The country singer entertains at Out To Lunch
Anyone attending Niamh McGlinchey's packed gig at the in Black Box for the Out To Lunch festival is free to adapt the old joke about there being two kinds of music: country and Western.
In McGlinchey's musical landscape, there are, in fact, three types of music: country, Western and balladry. The singer from County Londonderry also does some mean covers, of which more later.
As a fairly mature audience tucks into a great pasta lunch – included in the £7 entrance fee – the young woman with the big voice and glorious way with an acoustic guitar transports us far away, from Belfast to the land where bluegrass, Dolly Parton and countless other country stalwarts were born.
McGlinchey opens with 'Live Forever' and from the off we hear her Mid-Atlantic twang – as country as can be – fill the room. She is ably accompanied throughout on keyboard by Johnny McCullough, known for his work with the Ken Haddock Band.
Hints of Tammy Wynette abound, but maybe the real musical comparison is with fellow Northern Irish singer, Cara Dillon. McGlinchey and Dillon both bring a touch of soul to their performances of country classics, a well-meaning, almost Christian kind of vibe.
McGlinchey can also be quite ballsy and is, at times, what my husband calls a 'swooper' – think Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette – making the most of all those melismatic phrases where one word stretches across a whole bunch of notes.
Perhaps because it's freezing outside, we aren't the easiest crowd to warm up, but as McGlinchey approaches a set of covers, her fanbase begins to respond enthusiastically. Before the covers, however, we hear a lovely rendition of the original track 'Rainbow Days', a number McGlinchey dedicates to the late BBC Radio Ulster presenter and new music champion, Gerry Anderson. 'He was very good to me,' McGlinchey reveals.
She then performs 'Caledonia' beautifully, giving Dougie MacLean's lament real feeling. Talking about how she started out in music, McGlinchey divulges that at the age of 12 she was given a stereo player for Christmas – surprisingly, perhaps, Dr Hook became one of her favourite musicians. 'Everybody's Making it Big But Me' follows, a performance with real humour and a snappy delivery.
Amazingly, McGlinchey then manages to do something new with that classic of the rock canon, 'House of the Rising Sun'. She confesses that she felt she had finally arrived in terms of her guitar playing abilities when she could play this great song, originally made famous by The Animals.
McGlinchey reinvents the track with an effortless country vibrato. It doesn't matter one bit that this is a number narrated by a boy in New Orleans rather than a girl in Belfast, McGlinchey makes it seem fresh, poignant and new.
She even manages to take on Elvis – in what would have been his 80th year – with a very decent version of 'Love Me Tender', less sexy and more romantic than the original, and none the worse for it. I'm not entirely convinced by her second humorous number – her own song entitled 'Oops A Daisy' – but others are amused. Each to their own.
By now McGlinchey has established a warm relationship with her audience – hell, she even takes a photo of us all waving, and subsequently posts it to her Facebook page – and finishes with a glorious version of Don McLean's 1960s protest ballad, 'Streets of London'.
As she sIngs, I hear the words as if for the first time – it's the kind of song that the Labour Party should snap up for their election campaign. It's truly a beautiful song and then, as now, points to the evil of homelessness in our affluent society. Catch McGlinchey if you can – she may think that everybody's making it big but her, but if that's true, it's sure not to last.
Out To Lunch continues in the Black Box, Belfast until January 25.