The Barn at the Railway Inn, Winchester
Sunday 23rd November 2014
Support: Dan Whitehouse
From website: Anna Mitchell & Simone Felice (NOT at this gig)
Simone Felice – vocals guitar
Anna Mitchell – piano, harmonium, vocals, tambourine
If You Go to LA
You and I Belong
Hey Bobby Ray
Bye Bye Palenville
If You Ever Get Famous
Don’t Wake The Scarecrow
The Morning I Get To Hell
New York Times
The Gallows (with Dan Whitehouse)
Running Through My Head
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
One More American Song
I Shall Be Released (The Band)
As usual I’d been assembling my Best of The Year list for this blog. First equal were two contrasting shows, Simone Felice in April at a private gig in Winchester and James Taylor at Bournemouth International Centre. Damn! Start again. This one just leapfrogged the lot into first place. The review of the April show has more discussion on some songs from Strangers. Simone Felice just gets better and better. Every time I see him there are different musicians along, and every time the musical palette shifts, and it’s always wonderful.
The Autumn 2014 addition is Irish singer and keyboard player Anna Mitchell, from Cork. There’s just the two of them. Immediately we add the harmony vocals, and her contributions are considered and arranged. She plays harmonium, and piano. The piano numbers enable Simone to put down his guitar and PERFORM. And perform he does. Charade has taken over the opening slot, starting alone with Anna joining him on vocals and harmonium well into the song. If You Go to LA maintains the mood, before the upbeat You And I Belong. The solo plus guitar and harmonium lends itself particularly well to the menacing songs (or “the songs about dead girls” as he used to describe them). The lyrics are crystal clear all evening, something you only ever get with Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, and yes, he really does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Hey Bobby Ray was spine-chilling and you feel yourself focussing on every word. Later, Don’t Wake The Scarecrow was as intense as ever, but those harmonies took it to a new dimension.
If You Ever Get Famous restored feelgood music and warmed the atmosphere. Bye Bye Palenville from Strangers has piano on the record and here it was just piano and Simone singing. He did the same on New York Times which was introduced by a new section of beautiful, eerie and atmospheric vocals from Anna. Union Street is another with piano focus. You assume that Bye Bye Palenville has a lot of autobiography built in, going from his father to being a father. If it’s possible, Simone is even more intense and charismatic every time, and the songs where he gets rid of the guitar and allows the full theatrical interpretation to come through benefit.
He makes use of available resources. One of my favourite songs of the year is The Gallows from Strangers (it’s in the Best of 2014 too, as is the album) and he has only just started doing it live, and he can because Dan Whitehouse comes on stage and plays the guitar part (and superbly too), leaving Simone hands free to perform the song. The Gallows is like Long Black Veil from the other perspective. The fourth song from Strangers was Running Through My Head which has become the audience singalong, and Dan Whitehouse joined them on stage for that too.
The addition of a female vocalist allows more Duke & The King songs to re-enter the set. If You Ever Get Famous, The Morning I Get To Hell, Union Street and as an encore, a solo One More American Song. The omission was Shaky, the first time I’ve seen him where he’s skipped it. In April he was playing around with it a lot, and it’s interesting that he feels “free” of it after its few years as a virtual single.
The encores started with Wish You Were Here, one of those weird in concert moments of recognition at the opening guitar piece, but failing to pin it down, a Shit! This is SO familiar … though the original intro is voice and acoustic guitar. You just don’t have Pink Floyd in your mind at a Simone Felice concert. The last time I heard it in public was at Air Show twenty years where Microlite aircraft “danced” to this and Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It’s another example of how an intrinsically good song can take totally different interpretations. I thought about Cat Power doing Satisfaction (without the chorus).
I had heard Simone Felice do it live actually, it’s on the downloadable Live At Bush Hall 24.4.2012. I’m listening to that as I write, and it’s fascinating how he can make it sound his own.
Throughout the evening, there were vocal additions to songs. There are tiny lyric shifts, as in the second encore, One More American Song where:
He went in the army like a lot of them do
He got fucked up over there …
becomes like a lot of us do …
It’s a subtle and neat lyric polish a few years into a song, identifying us rather than looking from the outside at them. It’s such a beautiful song.
As in April, he closed with I Shall Be Released, with Dan Whitehouse joining them on vocals again. There were many months in 1968-69 where every morning I dropped my money in the Student’s Union jukebox and started my day with The Weight by The Band and its B-side, I Shall Be Released. It was three plays for a shilling, and the mechanism screwed up if you tried to play both sides of a single without something in between. That was White Rabbit, another song with a recent dramatic re-interpretation, by Mayssa Karaa on the American Hustle soundtrack. As last time, Simone introduced the song with a heartfelt tribute to Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm … I was delighted to hear so much crowd approbation as their names were mentioned. Anna Mitchell played delicate and first rate piano in I Shall Be Released and even more sang a solo verse exquisitely. Somehow you need a female voice to channel those Richard Manuel vocal parts.
Dan Whitehouse, Simone Felice – iPhone
Driving home, yet again, I wondered about the lack of major recognition of such a great songwriter and performer. OK, he’s a different generation to Dylan, Cohen and Young, and the world’s a different place. But you’d expect the profile of (say) Mumford & Sons (who he has joined on stage for The Weight.) I wondered about the intensity and the audience rapport. Perhaps he’s where he wants to be with audiences of a size that can appreciate the full intensity at close quarters. The feedback is different after all.
Simone Felice, April 2014 Winchester
Simone Felice, July 2013 Winchester
Simone Felice (with Simi Stone) September 2012 Bath
Simone Felice (with Simi Stone) April 2012 Winchester
Simone Felice, April 2011 Winchester
Fire of Lust
They Care For You
My Heart Doesn’t Age
You Brought The Sunshine
Why Don’t We Dance
Somebody Loves You
It’s been a great year for support acts. The Railway chooses so well, you can rely on it not being a go-to-the-bar interlude. Dan Whitehouse is a songwriter from Wolverhampton. He has an aspect of Felice, in that he’s not afraid to stop playing for a few bars and just sing, nor afraid to go into semi-narrative style. He focussed on the current album, Raw State which was produced by Danny George Wilson (Danny & The Champions of The World). He was great solo, and yes, I bought the album which adds backing vocals and the great B.J. Cole on pedal steel as well as a full band. It’s his third record. I’ve enjoyed comparing the fuller versions today with the solo last night. Fire of Lust sounded full live with just guitar and footstomping, but the album version has banjo and backing vocals. In fact, the “Johnny Cash” guitar picking was more overt without the band. Great lyrics too.
He focuses on love songs, in the way that Donovan or Al Stewart used to at around his age, and he’s extremely good at it.
He mentioned that You Brought The Sunshine was a new song, and also that Simone Felice had played drums on it in the studio during the last few days. I’ll look forward to that coming out.
Dan Whitehouse is one to watch out for, and Raw State on this morning’s listening is highly-recommended.