The first time I encountered Connor O’Brien’s Villagers was almost too perfect. They were first on the Park Stage on the Sunday of Glastonbury 2011, a festival that was bathed in unusually hot June weather, a glorious weekend that had lead to an almighty cumulative 3 day hangover on the Sunday morning. Looking for something to soothe our minds, we headed to the Park area for breakfast and to laze in the early morning (12pm) sunshine for a couple of hours before starting it all again. We plonked ourselves delicately down towards the top of the hill looking down on the stage, and on walked a tiny Irish man with the face of a 12 year old accompanied by his band. As soon as they started I was mesmerised, it was just beautiful. It may have been the rose tinted glasses of an almost perfect Glastonbury weekend, and the effect of a lot of alcohol over the last few days, but Villagers genuinely moved me and I went out and bought their debut album ‘Becoming a Jackal’ as soon as I hit civilisation again.

Nearly two years on from that encounter, Villagers are playing a medium sized gig in Manchester to support their second full length effort, {Awayland}, and it’s packed to the rafters. Gorilla is fast becoming my favourite venue in Manchester, it’s a great looking place, the perfect size, views towards the stage are great, and the sound is always brilliant. It’s a wonderful combination for a venue, and one that somehow eludes so many. This is a magnificent setting for Villagers, with O’Brien centre stage surrounded by his band of four, not looking a day older than the 12 year old I squinted at during that magical Glastonbury morning.

Kicking off with ‘Grateful Song’ from their new album, it’s almost their entire repertoire in one song: it starts off with just O’Brien gently strumming his guitar, his delicate, crystal clear voice, silencing the crowd (seriously, through all the quiet bits of the set you could hear a pin drop – amazing); then the song grows and grows, the band joining in as it swells to an epic climax, much more muscular and exciting than it comes across on record. It’s in these two extremes – delicate and noisy, where Villagers work best. A brilliant ‘The Waves’ is the highlight of the set, it’s bubbling electronics giving way to a full band thrash that culminates in O’Brien screaming “approaching the shore” over and over until the whole thing collapses…it’s quite a sight to behold. The set is paced excellently too. Following the unexpected guitar squalls of ‘The Bell’, O’Brien brings it right back down with a stunning solo rendition of ’Meaning of the Ritual’ from their debut, one of those moments when even a pin dropping in the adjacent bar could have been heard; it’s a special moment in the set and reminds everyone of the power of a simple song sung beautifully.

It’s when the band play mid paced songs that my mind starts to drift; ‘The Pact’ is jolly, but not enthralling, and ‘Rhythm Composer’ is every bit the dud it is on record. But these are minor blips in an otherwise enjoyable romp through both their albums.

The encore is just brilliant. O’Brien once again takes to the stage alone to deliver a knockout one-two of ‘That Day’ and ‘In a Newfound Land You Are Free’, the latter trumping ‘…Ritual’ in the thing of upmost beauty stakes. They end with the full band back on stage for ‘Ship of Promises’, a triumphant ending that reaches for the stadiums. Who knows, with a few great support slots before big bands, Villagers might not be too far from those mega-domes that Coldplay and Mumford occupy…it would make a refreshing change from those bands if O’Brien and Co were embraced in the same way.