Flogging Molly

The American-Irish rockers bring a touch of heart to Mandela Hall

Despite the worthy efforts of fellow Dublin rockers The Mighty Stef and The Minutes, the stage at Belfast’s Mandela Hall on a mild summer night belongs to Suggs-alike Dave King and his band, Flogging Molly.

They may be American-Irish, but both lyrics and music have a distinctly British feel. Think The Pogues mixed with a bit of Madness, The Kinks and even Belle & Sebastian, and you know what to expect.

It’s clear King et al have come a long way since their first gigs in Los Angeles bar Molly Malone’s a decade ago – hence the moniker. But the support acts are a mixed bag.

While The Mighty Stef show themselves to be capable of more than the odd catchy tune, the crowd aren’t yet energized enough to respond properly. The Minutes, however, are less slow-burning and more one-track heavy metal, though they do manage to get the crowd energized for the main band.

Sure enough, within seconds of their arrival. Flogging Molly have Mandela Hall bouncing. On first impressions, they come across as a very talented seven-piece band, with accordion, fiddle, bass guitar, banjo and all. They have energy, vitality and a unique rapport with their audience, which all combine to make the evening, on the whole, a special one.

As the night wares on, however, it becomes interesting to discover that they are not only an Irish traditional rock band, but also a band with a heart and empathy. New songs such as 'Don’t Shut ‘Em Down' ('Lately the 21st century’s been crazy, it’s a sign of the times….') and 'So Sail On' (dedicated to a late friend of the band) epitomize this.

King once declared his intention to sing for 'all the good people brought to their knees' by the recession, and he certainly does that tonight.

There’s poignancy for bassist Nathan Maxwell’s daughter, as King leads the audience in a chorus of 'Happy Birthday'. Bob Schmidt performs a banjo solo that has everyone in the hall – even those on the balcony – jumping up and down with excitement. King’s wife, meanwhile, fiddle player Bridget Regan, outdoes Andrea Corr on the penny whistle during 'The Wanderlust'.

By evening’s end, the audience sings along to a welcome version of 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life', reminding us not to feel despondent even though the gig is over. On the evidence of this reception, Flogging Molly will surely be back in the North soon.