Published: 15/10/2010 08:00
Beating adversity brings new lease of musical life
by JAMES BRINDLE
FEW people are feeling as lucky to be walking the planet right now as The Duke and The King frontman Simone Felice.
The Duke and the KingIn the last days of mixing their new album, the fittingly titled Long Live The Duke and The King, Felice (The Duke in the name) discovered he must undergo emergency heart surgery to correct the slow degeneration of his aorta brought on by a mystery childhood illness.
Unbeknown to Felice, the problem had meant that his body had been fuelled by just an eighth of the blood and oxygen supply needed to survive.
Having opted for an examination on little more than a hunch that something was wrong, Felice was told that without immediate treatment it was unlikely he’d have survived another year.
When the Mail spoke to the exuberant frontman and his bandmates as they rehearsed in their own studio/shack in the woods of Bearsville, New York, ahead of their forthcoming UK tour, I asked if he had changed his outlook on life as a result.
“Oh my God, absolutely so much”, he said. “I feel that every day is a gift and I’m just trying to dance a jig every day and seize the day — Carpe Diem.”
Happily, Felice is now on the road to recovery, his creativity freshly inspired by his improving health.
“I feel amazing right now — I feel 10 years younger. Music is my life and my medicine”, he said.
Felice’s health scare has not been the only drama to hit the group in recent times, with fellow band member Nowell ‘The Deacon’ Haskins escaping a road smash unscathed.
“It seems the forces of darkness are always around”, he said.
This autumn sees the band embark on a sizable UK and European tour and after all the trials and tribulations of making the new album the band clearly can’t wait to get out and play the tracks to a live audience.
“I’m really looking forward to it”, Felice said. “It’s going to be amazing to come and sing these new songs as we’ve not had chance to do them live yet.
“We are now rehearsing the songs up here in our shack in the mountains and can’t wait to come over there.
“The UK is honestly one of my favourite places. I love the landscape and I love driving round the countryside. And people love the music and some of my favourite music comes from there, like The Beatles and Pink Floyd.”
Simi Stone, who adds sultry female vocals and virtuoso violin skills to The Duke and The King mix, agreed that the UK was a favourite destination to tour.
“I love touring the UK — I absolutely adore it”, she said. “I think it’s a combination of everything. London is an amazing old city and I think the audiences are particularly open and we feel we really connect with the audiences there. It is a real shared experience.
“The live versions of these new songsare like their own entities and we have really taken our time over rehearsing and getting it right. They are songs that really want to be played live.”
Haskins added: “I’m super-excited about getting to the UK. We’ve always been welcomed with open arms there which makes it so much easier.”
The Duke and The King’s debut album Nothing Gold Can Stay was one of 2009’s most acclaimed albums, with its heady mix of rootsy folk-rock and vintage soul earning comparisons with artists ranging from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Sly and The Family Stone.
They were quickly back into the studio to record the similarly well-received follow-up Long Live The Duke and The King.
“The songs were there and the energy was there to do it. It made sense to get it out there”, Stone said, explaining why they decided to quickly launch into album number two.
“We wanted a record that put the whole band on it. It all happened naturally. The recording process was amazing. Bobbie (Bobbie Bird Burke, ‘The King’) was doing his magic in the cabin and was really hard at work. He is like a little wizard.
“I’m really proud of the new album. With what happened to Simone everything on the album is taking on a new meaning.”
Haskins said: “I’m ecstatic about the record from a personal note. It has been so inspiring. You have a lot of music inside you and when you hear it come back so beautiful it’s incredible. It gives you a real high.
“Just to be on the radar and having people calling us good is just monumental for me.”
With such critical acclaim for their debut album it would be easy for The Duke and The King to feel the pressure for the follow-up, but with such a quick turnover between albums that wasn’t a problem.
Stone said: “I don’t think that was an issue. It did not seem like there was pressure. We did justice to all the ideas we had and put our best foot forward. It was a natural evolution.”
The sound of The Duke and The King is clearly influenced by the soul and funk musical icons of the sixties and seventies and critics are quick to point out the similarities to those greats.
Sam Cooke’s influence is particularly present on one of the highlights on the new album, Hudson River, and Stone said the band didn’t shy away from their influences.
She said: “I think we are all pretty much influenced by all the greats still. I listen to Zeppelin, Neil Young and artists like that.
“It’s pretty mindblowing to be spoken about in the same breath with people like that to tell the truth. We are just doing what we know how to do.
“To be put in the same category as our heroes is amazing. But it is no surprise as Simone and Bird are so talented — I have learned so much and I am in awe of them.”
Long Live The Duke and The King is out now. The band perform at the new Nottingham Glee Club on Sunday
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