Stuff by Paul Brown
The Duke and The King
The Cluny, Newcastle, 26 April 2010
Best live band
Every so often you get blown away by a band, and tonight was one of those occasions. I might not even have been here tonight had Danny and the Champions of the World not been on the supporting bill. The always-entertaining Danny (operating in reduced circumstances with opening act Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou joining him for a stripped-down set) was great, but The Duke and The King were even better – undoubtedly one of the best bands I’ve seen up here for years.
Originally a side project for Simone Felice of The Felice Brothers, The Duke and The King (named after a pair of travelling hustlers in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) has now become Felice’s priority, and seem destined for very great things. Felice (The Duke) and Bobbie Bird Burke (The King) recorded debut album Nothing Gold Can Stay in a one-room woodstove-heated cabin. It’s a good album – warm, catchy Americana – but it becomes really great in a live setting.
Adding Simi Stone and Nowell Haskins to become a four-piece takes the songs to another level. All four are outstanding vocalists, combining voices to produce outstanding harmonies, and the swapping of instruments and singing duties gives the set real variety.
Opener If You Ever Get Famous starts as folky Americana with Felice’s voice and guitar, adds Stone’s fiddle, Haskins’s drums and Burke’s bass, and builds into a glorious, harmony-fuelled gospel-soul number.
Then it’s straight into The Morning I Get To Hell, with audience participation encouraged and gained. The setlist is great – the cream of the album, plus a couple of Felice Brothers songs – Don’t Wake The Scarecrow and Radio Song – and a few nice cover versions.
One of the many highlights is a wonderful sing-a-long version of Neil Young’s Helpless, which has Danny and The Champions and the majority of the audience joining in. But the most surprising moment is when Haskins (aka Reverend Loveday) goes centre stage to perform a jaw-dropping acapella version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come. This guy’s amazing voice gets a huge roar of approval from the Cluny crowd, so loud it must be heard all along the Tyne.
The fact that these guys seem to be enjoying themselves a great deal only enhances the evening. It felt like a privilege to be here tonight, seeing a band that in a more perfect world would be on every iPod in the land. That day may come, but until then we can feel incredibly lucky to have seen a band with so much talent it could barely be squeezed into this tiny venue.