “Barnacled Warship”, “Country Mile” and “The Wrote and the Writ” (my personal favourite for its cautioning tone and fantastic use of imagery).
By this stage they’ve played 12 songs but show no signs of winding down; Johnny instructs the crowd to dance along as his new single “Lady is Risen” sores through the attendance, leading right into another foot-tapper, “The Box”. We’re all dancing liberally by the time “Tickle Me Pink” ends and the band put on the pretence of leaving the stage anticipating an encore but joke that they’d have to wait outside in the cold if they left so asks us to cheer if we want to hear more music. We duly respond with wolf-whistles and clapping and the band finishes with a few lesser-known songs from their new album before thanking the audience once more and walking off stage, casually, to interact with their glowing fans.