This was the second of my two UK gigs, in Islington’s striking Union Chapel. The Chapel is a Grade II listed building and still in active service as a Congregational Church. It must surely rank as the most atmospheric venue that Brendan has played in thus far on this tour.
As I sat on the train to London, I watched terraced houses clad in the English flag fly by, proudly proclaiming the allegiance of their occupants to the national football team in the upcoming World Cup. My soundtrack was the recording I’d made of the previous night’s gig in Manchester.
As I listened, I thought ahead to the coming evening’s show, which promised to be something very special. Not only would Brendan be playing in a beautiful church, Piano Magic would be supporting.
When I arrived at the venue, I discovered that there was talk of cancelling the gig, due to the venue’s insistence that the noise level be kept below a rather subdued 85 dB. This was understandably causing Brendan a great deal of consternation and he was apparently seriously considering not going ahead with the show.
Thankfully for all of us, the issue was ultimately somehow resolved, but given remarks and gestures made by Brendan during the concert, I suspect that he had had to swallow his pride and compromise on the volume.
Piano Magic warmed up the audience in the chilly venue with an enjoyable 30 minute set, drawing mostly on material from Ovations. Forum speculation that Brendan might come out to sing one of the songs from Ovations on which he provides vocals turned out to be no more than wishful thinking on the part of the fans. Oh well.
Brendan and co. came on at 21:00 sharp (there was a strict 22:30 curfew), proceeding to play through the now very familiar live set.
Brendan’s Mac laptop gave up the ghost halfway through Tree Of Life, but the band saw the song through to the end. We all subsequently sat in silence while the machine was rebooted and Rachel told a lame joke to fill the dead air.
As in Manchester, Dream Letter was passed over tonight. Severance, on the other hand, resumed its rightful place as second encore after an enthusiastic crowd continued to applaud for more, egged on by various members of Brendan’s entourage.
The Union Chapel is arguably the perfect setting for Brendan’s music, prudish volume policy notwithstanding. Its acoustics richly compensated for any perceived lack of volume, giving the songs a spatial quality absent from the shoebox venues that Brendan has been playing of late. The songs soared and seemed to expand to fill the space available.
Nevertheless, Brendan gestured several times during the gig to one of his sound engineers, clearly indicating the need to crank up the volume of some piece of equipment or other. He also remarked early on that he had never played so quietly before and that it required a lot of discipline from him to do so.
To my ears, the gig wasn’t substantially quieter than any of the others I’ve been to on this tour, but the Edirol’s input meter doesn’t lie and I had to record this performance at a higher level than the others.
The audience was a strange mixture of reverential fans enthralled by what they were witnessing, and a small number of people more interested in getting drunk than in listening to the music.
Throughout the performance, these characters would walk down and along the aisles in the middle of songs, and exit via a door on the left side, which led out and up some stairs to the bar. They would subsequently re-emerge after a few minutes, visibly the worse for wear.
As the evening wore on, these individuals became progressively more inebriated, which saw them become louder and less able to remain on their feet. It didn’t reach the point of spoiling anyone’s enjoyment, but it was undesirable, particularly given the solemnity of the venue we were in.
Besides, how anyone can walk out of a room in which Brendan is performing, is quite beyond me.
I’d estimate that there were about 400 people there, but it’s hard to be accurate, because people had fanned out across the pews. The gig can’t have been sold out, though, because there was still plenty of seating to the left and right of the stage.
Highlights for me tonight were Love On The Vine, Eros and Spirit, quintessential versions one and all.
And so my English trip comes to a close. Tomorrow morning, I board a train back to Amsterdam.