David Knopfler – The Duchess, 18/04/13

If I hadn’t already bought a ticket for tonight’s gig, I doubt I would have gone. The previous night’s strong winds (or, rather, the noises the house made because of the wind) had kept me awake most of that night and, being frank, I was knackered. But I had a ticket and, being a Yorkshireman, I wasn’t going to waste it.

Tonight was one of those times that The Duchess populated its floor with a collection of chairs, sofas and tables, with candles providing a certain ambience. Arguably it was a good move as it made the place look a bit fuller than it would have done if the small crowd had all been standing. With a bottle of Hobgoblin in hand, I took up position on one of the small sofas and settled down to enjoy the gig.

The first thing that struck me when See Through Eyes came to the stage was that Matt Smith (Doctor Who) had been de-aged and had, apparently, taken up keyboards. It turns out, however, that it wasn’t him, but Dan Mathieson who, along with Sam Ayres (guitar and vocals), Andy Richards (guitar) and John Azopardi (cajon and vocals) make up this York-based alternative rock band. Their first song, I Love You (But Please Stop Talking To Me), started off well but seemed to lose a little momentum in the middle. You Made Me had a bigger sound with some nice guitar work, with both guitarists switching between strumming chords and single note effects. So far, over the music, Ayres’ vocals had come across as a little strained but a cover of Chasing Cars showed that, with a softer sound all round, they could be much better. The next song, which I think was called The Song That Is Saddest continued the upswing in quality but was spoiled slightly by some over-complicated keyboard sounds that seemed to be pulling against the rest of the song, although the whole thing came together brilliantly in a short instrumental section towards the end. Fable was being played live for the first time and was another step up in both ambition and quality. Again the lead vocals were a little strained in places but overall they were good and the larger vocal contribution from Azopardi, weaving in and out of those of Ayres, created some nice harmonies. Final song The River started more gently but built in a fascinating way. Few bands manage to play a set in which the quality rises throughout but See Through Eyes certainly managed it tonight. They reminded me a little of Pelico, but with bigger songs. The band has only been together since 2011 and despite, in my opinion, needing a little more polish they show definite promise.

It probably comes as no surprise that David Knopfler has a slightly more famous brother and they founded a band together back in the 70’s, with David playing on the first two albums before leaving during the recording of Making Movies in 1980 and pursuing a solo career. Tonight he is joined on stage by Harry Bogdanovs and they switch between playing as two guitarists (generally Knopfler on rhythm and Bogdanovs on lead) or, at times, with one or the other on keyboards. The set was delayed for a few minutes while the spaghetti of cables across the front of the stage was sorted out but when it did start, Knopfler produced some lovely mellow vocals which had a slight hint of Dire Straits to them, his singing voice sounding eerily like Mark’s even though there was little hint of the expected regional accent when he spoke. Somewhat appropriately, given the events in Boston a few days earlier, the song, which wasn’t introduced, included the lyrics “sometimes people can be mean.” Knopfler spends a lot of time in America these days and I wonder if the choice of song was deliberate. The next song was introduced with something along the lines of, “I used to be in a beat group, between the wars. Here’s something you might recognise,” and turned out to be Wild West End, a Dire Straits song I’m not familiar with. Knopfler took up a twelve-string guitar for Deptford Days, explaining that Deptford is where he met Bogdanovs many years ago. The lyrics seem to explain how they met and how their friendship grew. Perhaps unfortunately, both this song and the next, King Of Ashes, had a feeling of Dire Straits unplugged – not necessarily a bad thing from my point of view, but I would question whether Knopfler would want to be forever associated with his former band in that way. A switch to keyboards for Hard Times In Idaho, however, changed the sound a lot. A new song, the lack of lighting around the keyboard didn’t help Knopfler see the lyrics (he played most of the set with a music stand, presumably holding the lyrics, close by) and there was a suggestion that he might have to “wing it”, but the story of an old man riding his horse through the Idaho Winter was beautiful in its simplicity, while If God Could Make The Angels was quite simply stunning in its beauty. The more up-tempo 4U is the duo’s “Rabbit Song”, a reference to the repeated “Run Rabbit Run” lyric. Me And Billy Crowe, was inspired by a friend’s wish that he could play with his childhood friend again. A catchy sort of Bluegrass song it changed the musical tone again and the audience needed little encouragement to clap along to the rhythm.

After a short break, the pair returned to the stage with Underland, a more political song inspired by the many American families being made homeless by the financial crisis with the occasional use of angry expletives countering the otherwise mellow vocals. Perhaps slightly strangely juxtaposed with it was Here In Genoseo, a sort of lullaby inspired by him discovering his young daughter writing “I Love Home” in crayon all over the family’s 1820s American House. This was followed by a song the music for which was written during the recording of the Dire Straits album Communique, although the lyrics were added much more recently. Comments he made before playing it, mentioning that Mark didn’t need any more songs or any more money, hinted that all is not right between the brothers but that is just supposition on my part and as Knopfler himself ended the comments with, “not relevant.” The song had a definite Dire Straits sound, as he explained it might do, so much so that you could almost hear Mark singing it. Tears Fall, another lovely song, was followed by Grace In The Gutter, during which Knopfler played a much more intricate guitar line than during most of the rest of the set. “Everybody has a Devil song and this is our rock and roll Faustus,” explained Knopfler before playing Easy Street, a brilliant song comprising of growly lyrics, blues style music and some great dual guitar-playing. The set ended with a song written by Knopfler and a friend in Nashville, with each of them having their own idea of what it should be about, meaning that the end result – America – is either a song about unrequited love or a diatribe against George W. Bush.

This was a nice, relaxing gig and that’s probably why I enjoyed it more than I expected to, given my state of mind as I left the house. Not only was the music excellent, but Knopfler took the time to explain the background to most of the songs, as well as exhibiting a nice dry sense of humour and an easy rapport with the audience. It’s well known that, at the end of most gigs, I buy a CD (or two, or three…) Tonight I was determined not to, for purely financial reasons. Phrases along the lines of, “I will be coming out to sign them” however, will always sway me and I walked away with a copy of Songs For The Siren. It turns out that it’s not a good idea to, accidentally, rub your thumb across a newly signed CD cover, though… (Thankfully, I missed the actual signature and managed to smudge just the dedication.)

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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