Fionn Regan flies below the radar on pretty much all counts but one: his music. His promotion is minimal (tickets were barely advertised for tonight’s gig), his internet presence is slight (despite nearly 25k fans on Facebook), and he rarely tours. He’s had his few moments in the spotlight, though: a nomination for the Mercury Prize in the UK, and its equivalent in the US, and being photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair. His strongest presence, though, is in four finely crafted albums in the last half a dozen years and a dedication to lyrical songwriting that Dylan Thomas would be proud of.
The ground floor of the Islington Assembly Hall, a new (and excellent) venue on the London music scene, is more-or-less full when support act Annie Eve springs onto the stage. I first saw Annie Eve 18 months ago, as a painfully shy and somewhat sullen young woman sitting on a stage in a pub in Finsbury Park. She still has a minimal stage presence, but her music is blossoming into something that’s attracting the notice of the right people. This support slot is evidence, as is her upcoming support of Daughter next month in Birmingham. With the addition of a three-piece band her melodic and poignant music is maturing into something that’s increasingly worth listening to. A band to watch, for sure.
Fionn Regan steps out lightly to take centre stage before his audience, surrounded by a choral circle of four guitars, all patched to various degrees with masking tape. His first words, “Hey Rabbit, you’ve had it” herald a song from his first full-length release, The End of History. He swiftly follows with a counterpart, ‘The Bunkhouse’, from Regan’s most recent album, only released in January. He continues with this intertwining of new and old for the first half an hour, without a change of pace, and barely a word between songs. ‘The Gouldings’ (new), ‘100 Acres of Sycamore’ (old), ‘Mizen to Malin’ (new), fan favourite ‘Penny In The Slot’ (old) and ‘Coat Hook’ (old). This is a great showcase of highly dexterous guitar playing, and slowly but surely both he and the crowd warm up. With old favourite ‘Hunters Map’ the audience start to sing along, breaking the absolute silence which has pervaded the huge auditorium. Such rapture is testament to Regan’s skillful playing and his fans’ respect for the same.
Regan reaches for a black steel stringed electric guitar, and this introduces our first change of pace of the set: ‘Violent Demeanour’, played with flair and passion and the occasional kick of an Irish heel. Two more songs, ‘Dogwood Blossom’ and ‘For A Nightingale’ lead him to prematurely announce his last song, after only an hour on stage. He asks for requests, causing the crowd to become as excitable as they have been all night. Ignoring a mixture of suggestions of songs both old and new — including the obligatory ‘Stairway to Heaven’ — he selects ‘Be Good Or Be Gone’, the very first track from his very first album. He unplugs his guitar and steps out onto a speaker in front of the crowd. Very quietly and very delicately he picks his way through the song, in an auditorium where you could hear a pin drop. Remarkable for such a large group of people at the end of a gig night. The last notes fade, and he heads off the stage, telling us that he’s returning to his own obscurity, far away from civilisation, to continue crafting his magic.
The roar of the crowd brings him quickly back for the encore song ‘The Lake District’, from 100 Acres of Sycamore. And then he pauses, unsure, seemingly reluctant to leave, as if he doesn’t know how long it will be before he’ll be back in front of such a large group of appreciative fans. But after a moment’s hesitancy, he decides, and resolutely skips off, away from the bright lights, preferring the shadows.