With an appreciative but quiet audience, Getintothis’ Emma Walsh finds Ms Hayes playing a slow burner of a set.
“Phew, I can relax now” Gemma Hayes tells her enrapt audience “It always takes three songs to ease in, I don’t know why.“
The admittedly rather sparse crowd clustered around the candlelit tables of Leaf’s upstairs hideaway have relaxed a little too much it seems, falling into polite, yet acute silence after their flurry of applause. It’s always a shame when, in such a charming festooned venue such as this, the atmosphere falls a little flat, which sadly seemed to be the case tonight.
“Oh there are quite a few of you out there” Hayes says with surprise after a cheer for old faithful Back of my Hand. She raises a hand to shade her eyes from the lights, peering into the room, but confides that she’s always happier not to see faces in the crowd when she plays. It seems to have an isolating affect on her tonight though as it takes some time for Hayes to really connect with to the audience.
For a long time fan like yours truly, this doesn’t necessarily detract from the evening. Gemma Hayes‘ songs have soundtracked the last ten years of this writer’s life, and she could have been playing in a vacuum and still got rapturous applause from us.
But gradually things do begin to warm up.
“You know Father Ted? Well this is my ‘My Lovely Horse'” Hayes says introducing new track Palamino, getting the first proper giggle of the night. The Louis Walsh story, perhaps familiar to those who’ve seen Hayes live before, gets the second.
The story goes that many years ago X Factor guru Walsh (no relation, btw) promised to make Hayes a huge star in America, all she had to do was stop writing her own songs and hook up with a celebrity. As you can imagine, for a songwriter, this wasn’t exactly a great prospect. Hayes’ integrity and determination kicks new enthusiasm into the audience who approve whole heartedly of the story as a very appropriate intro to Keep Running.
The whole night seems to have slipped away from us, coming to an end just as it seemed to be getting started. Returning to the stage after a dogged call for an encore, Hayes introduces her greatest* song (*this writer’s favourite) with another little tale that charms the Leaf crowd. Oliver is a an endearing love song written with the candidness of childhood recollections.
“It’s written about a boy called Willy” Hayes says dryly, “But I didn’t fancy singing that name out loud.”
After enduring Willy’s teasing, taunts and downright villainy for the first year of her school life, Hayes tells us she finally stood up for herself, jumping on him when he least expected it and kicking the crap out of the little scoundrel. Worse still, she threw his newly wallpapered exercise books in a puddle, which now, as a mother, she regards as a “real sin”.
Despite the hearty cheers for Hayes‘ heroism, she admits that Willy got the last laugh, breaking her heart some ten years later when they were teenagers. But hey, he might have got the laugh, but she got the perfect love song from the ordeal.
Encompassing the feel of the gig, or at least the second half of it, the wonderful Laughter closes the set, in which Hayes finally lets loose on the guitar to show us some of her rockier roots. Better late than never, eh?
Earlier in the evening the lusciously husky Ollie Gosling treated the crowd to his growling tones, with Superman proving the stand out track of the set. We’ll certainly be keeping our ears on that gent in the future.
Photographs by Getintothis’ Michael Hegarty