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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Stamford Works, Dalston, London, February 10th 2010

I wouldn’t like any Whiskyfun readers to think that we’re overly obsessed with age. True, the combined age of some of the bands we’ve seen (played in? Ed.) might  exceed Methuselah’s 969 years, but as we know, longevity doesn’t always equate to quality or worth, or in this instance, greater musical prowess.  And we all know, ageism aside, that the lifeblood of the music industry is the vigour and excitement introduced by the creativity and imagination of younger performers. 

Chapel Club

And so it was that we trekked to a semi-derelict warehouse in northeast London’s forever ‘up and coming’ Dalston, for an NME-sponsored gig by the much-vaunted Chapel Club.  And make no mistake, it is a warehouse, with a small stage and banks of sound equipment and lights dropped in for the night.  Somewhere someone was selling cans of warm beer; the unisex loos had got ‘Methuselah wuz ere’ written on the walls in a rather unsteady scrawl, and the youth (that’s a generous assessment, as many of the ‘youth’ were firmly in their thirties and forties), almost to the last person, were smoking as if Doomsday was on hand.  “Isn’t it fantastic?  You can smoke in here!” said one, puffing away madly.  Well, I wasn’t going to leaf through my handy copy of the English anti-smoking laws in order to contradict her, but I have to say there was no wistful nostalgia about the once mandatory change of clothes and intense defumigating shower upon arrival home.   As for the audience, they’re largely London cool.  Icy stares. Occasional appreciative nods of the head.  Not much clapping.  But the place is packed.  Signed by a major label after only a couple of gigs in pub up the road, Chapel Club carry the expectations of not just pundits, but also a cynically unforgiving industry on their shoulders.  Failure, as they say, is not an option.

Chapel Club

Liam Arklie (L) and Mike Hibbert (R)

This isn’t what I’d call the happiest of nights.  There aren’t many jokes in the Chapel Club oeuvre at the moment; not too much room for humour amongst the angst, gloom and general air of pessimism that infuses almost all of their songs.  And the performance doesn’t leave much beyond the music and the lyrics to engage with.  Singer Lewis Bowman might have muttered “thank you” at the end of the set, but otherwise not a word is spoken as the band work through a short set in a forensically workmanlike fashion;  that, I suppose, is what ‘showcases’ are all about.  They have a big sound, built on persistent bass lines (Liam Arklie sounding sometimes like Jah Wobble speeded up to 78rpm) and from Rich Mitchell powerful drumming, the canvas upon which guitarists Mike Hibbert and Alex Parry weave their sounds and Bowman splashes his lyrics.  Occasionally, this is impenetrable stuff (‘Machine Music’), dominated by screaming industrial guitars, but only occasionally.  For the most part, there is more than sufficient interest in Bowman’s thoughtful lyrics, cleverly put together and peppered with literary and musical references, pleasing melodies, and Hibbert’s sometimes dreamy guitar holding the attention (‘Oh maybe I’).  Deadpan he may be, but Bowman is a solid frontman, with a strong expressive voice, which sometimes suggests echoes of a young Morrissey.  Hibbert’s versatile and committed guitar playing is harder to classify, but like Bowman, he both looks and sounds the part. 

Chapel Club

Alex Parry (L) and Lewis Bowman (R)

We left gasping for air, grasping copies of a one track EP (?) ‘Don’t look down’.  In a fit of extravagance the Photographer bought the last four, each one a true collector’s item.  Chapel Club are currently in the studio recording that first album, and are about to hit the road in the UK, but will also visit Paris, France, and other famous continental European venues.  They are worth seeking out by those of you who are fed up with the old stuff, and would rather try a drop of something younger. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen to Chapel Club on MySpace

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