Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Duke Spirit at Wilton's Music Hall, October 22nd

The Duke Spirit at Wilton's Music Hall - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
Rolling Stone magazine described The Duke Spirit as “glamorous and sinister”, something that could also be said about Wilton’s Music Hall. There is a slightly spooky and otherworldly feel to the recently renovated and re-opened building with it’s exposed brickwork, labyrinth of corridors, small half hidden rooms and false stairways leading to nowhere but the ceiling. Spooky and otherworldly could also be used to describe The Duke Spirit so it seemed like a perfect choice of venue. Even more so as I remember reading an interview with the band and being really impressed by their concern and opposition to so many of London's great venues being destroyed by property developers so it was nice that they had chosen Wilton’s, a rare example of a venue being put back on the map rather than obliterated from it. The band also mentioned their distaste at “awful, beer sponsored TV studio style places” and my respect for The Duke Spirit went up a few notches. Tonight was my first time to see inside this historic East London venue which first opened as a Music Hall here on Graces Alley in the back room of an Ale House way back in 1839, and I was really pleased to discover such a superb job had been carried out to try and restore Wilton’s to its former glory. 

The Duke Spirit - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
So, The Duke Spirit take to the impressive two level stage at Wilton’s standing underneath a huge arched ceiling covered with beautiful carvings and plasterwork and looked over by a balcony on which you can peer down on proceedings with uninterrupted sight lines. Drummer Olly Betts is on the top level along with a keyboard player and a new bassist and then below them singer Leila Moss is flanked by guitarists Luke Ford and Toby Butler. It’s hard to believe that it is eleven years since I first saw The Duke Spirit play live, a thought that suddenly hit me as they slammed straight into “Lassoo”, one of my favourite tracks from their superb second album “Neptune”. The band are playing dates to promote their forthcoming album “Kin” which is due for release very soon and tonight they play some brand new tracks from the record including the single "Blue and Yellow Light" which was on sale as a limited edition 7" single in, yes you guessed it, two versions with blue and yellow sleeves. They also played "Sonar" and "Here Comes The Vapour", these new songs are slower paced, atmospheric and darker and will probably need a few listens to get into. 

The Duke Spirit - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
Unfortunately, and somewhat begrudgingly I have to admit that I thought the sound at Wilton’s didn’t help as it was a bit muffled, nothing too drastic but it slightly dampened the band’s songs on occasion. However, rather like those other beautiful and historic venues Bush Hall and Union Chapel, I don’t suppose when they originally planned the acoustics they took into consideration that full-on Rock ‘n’ Roll bands would be playing gigs there sometime in the future. A superb "The Step and The Walk" was followed by a stunning version of "Dog Roses" with Liela playing some great harmonica that brought to mind Ennio Morricone's haunting Spaghetti Western movie soundtracks. There is a slightly sinister undercurrent to a lot of The Duke Spirit's songs which are often based on a repetitive tribal drum beat with layers of sound built up around it. There is not much place for guitar solos in Duke Spirit songs; instead there is a glacial wall of sound where feedback and effects combine to provide humming and buzzing harmonies. I suppose the early Jesus & Mary Chain or even Curve spring to mind, the latter in particular on the new single, but one of the best things about The Duke Spirit is they don't fit easily into any particular category or musical genre.

The Duke Spirit - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
I must admit I like it when the band cut loose and rock out as they do tonight on a storming "Into The Fold" and "Everybody's Under Your Spell" which flies past with a Punky energy. Liela prowls the stage swinging the microphone stand high above her head, one minute she is leaning into the crowd, foot on the monitors shaking her blonde hair and the next she is dancing around Luke screaming "Yeah!" off mic as he spins out a howl of a feedback laden riff. The end comes way too soon with a brilliantly scathing "Cuts Across The Land". Tonight’s set was very short, clocking in at an hour after the encores had all finished which was a bit of a shame as the band were just building up a head of steam and it was a sudden jolt back to reality when the house lights came on and you realised it was all over. I'm not sure if there is a strict curfew on live music at Wilton’s but I think having such a unique setting (and with another London date already booked) they could have done without the support act and used tonight as a new album "showcase", maybe played it in its entirety, or something a bit special like that. Apart from a quick "It’s good to be back", "thanks for coming tonight" and a nod to the venue, there is little in the way of between song banter throughout the night. But frankly, this kind of suits the band; you want them to be a little bit mysterious. Long may The Duke Spirit continue to be mysterious, glamorous and maybe just a little bit sinister!

The Duke Spirit - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
While it makes a refreshing change to see the positive success story of Wilton’s Music Hall in action, there is still no getting away from the fact that the owners and trustees will have to raise around £250,000 per year through public donations and fund-raising to keep it up and running. So they really deserve a bit of support even if you can just pop in for a few beers in the beautiful Mahogany Bar every now and then, it will all help. Check out their web-site here for more information.

The Duke Spirit - Photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2015
For news on The Duke Spirit tour dates and the date for the album release please check out their official web-site. For more photos of the Duke Spirit at Wilton’s Music Hall please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hit “Like”, if you are not already following, for access to the photo album. Videos from the show can be seen at the Retro Man Blog YouTube channel here.

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