Maverick / Safire – Belfast, Voodoo – 16 December 2016 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 05:30

“It’s not every day you say goodbye to a founding member of a band.”  The words of Maverick singer David Balfour, outlining the context of tonight’s gig, as it is the band’s last with drummer Mike Ross, who is shortly to depart these shores to make a new life for himself on the other side of the Atlantic.  It was gonna be an emotional night for the band, as well as their families, friends and fans who had gathered to give the boy a fittingly raucous send off…


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The task of warming the audience up on this otherwise chilly mid-December evening falls to Safire, a young band in terms of the length of time they have been gigging, but one with plenty of collective experience, which they build upon with each outing. 


Kicking off with the twisting, Oriental theme of ‘Under My Skin’ from their recent debut EP of the same name, the four piece immediately show how much they are also developing in confidence with every performance.  The rhythm section of Dean and Cozy are tight and and appropriately forceful in holding down the bottom end, while Tim’s guitar riffs and melodies are strong and vibrant in turn, while Saffron is strident and defiant in her delivery – and it’s good to see (or should that be hear?) that she’s learned to breathe in the right places.


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The great sound balance brings out their mix of light and shade, emphasizing the heaviness of Dean’s bass runs while simultaneously highlighting the levity of Tim’s harmonies and Saffron – and drawing out the deeper end of her register when she occasionally plunges into it.  The overall result is a strong and confident performance from a band who started this year with plenty of promise and have gone a long way towards fulfilling it.  With a second EP and a full album already in the pipeline, 2017 should see Safire build even further.


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With the atmosphere having been built with Maverick’s now customary ‘Rocky’ intro, Mike is the first on to the stage, given a few key seconds to take one of his final bows before taking his place behind his kit and then being joined by his band mates.  By this stage, the venue is almost full, which is a good sign, especially with it not only being the teeth of Christmas but also the counter-attraction of at least two other gigs:  Belfast is a small city, and gig clashes can have a serious effect on attendances, especially where there are overlapping demographics, but it seems that, on this particular evening, there are more than enough people to go around…


Right from the opening chord of ‘All For One’, the band’s latent energy washes off the stage like a tidal wave, bursting over the crowd and transferring itself to them, before ebbing back and into the band members again.  “New” guitarist Terry McHugh has fitted in brilliantly, bouncing in, off and around Ryan Balfour and bringing a new excitement to both the songs and the band’s stage presence.  In between paying copious and generous tributes to his departing drummer, David constantly beats his chest and cajoles the crowd to give more and more back the band, as they in turn push themselves to the limits.  The result is that, if it wasn’t a week shy of Christmas in a back street in Belfast, you’d swear this was a hot jump joint in the late Eighties/early Nineties, such is the vibe Maverick regenerate, especially on the likes of riotous singalong of ‘Snakeskin Sinner’ and the fist-punching anthemic ‘Paint By Numbers’.


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It being the drummer’s last gig, he of course gets his few moments in the spotlight:  his solo spot is a combination of stunning double kick work, lots of time changes and a few jazz inflections thrown in.  He’s reminiscent of the late, great Cozy Powell in the ease and passion of his delivery, and his bandmates give him the time to soak up the much-deserved applause before rejoining him.


Main set closer ‘In Our Blood’ summarizes what nights like tonight are all about, with it’s chorus hook of “It’s all we need… it’s rock n roll!”  We couldn’t put it any better ourselves – and why would we want to?


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As the band launch into the encore, Terry breaks a string – apparently the first time he has done so in four years: not having a replacement (string or instrument), he’s forced to the sidelines.  But the show must go on, and so it does as the redacted line up blitzes through ‘We Are Maverick’ and ‘Asylum’, with Ryan admirably stepping in to Terry’s solo spot, and taking it in turns with bassist Richie Diver to fill the visual gap left stage right.  Ending the night with the ebulliently cheeky ‘Top Heavy’, Balfour then invites us to “get drunk”:  man, this is Belfast and it’s Black (Eye) Friday… what the fuck else we gonna do?


A great send off for a great young man.  We wish him all the best for the future… and look forward to seeing who is going to step up to the challenge of filling his trainers…


PHOTO CREDIT:  All photos © The Dark Queen / Uber Rock