Saturday, April 04, 2009

Urban Hymns: The Movie ... Oh Yeah!

Urban Hymns publicity shot

As soon as I heard the Urban Hymns concert (part of the Belfast Festival) getting a plug on Sunday Sequence back in October, I knew it would be too late to get a ticket. Kan Haddock, Ciaran Gribben, Foy Vance, Duke Special and Bronagh Gallagher, accompanied by Inishowen Gospel Choir along with a packed out May Street Church.

It was broadcast on Radio Ulster over Christmas – the evening of Boxing Day I think – but I missed it and it wasn’t available on iPlayer. Then recently, Stuart Bailie put the concert out again on his show ... and again, despite hopes ... iPlayer wasn’t the answer.

But Belfast Film Festival came to the rescue with the première of Bandwidth Films / Will McConnell’s film shot on the night playing in the Oh Yeah! Centre on Thursday evening. The screening was slightly weird in that the sound came from the back, while the film was projected onto a suspended white sheet. There was method to this madness, but it was unnerving to watch artists and choir singing, and hear them over your shoulder. Louder sound might have boosted the intimacy and atmosphere at the otherwise relaxed screening.

Shot using only two handheld cameras, there are few fixed shots and lots of panning across the stage, focussing in on a performer before shifting attention elsewhere. It felt like being there at the concert, constantly distracted by people and details, glancing all around, every now and again coming back to look at the main singer.

The focus is fairly light at the start of the concert, but felt significantly sharper by the second half. Overall it was an unusual style, yet one the really captured the atmosphere (I imagine) of the original concert, and a technique done so well it would be worth pointing out to the Tech Campers in the summer.

Done badly, it could have been awful; but done well, it was fantastic. If you do ever get to see the film, look out for the beautiful tracking shot during one of Duke Special’s songs, examining the faces of the front row of the choir.

Musically, it was great. Foy Vance’s cover of Hallelujah! was memorable. Despite the upbeat name, it’s always a depressed and melancholy song, and Vance’s scrunched up gurn particularly impressive.

Bronagh Gallagher was the only woman on the line-up, and yet she stood out not by gender but by being the most extrovert of all the performers. Duke Special achieved a lot with a few thumps on the piano and using the choir as his backing band. Now I can see why people flock to his concerts.

The Inishowen Gospel Choir were on their feet for most of the night. Some made it along to the screening, and got to see what had been going on behind them up in the pulpit (the stage for the soloists) while they sang their hearts out.

It’s a shame that more people didn’t come along to the screening. But a lovely evening, and a really well put together film that’s a great advert for the talent of Will McConnell and Bandwidth Films.

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