High atop Howth Hill sits The Summit Inn – a venue not normally associated with drawing in the big acts, but which tonight plays host to one of Ireland’s most prominent female singer/songwriters. It’s the final stop on Gemma Hayes’ autumn tour, during which she has brought her acoustic show to small venues and theatres nationwide.
Hayes emerges from the crowd of fans and curious locals alike, greeting her audience coyly and thanking them for making the trek to the hilltop in spite of the atrocious weather. She opens the show with a stunning acapella rendition of ‘A Fond Kiss’ – a tribute to the late Liam Clancy, with whom she fondly recalls sharing the tune with. The audience fall completely silent, in awe of the sheer beauty of Hayes’ lone voice filling up the room.
Hayes has used this tour as an opportunity to try out new material from her upcoming fourth studio album, due for release in spring of next year. ‘Shock to the System’ is a textbook Gemma Hayes ballad – but it is delivered with such passion and conviction that if you didn’t know better, you might think it’s a song that she’s been playing for years. ‘Tokyo’, the most up-tempo of the new material, is instantly catchy and certain to be a leading feature of the new album. It’s refreshing to see an artist’s unknown material garnering such a positive reception. Too often, gig-goers use the airing of a new song as an opportunity for a chat or a trip to the bar – but in their acoustic form and in such a small venue as this, the new songs command as much if not more attention than the established ones.
There’s certainly no shortage of those either though – tonight’s set list features a range of material from Hayes’ three studio albums to date. Backed by talented multi-instrumentalist Ann Scott, hits such as ‘Back of my Hand’, ‘Out of our Hands’ and ‘Happy Sad’ are stripped back to fit the bill of this acoustic session. An exquisite rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ threatens to steal the show; but it is the sublime ‘In Over My Head’ which is the undeniable highlight of the night – and proof, if ever needed, of what a fine guitarist Hayes is. Her banter with the crowd throughout the evening is relaxed and funny – particularly the back-story of the title track of recent EP ‘Oliver’, which recalls the ups and downs of schoolyard romance as experienced by the six year old Gemma.
It may not be the most sophisticated music venue – but tonight, The Summit Inn played host to a truly special show. It’s the last we’ll see of Gemma Hayes live until the full-band tour which will follow the release of her new album next March – an album which, if acoustic renditions of featured songs are anything to go by, is something to very much look forward to indeed.
Photos by Rick Reyes via Flickr.