Photography: Lucie Rose

Stealing Sheep

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  • IMMIX Ensemble
  • Fearghus Ó Conchúir
  • Germanager
Liverpool Irish Festival and Liverpool Music Week @ The Bluecoat 25/10/15

The lights dimmed in The Bluecoat’s black and boxy performance room, a screen showing outlines of two teardrops rotating and spinning, always returning to face each other, becomes the focal point. The image of the two vortexing shapes moving apart then coming together seems apt for the night of collaborative endeavour that lies ahead between experimental synth pop trio STEALING SHEEP, classical instrumentalists with a keen ear for collaboration, IMMIX ENSEMBLE, and contemporary Irish dancer FEARGHUS Ó CONCHÚIR. Beneath the screen, the stage that provides the platform for Ó Conchúir is set up in the shape of a letter T, the long point jutting back towards the revolving image behind. Tucked away on the left-hand side of the stage stand Stealing Sheep’s keyboards, synths and drums, while on the right sit the chairs and music stands that will soon cater to the members of IMMIX Ensemble.

Ahead of hearing and seeing the fruits of this collective labour, GERMANAGER opens the show, sitting at a table in the centre of the T’s shorter axis. One man and an array of musical accessories, he manages to hold the attention of the already full performance space. Using an iPad to play his music with the intermittent aid of a drum pad, electric guitar and violin, Germanager exudes intelligence, dexterity, warmth and humour despite using a set-up that could very easily be alienating. Juvenile, for which he brings out his violin, is the most intricate track of the set, and showcases the strength of his vocal, as well as the ingenuity of his intriguing and well-executed idea. It’s an ideal warm-up to a night further imbued with innovation.

From the layout of the stage, it is evident that Ó Conchúir is the visual focal point of the performance, his athletic body exposed and accentuated between the two sets of musicians. The contemporary dancer from the Ring Gaeltacht was meant to be joined by Aoife McAtamney, a dance artist and choreographer, but she was unable to perform, and so he alone occupies the chasm between the classical musicians and dreamy poppers.

Stealing Sheep muster a sci-fi-like sound, infused with surges of folk courtesy of recurrent lap steel guitar. It’s strange and romantic, futuristic and nostalgic all at once, and is met musically by the mournful sound of the cellist and clarinet playing across the way. Ó Conchúir’s lithe body contorts in perfect unison with this sound; his leaps are acrobatic and his figure pulses in time with the ceremonial drumming and sombre oboe that underpin the set.

Summoning a prog pop sound, complemented by the orchestration of IMMIX, Stealing Sheep adapt Evolve & Expand from their latest album Not Real, filling the usually-stripped back track with droning sounds. It is this song that seems to have the greatest effect on Ó Conchúir, who cowers in contorted despair, before stirring, ballet-like, in elation. This elation, however, seems minuscule in comparison to the joy that creeps across the reassured faces of all involved parties once the set is finished. The beaming smiles are well justified, the performance illustrates a true triumph in collaboration; not one element overpowered another, and each was equally integral to the whole. A compelling case in point for song, dance and vision.

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