Having had what he described as “a biblical journey” as he battled through the worst of Storm Ciara, Canadian troubadour Stephen Fearing noted that the setting of this show, a church converted into a thriving arts centre, was somwhat appropriate, shelter from the storm indeed. ‘As The Crow Flies’ was a well chosen opener for an artist who has spent a life on the road. Settling in with his perceptive observations, trenchant views and wry humour, Fearing held his audience from the start.
His recently released album ‘The Unconquerable Past’ is about looking back on his own life as well as taking stock of the world around him. Clearly a deeply empathetic person himself, he urged greater tolerance in ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’, his take on the general lack of empathy everywhere. Also from the new album, he pulled no punches with ‘Marie’, a song for what he describes as the “post Twitter age.” In a voice that swung from quiet determination to outright anger he conveyed a sense of reckoning, warning of the damage wrought by those hiding behind “tinfoil hat religion.”
Fearing paints vivid pictures of people and places. His intro to ‘Christine’, about his wife, also covered his first visit to a casino in a tough Canadian logging community. Though not a success financially, the experience gave Fearing perfect material for a song whose rock and roll tempo kept pace with the spinning roulette wheel. ‘Sunny’ is a person whose character is an amalgam of several people drawn from one of his writing sessions holed up in a cabin.
Fearing also has a broad hinterland. From his time in country rock band Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, ‘Black Sheep’ paid tribute to Serena Ryder who sang with the band. Further homage came in ‘Johnny’s Lament’ a song about Johnny Cash, a hero of Fearing’s once he had discovered country music. Words, or rather phrases, fascinate him. The title of the new album comes from the Canadian author Patrick DeWitt. Not that he restricts himself to the highbrow, noting his location he couldn’t miss a reference to “Two Ton Tess from Teddington.” Cue groans!
Having grown up in Dublin, Fearing is well-equipped to identify with those seeking a new life in ‘Emigrant Song’, co-written with Belfast born Andy White. But whether directed generally or personally, it is Fearing’s reflective nature that leaves the greatest impression. The title track of the new record, ‘The Unconquerable Past’ is a stark reminder that, as he so eloquently put in his intro, “The past can’t be discarded, if you try it will come back to kick you in the arse.” Similarly reflective, on ‘Break our Mother’s Heart’, Fearing admits the life of a troubadour comes at a price.
The Sentimentals were much more than a backing band. This Danish trio led by guitarist MC Hansen are impressive in their own right as they displayed with one of their compositions.
Fearing finished with a solo performance of ‘No Country’ as if any further reminder was needed that we had spent a fascinating evening in the company of an utterly genuine artist and performer who proved beyond doubt the power of live music.