I’m not an adherent of any religion. Quite frankly churches make me nervous. And there’s something even more unsettling about spending an evening in a dark eerie chapel lined with tiny flickering candles. But as I sat on the pews at London’s Union Chapel amongst a collected crowd, with a comforting hot chocolate wedged between my palms, watching some of the most talented musicians I’ve seen in a while, a sense of serenity swept over me and I soon forgot where I was.
I guess as with any story (or gig review in this case) one should start from the beginning. So first up on the bill was Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou, the English husband and wife song writing duo. We only made it in time for the last few minutes of their performance but just from that snippet we could already see that they had cast a spell on the audience with their modern folk magic.
The next act was meant to be Danny & The Champions of the World. I was expecting a 12 piece ensemble. But instead the previous performers Trevor and Hannah-Lou retook the stage with Danny Wilson and only Danny. I’m still not too sure where the rest of the Champions of the World were! Nevertheless the trio played a handful of gentle, cleverly arranged songs that were easy on the ears and well-liked by the audience. Even though they all had distinct and diverse vocal chords, when they sung simultaneously it produced a euphonious harmony that echoed throughout the chapel’s walls. I was also impressed by the use of banjos and harmonicas and the amiable acapella culminations of their songs that demonstrated the beauty of their voices. I’m typically not a big enthusiast of soulful folk music but the trio’s endearing, heartening songs gave me a new-fangled appreciation for it.
However my favourite performance of the night was unquestionably the gifted headliners hailing from New York, The Duke & The King. The confident quartet strode on stage and ensnared the audience’s attention immediately. Affable front man Simon Felice addressed the crowd with “No dust cloud, no air traffic controllers and no lack of viagra can keep us from our congregation... Can I get an Amen?!” the obedient crowd enthusiastically responded “Amen!” and the band kicked off with their first song “If You Ever Get Famous.”
The Duke & The King established their strong stage presence, their passion for music and the camaraderie between them right there in the first song. All four members came equipped with an amazing voice, proficiency in more than one instrument and a zesty personality.
Following the introductory song Simone stepped up to the microphone again and slowly, sarcastically said: “Alright believers, open up your prayer books to song, to song number 2” and he steered the amused crowd into a chant of something along the lines of “la la la di da”, which opened the next song.
The comical antics didn’t stop there. The night welcomed pelvic gyrations by Simone, barn dancing on top of the drum kit and more jokes about the Icelandic dust cloud that was impinging the live music touring industry.
I knew I was witnessing something special the second the drummer pounded down on his kit to create a musical pulse, that was reminiscent of that in Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight,” and opened his mouth to unleash his powerful voice, as my body was overtaken by goose bumps.
The Duke & The King showcased a set of their glam-soul-folk music, which is created using the sounds of a violin, acoustic and electric guitar, keyboard tambourine, a bit of percussion and even a saxophone which was invited on stage twice and introduced as the “horn blower”. The most impressive instrument was their voices though. And the advantage of having an all-singing band is that none of the songs sounded the same as they were constantly altering between singers and produced beautiful arrangements and solo pieces. I particularly enjoyed when female violinist and songstress Simi Stone mimicked the sounds of Bobby Bird ‘King’s lyrics in his solo song with her violin.
It was quite touching to see the amity this ensemble share on stage. Hugs, kisses and handshakes were passed around constantly as a sign of support and they motivated each other by encouraging the crowd to “give it up for Reverend Loveday” and so on.
I was paying a lot of attention to the lyrics in their songs and amusement is an understatement for what I felt when I’d hear:
“The devil is real”
“He went in the army like a lot of them do and he got fucked up over there” and;
“Please lay with me Suzie, please spend the night with me Suzie”
I couldn't help but laugh as I watched the audience gathered in this holy church slightly cringing and flinching at these references to Satan, sex and swear words.
The Duke & The King performed a collection of songs from their debut album “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and a much-appreciated cover of Pink Floyd’s classic “Brain Damage” and Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Not sure if the church’s sacred audience was feeling uplifted by the "power of God" or the band’s pure aura but there were constant cheers throughout songs and a rowdy, manly “YEAHHHHHH!” yelled out here and there. The band received a well-deserved standing ovation and a thunderous demand for an encore, which they happily delivered.
The Duke & The King are on tour through the UK right now. Click here to buy tickets to their show!