The Deaf Institute, Manchester, Sunday 31 October 2010
It was Halloween yet no-one in the building was dressed for the occasion (including me). It could have been something to do with 80 per cent of the audience, who had come to see The Duke & the King, being middle-aged but who cares - I hate Halloween anyway?
The artist in support was Gabriel Minnikin, a folk singer from Nova Scotia, Canada. Apparently, he was a last-minute inclusion and despite not being able to decide if I liked him, a longer set would have helped me and would have eaten in to the massive, sleep-inducing wait we had before The Duke & the King arrived. Nevertheless, his short set was genuine and honest and he seemed to mean what he was singing. It was just that when Gabriel told us that the following would be a song about people from back home in Canada, it was a somewhat uninteresting introduction.
After Gabriel Minnikin left the stage, a young scallywag stumbled as he walked to his seat and spilled some of his beer on a shocked elderly woman - nice bit of light relief after the constant low-tempo but well-intentioned country twang. For some reason, maybe to create an eerie atmosphere on Halloween, the workers at the Deaf Institute turned all the lights off apart from one behind the bar, which lit up bottles of spirits. This made the one hour-plus wait for The Duke & the King all the more excruciating after a hard day's work. It didn't create a scary atmosphere either, it just looked like there had been a power cut.
I felt for the audience who were standing on the dance floor - at least I had a hard wooden seat to sit on in the football stadium-like seating area. After about half-an-hour/40 minutes, a few bold and impatient old souls in the audience began to do a slow clap while some stomped their feet on the wooden floor boards, in protest at the long wait. Standing around waiting all night isn't exactly what you want to do when you just came out for a nice time.
Eventually, after about an hour and 20 minutes, four Americans who look like the Village People plus one foxy chick moseyed on to the stage. I actually didn't remember them apologising for the late arrival so I was wondering if their performance would make up for it. The Duke & the King's low-fi sound and old-fashioned, hippy appearance is understandably attractive to my parents' generation. However, you should know that if the oldies are in to a certain band or artist then, most of the time, the act must be half decent. These guys grew up in the 60s and 70s when music was at its best!
The Duke & the King opened with 'If You Ever Get Famous'. It was immediately obvious that Simone Felice is the leader of the band and despite being a poser, his charisma and strong singing voice shone through. The song is laid back, not really what I wanted after such a long wait, but the emotion in the song and warmth of the guitar perked me up and the audience seemed to slowly become appeased. In 'No Easy Way Out', we saw that the band is full of beautiful singing voices. Simi Stone took the lead here and her voice is just as pretty as her face. So clear and fluttering with colourful tones, she could win the heart of any man and sing any babe to sleep.
The Duke & the King is a very talented theatrical troupe, however, I believe the jewel in their crown is Nowell Haskins' husky, soulful voice. When he belted out, 'Shine on You', I was reminded of the late Marvin Gaye. He has the same ability to convey strong emotion. Most of The Duke & the King's songs seem to be autobiographical but I'm not sure where their song 'The Morning I Get to Hell' comes from. I mean, yes, the band did look a bit 'happy' and seemed to be somewhere else in their heads, but the line doesn't really fit with their 'let's all hold hands and sing around a camp fire' image. However, it seems to be more of a spiritual lament to what it might be like to die and see God than a song about wishing you were dead.
Ultimately, it seemed that those who were stamping their feet and clapping their hands in frustrated protest before The Duke & the King were finally on stage, were eventually won over by the talents of this big-hearted, sweet-sounding, soulful band.