Duke Garwood’s Heavy Love and his latest album, Garden of Ashes impressed with their maturity, and their sheer quality.
Writing on ‘Heavy Love’ I commented that ‘The delivery is so intimate that you feel like you’re in the front room of a tiny pub venue with an open fire sitting but feet away from a genuine troubadour singing his life.’ As much as anything, I wanted to experience Garwood playing live to see if this sensation was replicated when in the same room as the man with the voice and the guitar.
There’s just one support tonight, and that’s Kreol Lovecall. Kreol Lovecall is the moniker assumed by multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Richards, former member of Hey Colossus. This latest venture is certainly quite a departure, mining a seam of mellow, minimal, alt-pop, with programmed electronics and drum tracks backing the guitar to create an impressively full, layered sound. When he steps up the rube crunch and goes for a beefier drum sound about halfway through the set, it’s like some weird hybrid of Kraftwerk and early Big Black. It shouldn’t work, but he’s clearly an adept songwriter, and the set features a lot of really nice tunes. And nice tunes count.
Richards is back on stage a short time later, this time as Duke Garwood’s bassist. He may have a full backing band, with a drummer and second guitarist in tow, but Garwood is a man who operates by the adage that less is more. There’s not much conversation between songs, and there’s not a lot of variety by way of tempo or mood. He also looks rather less grizzled and rugged than on his record covers, but the foursome’s crumpled jackets and jeans effuse an understated air of cool. Ultimately, it’s all about the music, and where the music is concerned, the attention to detail is magnificent.
I spend large portions of the set mesmerised by the drummer’s fingerwork as he raps the tips on the head of the snare and the way he lifts the lower stick when rendering a sort of hybrid rim shot / muted snare beat. The four work intuitively and work subtle dynamics of texture and tone almost invisibly.
There’s no great showmanship here: nothing flamboyant or fancy. Garwood sings with his eyes closed and channels everything in the coolest, most restrained manner, through the timbre of his voice and the notes which cascade from his fretboard. The vibe is slow and low, and the vocals are often mumbled and down in the mix. But it’s a performance which oozes soul, and engages quietly, without the need for anything flash, and is every inch as good as the recording.