“I nearly passed out in the middle of the flute solo,” says Honeyfeet’s singer Ríoghnach Connolly, at the end of an admittedly pretty hefty blast. “That’s always a good sign.”
Indeed it is. Tonight we’re all finding our way back to life, back to reality. Back to how we even do this – this socialising, live music, gig-going thing we all used to take for granted. My first visits back to the pub were compromised by a realisation I had lost the ability to talk waffle. And after a life reviewing music, my last gig before this was Sleater-Kinney at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. In February 2020. So we all need to tread carefully, band and audience, audience and venue, all finding our way back to one another, in that nocturnal embrace that used to come so naturally.
It is evident from the get-go that Honeyfeet are going to keep their side of the deal. With influences from Manchester to Detroit, via Cork, the band touch down everywhere from mellow soul to vibey pop via anything from nu folk to old funk, so that they can number both Craig Charles, and Jools Holland, amongst their admirers. It’s all good when you have feet made of honey. So while one track might dig down to the very roots for organic sustenance, the soundtrack to some country hoedown, Connolly hitching up her dress and belting out vocals like she’s about to kick a mule where mules don’t much like to be kicked; on the next, guitar, bass and keys lay down slow and soulful grooves that take us more gently by the hand and lead us gracefully onto the dancefloor of Studio 54 for a smooch.
In front of a trippy visual display the band are tight and taut, despite the enforced absences. Fractured riffs battle with angular off-beat action across Hammond keyboards, jazz chords and the occasional solo on guitar, with a languorous trombone adding sepia retro touches to tracks like 2018’s ‘You Go to My Head’, with its hypnotising opener: “You go my head / And you linger like a haunting refrain.”
Connolly is the definitive presence, no doubting that. Stage front and centre, hands dug demonstrably into her hips, rolling her shoulders and wagging a finger, she looks as though she might have stepped straight out of an Andy Capp cartoon, were Andy Capp to number a fabulous Irish soul sister amongst his acquaintances. Often wielding a flute like a weapon, she is captivating, like an even earthier Ian Anderson… although very much on two feet. Occasionally she sings through a small megaphone (so what’s that… a miniphone?) taking us straight to Bristol and the trip hop sounds of Tricky and Portishead. Sometimes she loosely raps doggerel, but then as if from nowhere this celestial, dramatic and soaring voice fills the voluminous space of the Albert Hall; a little Amy here, a little Dusty there, even a little Duffy on tracks like ‘Hunt Gatherer’.
Connolly says there’s a new album done and “in the post”, but for now the gig is in support of the last album, Orange Whip, and indeed tracks like ‘Sinner’ and ‘Meet Me On The Corner’ get a dusting down. As does the venue. Albert Hall is elegantly decadent at the best of times – peeling walls, the frayed, aged and bruised ego of a grand ecclesiastical past. But tonight it’s as though the accumulated dust of what Caitlin Moran deemed ‘the great unpleasantness’ is quickly blown away by the Connolly’s seemingly effortless voice, that comes from somewhere deep within her frock, and launches out right across the hall.
We must allow venues to find their feet again, as they themselves stretch out after this brutal hibernation. The Albert Hall has effectively arranged itself into socially-distanced beer hall style tables, so that the venue, both gallery and pit, are fully seated, which is quite something when recalling the carnage for gigs like Blossoms. Drinks are ordered from the App and arrive in suitably Teutonic steiners, and Rudy’s pizzas arrive from what I can only presume is a secret underground tunnel, from their Peter Street locale next door. Spring sunlight streams through the gorgeous stained glass windows and illuminates what remains one of Manchester’s great venues.
The tables look pretty much sold out and the night is designed so as to be divided into two sets. The band definitely up the funk in the second set and people are on their feet for the encore tracks. “You are definitely not allowed to dance on bits of furniture,” Connolly says, with a nod that says “you should definitely dance on bits of furniture.” Mark Radcliffe famously quipped that Manchester is a city that thinks a table is for dancing on. Manchester wasn’t quite on the tables tonight… but give us time. Small steps out of this insipid darkness and back out in to the light of … not the new normal, but our beloved old normal. We’ll get there. “It’s hard to know where to put all the feelings,” says Connolly towards the end of the set and for now, it is just enough be out out, with friends, and Honeyfeet, and the city, and to feel.
Honeyfeet was reviewed at Albert Hall, Manchester on 27 May 2021.