October 27, 2021

The Duke and The King @ The Hi-Fi Club, Leeds

Oooo, that bass. Sweet, tuneful and rolling; Robert “Bird” Burke’s bass does that rare thing and tells the tune instead of treading the counterpoint or being a low thud. It’s a thing of beauty and ties the knot of the other threads in the musical cloth. Robert, himself, looks a lot like a happy Worzel Gummidge alongside the skinny and lanky figure of Simon Felice. Simon was drummer with the Felice Brothers till last year, when he and Robert assembled this band and made the addictive Nothing Gold Can Stay album. 

Downstairs in the full cellar of Leeds’ cool Hi-Fi Club, the band exude an effortless relaxation and play through the album, throwing in covers along the way. This is a show, an entertainment; the band going way beyond the normal ‘play the song and big-up the town’ formula of most gigs. The band chat with the audience, stretch songs out, improvise, mix it up and rotate line up into different combos. There’s rarely a time when all the same people are onstage playing the same instruments. The country-soul groove makes for a gentle sway and the achingly gentle songs recall moments from their youth and reminisce happily of the Reagan years in the US – showing you can be happy anywhere! Opening song, If You Ever Get Famous, is the album opener and sets the tone, loping along with Simi Stone playing violin. Possessed of a fabulous afro hairdo, she contributes searing vocals later on. Reverend Loveday’s drums are set at the side of the stage, letting the beat percolate and helping the band’s rhythms achieve an organic lope. 

Some of the songs are no more than a couple of lines and some lovely emoting – Lose Myself is a line long, Suzanne is barely more and I’ve Been Bad reaches a mighty two lines – yet the feeling is there and I feel like I am at a party, not a gig, where people are taking turns to entertain. Other songs, like One More American Song are portraits of street life: “If I had a cinder block for every lie I told, I could of built us a house, fine as any city block, to keep us out of the cold”. Songs manage to mention the essential trinity of Americana – streets, bridges and cars. Simon, tall and laconic discusses the quality of the swear words in Leeds and recounts his excitement at seeing a plane after a week of volcano-induced clear skies. We’re secretly chuffed that a New Yorker thinks Leeds is rough. Then it’s off into another bitter-sweet country waltz. Harmonies percolate and the man on the maracas does an acapella cover of A Change Is Gonna Come. They cover Neil Young’s Helpless and keep bringing it back – they hate to finish a song and refrains keep resurrecting themselves. Wrapping up with a gentle Dark Side Of The Moon, they have won my affection and I’d never heard the band before tonight. The rapturous and loved-up audience had their affections confirmed and we wandered out into the night feeling happier than before. The Duke and The King are sweeter than anything else around at the moment – a fusion of country, soul, seventies harmonies and noughties knowingness – unmissable. 

21.4.10