Venue: Wedgewood Rooms Support Bands: Alessi’s Ark Date: 01/12/2010 In the midst of the early winter snow season, a few brave souls braved the cold and treacherous conditions to spend the evening in the company of Conor O’Brien and his Villagers. The awful weather may have had an affect on the turn out, which seemed surprisingly and unfairly sparse, but this did not seem to worry the band, or any of the punters one bit. Coming to the tail-end of a spectacular year that saw the release of debut album ‘Becoming A Jackal’, highlight appearances at countless festivals and a Mercury Music Prize nomination, the success has not gone to Conor’s head, as he still remains as introverted and bashful as the young man who wowed so many with that Later…appearance. His four bandmates came on first, leaving the stage set for a most un-rock n roll type entrance as he scuffled on. As soon as the crowd saw that infamous bowl cut, a silence seemed to hush across the venue. Everyone listened intently while the band gently launched into ‘The Meaning Of The Ritual’, starting quietly and almost a carbon copy of the album recording, halfway through the band had other ideas and made some noise, the first of many songs that had been adapted to suit the live arena more fully. They had some good fun rocking out, and shocked a few people with how loud they were, but this added more depth to Conor’s sincere, choirboy-like vocals. Telling the crowd it was the band’s first time in Portsmouth brought the inevitable cheers and although no-one was singing too loud, for fear of ruining the intimate atmosphere, ‘That Day’ gained the first rousing response of the evening. The band seemed to get more and more into their set, with some in-joke banter, while Conor’s exaggerated gesticulations were keeping the crowd’s attention. The howling vocals on ‘Pieces’ were piercing, even when he stepped away from the microphone, and ‘I Saw The Dead’ was transformed into a haunting, evocative tale. The band left the stage halfway through the set and this is where Conor really shines, facing a crowd with just an acoustic guitar for company. This isn’t to do the band an injustice, it is just so captivating the way he can charismatically hold a crowd, and how you can hear a pin drop. Of course, his storytelling lyrics carry even more potency when told in such a hushed fashion too. Rarely-played and new songs like ‘The Bell’ and ‘Down Under The Sea’ hinted at a louder, more rockier sounding future, more of a ‘group’ sound then a solo project, if you like. Although Conor’s reaction to when he’ll record a new album -“fuck knows” - doesn’t suggest we’ll be hearing recorded versions too soon. The main set ended with the ‘hits’ – a full-band version of ‘Becoming A Jackal’ receiving the biggest ovation before the set closer of ‘Ship Of Promises’ encouraged some dancing and louder singing. The encore started with another touching solo performance, this time of ‘Twenty Seven Strangers’, before the truly stunning new song ‘Memoir’ (complete with talk of orgies, city lights and fantasists) and then the finale of a song even Conor admitted should have been on the album, ‘On A Sunlit Stage’, sent everyone out into the cold with warmth in their bodies, knowing they’d witnessed something quite exceptional. Conor then quite literally waved bye in his typical humble, understated manner. Just hope it isn’t for too long.