I’ve been to Lost Map Records’ Howlin’ Fling festival on the Hebridean island of Eigg many times and there seems to be a distinct moment in the late afternoon of the second day, when the epic hangover from the first day is just beginning to lift but you’ve already started putting in some solid groundwork for what will now be a fully weapons-grade hangover when it inevitably arrives tomorrow. The moment tends to happen around five-o-clock on that second afternoon, and perhaps it’s down to the confluence of those two states of inebriation opening up some internal biochemical sweet spot and rendering you particularly emotionally vulnerable, but invariably the performer up on the stage is free to exploit that vulnerability at will and have you welling up with tears; forced to make lame excuses to your friends, “I – ahem – seem to have got a little something in my eye”.
The last time I saw Seamus Fogarty perform live he was occupying that very five-o-clock slot on the second day’s playbill back on Eigg, and tonight there’s something similar in the emotional heft of the occasion. Obviously we’re in the comforting surroundings of Glasgow’s Hug and Pint and not a marquee pitched in a field somewhere in the Hebrides, and I’m certainly not in the same state of inebriation having enjoyed an exquisite jackfruit curry from the venue’s renowned vegan menu before the show; but despite that, barely two songs in and Fogarty has me welling up all over again. That emotional heft this time not coming from taking part in a beautifully scenic and remote music festival, but the simple blessed relief of being back in a darkened room of like-minded souls experiencing live music again after the year or two we’ve all just endured.
Fogarty’s songwriting has always had the uncanny ability to unlock the sentimental side of the listener. The captivating electronica dependably ticking along like an old carriage clock set in a glass case so you can see the craftsmanship of the movement inside as it clicks, whirrs and pings, providing a modernist foundation for the more traditional but elegantly poised folk cadences of the guitar and vocal.
The set focuses upon Fogarty’s two most recent full-length releases, last year’s A Bag of Eyes and 2017’s The Curious Hand, and as such draws appreciative smiles of recognition and a good deal of quiet singing along from the audience. The mood is helped along by Fogarty’s disarming stage presence. Carlow Town draws to an abrupt halt, but Fogarty takes a moment at that point to remind the crowd that the end of that song usually features an extended coda where Fogarty and his band would begin a complex choreographed dance routine, but that regrettably tonight – being a solo performance – no such indulgences will be taking place, and coaxing calls from the crowd to reverse that decision go decisively unheeded by the performer.
Chatting to me before the set Fogarty describes this solo tour as an opportunity to stretch his legs again as a live performer, and test the waters of the country’s post-lockdown musical ecosystem. He’s had varying experiences across the towns and cities he’s visited so far, some more reassuring than others in terms of feeling covid-safe, but following tonight’s terrific show I’m certainly left with the encouraging feeling we’re finally on the path away from the misery of the last wretched year.