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| SOAK live at The Strand, Belfast
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SOAK live at The Strand, Belfast

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The Venue

The Strand Arts Centre

Holywood Road, Belfast

The Lineup


Hannah McPhilimy

The Details

22nd August 2015


Ireland's next big thing makes her EastSide Arts Festival debut.

SOAK must be shattered. She’s just flown in from Norway – a 3am lobby call and on the road since then. A short sound check at The Strand, a quick bite in Bank across the road, then on the stage again. Living the dream like a tornado it seems.

Since the launch of her debut album ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’ she’s been globe-trotting like a star trouper. The recent US tour meant endless drives across state lines, a full band, a crew and all that that entails. So tonight for theEastside Arts Festival, it’s just SOAK, a solitary figure, a soul alone with her wistful stage presence as undeniable and unique as the elfin artist herself.

Stark simplicity on The Strand Arts Centre stage. Red and black cry out, yet the tone is mellow. The lights are low, casting noir shadows – the way they fall frame SOAK half light, half dark; yin and yang; neither grown up nor child, let loose to explore some place in-between. Therein lies the endearing angst and the brutal honesty.

I first heard SOAK in a tent at Glasgowbury Festival in Draperstown, must be four years ago for she was all of fifteen then. On top of the Sperrins,  the raw innocence of ‘Sea Creatures’ stole hearts and caught attention. Still, at only nineteen, a debut album and chart success, there’s no denying that Bridie Mons Watson is a curious enigma. A bundle of contradictions – confident but vulnerable, utterly at ease in her own skin then momentarily awkward, a voice that wavers from elusive vagary to absolute clarity. It’s that hybrid voice that cannot be pinned down – peculiar, fluctuating, an odd manifestation of some mysterious enchantment.

A beguiling “Catcher in the Rye” catalogue of tunes – one moment on the outside looking in, next on the inside looking out – these timeless lyrics encapsulate teenage insecurity, sensitivity, ambiguity, empathy, eccentricity. Melodies familiar now – like ‘B a noBody’ and ‘Blud’ are beautifully delivered, along with other gems from ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’. By way of an encore, SOAK sings Bonnie Riatt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ in her own unique way, as if she’d just made it up.

It takes courage to do what she does – the way that she does, but before SOAK, another young female artist warms our hearts and curls our toes: Hannah McPhillimy radiates some inner poise, composed within herself. Lyrical lilts, dramatic twists, turns and all that jazz. I love this – in particular ‘Take Care’ and‘Homecoming’ from her EP ‘Seeing Things’ – a nod to Heaney, maybe.

My 18 year old daughter is with me. I value her insight into all things, so I ask what she thinks? “Amazing” says she. Reminds her of Daughter, ironically.

The filling in this evening’s line up of three female solo artists is performance poet Alice McCullough. With her light beam smile and lion’s mane, voracious, she paces that stage floor.

Energy galore, she kicks of with ‘Last Night The Limelight Saved My Life’ riddled with place names and references from hereabouts, followed by ‘Angels’, the things she sees going walkabouts. Finally, most deliciously – ‘The Lion’s Roar’, essentially a tribute to Messrs Morrison and Lewis of the parish, but courageously, on another level, about so much more.