Underneath the Night of Stars

Robyn G Shiels ventures into the blue with five new tales of loss and regret

In folklore, the Hour of the Wolf is the time between dusk and dawn when sleep comes hardest, and the demons of your past come knocking at your door. Judging by the songs on Robyn G Shiels’ new EP, Underneath the Night of Stars, the Hour of the Wolf may also be the time when the seeds of his songs are sown.

It’s been a while since Shiels’ previous EP, The Great Depression, was released, garnering praise from all quarters, leading to him winning Best Solo Artist at the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Awards at the end of 2011. Since then it’s been a familiar tale of playing the live circuit and trying to earn enough money to get back into the studio to put down more of the 30 or so songs he’s written in the interim.

Some of the tunes on Underneath the Night of Stars are, in fact, more than four years old. Although produced and recorded over a period of time by Ben McAuley at Start Together Studios in Belfast, the five songs that make up the EP have a unified sound, with Shiels’ burnished bruise of a voice carried along on swathes of acoustic guitar, accordion and funereal beats.

The EP begins with the title track. The gentle strum of a guitar underpins Shiels' voice as he tells a tale about the death throes of a relationship, the only witnesses to the denouement being the stars in the sky. 'We break all ties just to break our hearts.'

Ellen Turley’s harmony vocal adds a salve to the sore, before McAuley’s drums and Claire Hutchinson’s accordion lift the heaviness, and carry the song off into the night sky, where 'loneliness is our constant friend'.

‘Upon Such Things’ follows. At just under two and a half minutes, its brevity is still time enough for the tune to burrow itself into your head and heart. Shiels even manages to throw in a rare guitar solo. A promo video for the song (directed by Tristan Crowe) features Shiels sitting in a darkened room, sadly replaying film footage of a beautiful young woman dressed in black wandering through a graveyard and smiling beguilingly into the camera.

‘If Now is an Echo’ comes from Shiels’ long delayed second album, Blood of the Innocents (now due towards the end of summer 2013) and features ex-Therapy? drummer, Fyfe Ewing, as well as Cashier No. 9 members, Danny Todd and James Smith, on accordion and bass respectively. The music – powerful, exciting – explodes in the spaces between the verses, giving vent to the anger buried within the forlorn rags of a song about another love gone wrong.

The weary waltz of ‘Damn That Ruthless Hour’ continues the EP’s theme of loss and regret, before the closing song, ‘A Man to Your Wife’, takes the mood even deeper into blue.

Backed only by guitar, skeletal piano notes and the soft moan of a musical saw, the song could best be described as a (possible) murder ballad. In a barren landscape, a man asks for the hand of a lady. 'And if you say no, heaven will fall,' he tells her. What follows is ambiguous, but quietly disturbing. It is also magnificent.

With Underneath the Night of Stars, Shiels has given us five more songs to cherish. They may not bring us solace, but they’ll certainly help drown out the sound of the wolf at the door.

Robyn G Shiels and full band officially launch the Underneath the Night of Stars, with support from Aborist at the Belfast Barge, Lanyon Quay at 8pm on Friday, May 2013. Pre-order Underneath the Night of Stars now.

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