Gemma Hayes


Olympia Theatre, Dublin ***

Gemma Hayes is most certainly a survivor. When she released her debut album, Night on My Side, in 2002, the universe seemed to be on her side.

The album’s beguiling mix of indie-grunge emotion and delicately plucked acoustic heartbreak bagged a Mercury prize nomination for the ingenue from Ballyporeen. But then the rug was pulled out from under her, and she found herself dealing with depression and writer’s block.

But now here she is, 10 years later, a true survivor, older, wiser, and playing a well-attended gig at the Olympia in Dublin on the back of her fourth album, Let It Break, released last year. These days she puts out her music on her own label, and her music has been used on US TV dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars.

This gig is set to be released as a live album in 2013, and it was a good take. The sound was impeccable, with Hayes in fine voice, and her band – Ann Scott on guitars and keyboards, Karl Odlum on bass and keyboards, and Binzer Brennan on drums and ukulele – were with her ever surefooted step of the way. Unsurprisingly, she showcased some of her best tunes, including Shock to the System, Back of My Hand and Out of Our Hands, but she surprised a few with her choice of cover versions: a brave attempt at Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, a seductive reading of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game and a caution-to-the-wind version of Buzzcocks’s Ever Fallen in Love.

Her own songs may not have classic hit stamped all over them, but Keep Running nicely mixes crunchy guitar riffs with fragile, folksy passages, while 4.35am and Oliver are almost-gossamer tunes with a solid emotional core. She ended with the valedictory Chasing Dragons, and returned to the stage for a bass-heavy reading of Let a Good Thing Go, before finishing with a seasonal treat – a guest appearance from the Discovery Gospel Choir, who performed No Man Can Hinder Me, then joined Hayes and her support act Joe Chester for Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

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