Usually on a Friday night in any half-busy bar, you can expect to be flanked by a mob of lairy lads and wobbly girls in heels. And while this is a ubiquitous facet of any bustling pub at the weekend worth its salt, tonight there is a unique caveat to this usual trait, in that amongst the hubbub of the Hook & Eye, Mide Houlihan is playing an enchanting acoustic set.
When you are surrounded by a sonic maelstrom of loud conversation and pint glasses clinking in trays, performing an intimate set can be an imposing challenge, and one that even the most polished or experienced musicians might have a hard time with. But this is also why it is the perfect marker: a serious performance test that separates the wheat from the chaff, and forces the musicians to prove that they deserve to play.
And indeed, Houlihan absolutely proves that she deserves to play. She comes on just after ten, beginning with a few covers, presumably to warm herself and the crowd up. Soon however, she sprinkles her set with original material, much of it taken from her new album Coloured In. While at times she does appear alarmingly incongruous to the lively surroundings, she never lets this affect the soulful integrity of her playing, and this in turn is what draws in the attention of the punters.
As the set comes to an end, and the drinks continue to flow, there is a split among the revellers: half who are content to ride their night to the dizzy end, loud, brash, uninterested; and the other half who are left stirring their drinks, sucking on ice-cubes, wistfully contemplating the dark complexities of their lives as they sit, caught in the sustain of a plucked guitar string. And if Houlihan can extricate these latter emotions from any number of people in a bustling pub on a Friday night, then she is doing something right.