James Vincent McMorrow at The Iveagh Gardens, Dublin – Friday 11th June, 2021

Look – it’s been one hell of a year. We’ve all become best mates with the four walls of our homes. Live music has been limited to web-streaming, Instagram live sessions and listening to our neighbour practice Baker Street on their saxophone … over and over and over again.

And while any semblance of live music has been more than welcome in the past year, it hasn’t really been the same, has it?

You know, the excitement of heading towards the venue, meeting up with pals en-route, discussing the set-list in advance, getting a drink in beforehand, getting your spot amongst the crowd, thinking tactically about said spot, taking a deep breath as the lights disappear and the band emerge on-stage moments later – the buzz!

So it was with much excitement that The Department announced a string of ‘test gigs’ to get the ball rolling for what is hoped to be a summer of outdoor events and music. The gig itself sold-out within minutes, as you’d imagine, as people clamoured for one of the 500 tickets, for a venue that can usually hold 5,000.

In terms of the testing part of the evening, arrival times were staggered, leading to a more than smooth arrival and entry to the venue. The normal ticket checks and security pat-downs followed, and while they did have temperature guns upon arrival, there was no further testing or communication before entering.

These kinds of tests must be planned for events further down the line. On this night, they had chosen to road-test the organisation of the night, the movement of people, the standing pods and logistics around people management and control. And in that manner, the night seemed to run smoothly.

There was no alcohol on-sale on the night, but there was an ice-cream and crepe van, both selling water and refreshments.

Everyone was stationed in their ‘pods’, all marked with a code and suitably spaced from your gig-going neighbours. From the entrance, you were marched to your small space by stewards. You could feel the energy from the people in attendance, all beaming with smiles, elated to be out, to be at a gig – and sure why wouldn’t they?

As much as McMorrow will be remembered as the first headliner to play an official gig in Ireland for over a year, it was Sorcha Richardson who became the first musician to actually perform on stage after all that time.

“Well, well, well – do you have enough space? Fucking hell, we haven’t done this in a while!” are the first words spoken at an outdoor event in 2021. Sorcha and band rifle through a familiar set with Don’t Talk About It, Ruin Your Night and First Prize Bravery impressing particularly. McMorrow joins Richardson on stage for her latest single The Starlight Lounge – a pulsating tune that evokes nighttime wandering and adventure – on this day though, the backdrop is a blue sky, sun-drenched Dublin vista.

A lengthy gap followed, as per the strict timetable for the night. McMorrow returned to the stage with full band in tow.

The night started with a wonderfully positive and apt Me And My [500] Friends, a 2018 single.

“I don’t want to talk too much, it’s been so long … it means the world … I hope you guys sing along, clap to whatever you want to. Clap for the time that we’ve fucking lost together, do whatever you feel – make 500 people sound like 10,000 – go for it!”

What followed was an impressive 85 minute set – taking us on a journey from McMorrow’s more folky beginnings, right up until his more electronic latest offering I Should Go. All throughout, McMorrow’s variable vocal soars through the air.

Throughout the night, he shrugs off the self-proclaimed performance cobwebs – but the standard of performance given is truly stellar.


We Don’t Eat, Paradise, Higher Love all stand out in a packed 15-song set – with James returning to multiple tracks from his 2010 debut ‘Early in the Morning’, like the impressive If I Had Boat.

But the moment of the night comes during Cavalier – a soaring, beautiful, anthemic track that steadily builds. And as it did, the brass section washes over the song – it was at that moment we felt like we were back. The feeling you get a gig, at a festival, where you’re transported somewhere else, your thoughts are gone, you’re immersed in the noise. It’s what we’ve been missing, that feeling, that separation, the joy!


After the event, many people asked, “Well, how was it?” – it’s been hard to answer. It wasn’t ideal, it will take some getting used to, it’s still not the same as before – but we need to start somewhere. We were some of the lucky few, but we welcome the thought of many more punters, crew and musicians getting back out there over the summer – we all need it!