November 18, 2016
Union Chapel, London
“You’re currently in line to be my favourite gig of all time”
Will Varley is one of those artists whose profile spread by word-of-mouth, particularly on the strength of live performances. Following the release of his fourth album, the quiet buzz has turned up several notches, evidenced by a sold out show at London’s Union Chapel with a queue stretching as far as the eye could see, and even Seán McGowan – whose own headlining London show is coming up on December 13 – on merch duty.
Varley’s faithful followers were clearly more used to rock clubs; many gasped as they discovered it was a real church with vast beauty and acoustics to match. Varley, too, appreciated the scale and sense of occasion, marvelling at graduating from playing to 58 people to a capacity crowd of 900 within 3 years.
Varley showed no nerves while holding this crowd alone, but no airs and graces either – his between song banter strayed into whimsical musings on modern life; wondering how Zizzis restaurants rose to ubiquity so quickly, or confessing to watching Bargain Hunt on iPlayer (“it’s not ‘just on,’ you have to select it”). He tried to be on his best behaviour in church, and failed with understandable inevitability. Take the venue’s alcohol restriction, for example; “It’s just a big bottle of water..well, I guess the manager’s God – *he* knows it’s not water!”
Varley remained in a playful mood. After treating the crowd to the first song he ever wrote, a Blink-182 inspired pop punk rant, he moved on to his second song, a spot-on Dylanesque incomprehensible drawl. For all the joking, the influence was clear. Varley performed with the same intensity as a young Dylan; just him, an electro-acoustic, political commentary and occasional talking blues.
Other than a fan’s miaow sound effect during Talking Cat Blues, and a collective groan at the ‘no win, no feline’ joke, the crowd listened in awed silence as Varley’s political poetry filled the room.
Given his political consciousness, many of the new songs touched on Trump’s rise in the United States, including We Want Our Planet Back (“Let’s make this planet great again”), As For My Soul (Light a fire/drink a beer/Maybe something stronger given the last couple of weeks”), and the self-explanatory To Build a Wall. It’s not our country, however, so for all the disappointment and appeals that there could be another way, Varley’s political ire was reserved for British politicians. He roused the crowd to a stomping singalong to We Don’t Believe You.
As the laser lights enveloped the room and Varley’s vocals rose the rafters, there was time for one last stormer; a rousing, clap-along rendition of King For a King. The fans dispersed into the night still singing the chorus, knowing they’d witnessed something special.
Will Varley’s new album, Kingsdown Sundown, is out now. After touring Ireland and Germany, he’s heading to the U.S. to support Frank Turner. He’s due to play the Shepherd’s Bush Empire this time next year, on November 25, 2017. A ticket and album bundle is available here.
Cocos Lovers from Deal in Kent took on Union Chapel’s unforgiving acoustics – and won. Songs like Emily and Restless River reverberated beautifully around the cavernous chapel.
They combined traditional sensibilities with joyful delivery; a ceilidh band seemingly influenced both by folk forebears and Paul Simon.
Showcasing a range of instruments, including a mandolin and a saw, the multi-vocalist seven piece band brought warmth to a cold winter evening.
“Thank you for being so quiet!”
Thomas George, who performs as The Lion and The Wolf, recently signed to Xtra Mile Recordings. This epic show supporting label mate Will Varley was just reward after years of incessant touring to build up a steady following of his own.
George delivered a powerful, honest set of the “saddest songs ever,” touching on sudden death, heart attacks and heartbreak. There was poetry even in the song descriptions. Synaesthesia, for example, was about an ex-girlfriend who could taste music. There was no enmity or drama at the end, just a realisation; “we were never really falling in love.”
He cut through the sadness with playfully self-aware humour, describing himself as looking “like a gothic geography teacher” and saying “who knows, maybe I’ll finish on a nice happy one” whilst solemnly shaking his head.
The undeniable highlight of the set was My Father’s Eyes, which is the lynch-pin of The Lion and The Wolf’s excellent new album, The Cardiac Hotel. The intricacies of the record translated well to the Union Chapel’s crystal clear acoustics, resulting in a simply beautiful sound.
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