Review: ONR @ The Theatre Royal Dumfries
On rare occasions I hear someone say there isn’t much of a music scene in Dumfries, and that still really surprises me – having been involved with it in one way or another over the past 17 or so years (showing my age there!), I think that its current state is the most impressive it’s ever been. Our local musicians not only span across a wide range of towns and villages, but also across an impressive number of musical genres. We seem to have fairly equal weightings when it comes to the number of solo artists vs the number of bands, with female representation at its highest – something I don’t think I’ve seen happen locally before.
But that’s not to say we haven’t had to say farewell to some superb bands and solo artists along the way, and we’ve also lost some pretty special music venues locally too. Part of me still pines after The Vintage Lounge, and I still miss the unique appeal of The Lyver for its gigs and open mic nights. I even remember watching a Barstow Bats video being filmed in there too.
But instead of remembering how it used to be, I think it’s always a better use of time and energy to focus on how it is now, and what it could be like in the future.
The Theatre Royal in Dumfries is Scotland’s oldest working theatre, having been built in 1792. It is an important part of the town with a refurbishment programme between 2013 – 2015 leading to a whole new look, presenting us with a much-modernised multi-use facility. As I’m not much of a theatre fan, the only connection I had with it was for work-related conferences which never really show it off in the best light so I was happy to see it announced as the venue of choice for an ONR hometown gig on the 9th of December 2017.
In a surprise and unannounced support slot, it was great to see Cammy Black of 13 Crowes play a solo set, fresh from his 16-date tour of Germany. In my opinion, it was one of his strongest solo performances and his entertaining and down-to-earth chat between songs really warmed up the crowd.
Having now seen ONR numerous times live and watched their progress closely since their launch last year, I felt like I knew what to expect. Their performances are high-energy, their songs are anthemic and beautiful. This gig was performed in a smaller room just off from the main bar in the theatre to an intimate crowd of 100 (the gig had sold out in less than 24 hours – they ended up putting an additional date for the following night), and it was fantastic to see what potential this venue holds. The room (formally named as The Studio) reminded me of King Tuts in Glasgow, only without the annoying wall in the middle separating the bar from the stage area. The Studio was suitably dark and was well suited to an ONR show, with their trademark light shows featuring heavily. The sound was also superb (credit to SW Audio and Purplebox Productions for that), and the bar was easily accessible – an important factor for quite a lot of gig-goers. I think this might well become one of my favourite music venues in Dumfries.
As you can imagine, the ever popular (and recently released) Jericho and Five Years’ Time got a great reaction from the crowd, as did American Gods and the earworm inducing Heart Attack. For me though, the most special moment had to be Robert Sheilds’ acoustic performance of the Finding Albert song Life & Times – one of my absolute favourite tracks from the Dumfries and Galloway music scene offering. Having been under the impression that the Finding Albert back catalogue would be something we would never hear again, hearing Life & Times was the best surprise ever.
Without even a shadow of a doubt, 2018 is going to be a great year for ONR.
A massive thank you goes to Martin McKeown for his fantastic live photos used throughout this review. We salute you, Sir.