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The Windmill, Brixton
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
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Gig Review

Johnny Parry Chamber Orchestra / Dan Michaelson
London, Union Chapel

Article written by Paul M - Jun 10, 2012

The Union Chapel is a progressive liberal church in Islington that has a longstanding tradition of hosting gigs. It’s large and the audience sit on the long pews facing the stage. It's lovely but obviously odd. I can’t recall ever being at a venue before where I’ve seen somebody passing the time awaiting the start, sat near the front drinking Earl Grey from a china cup while reading the Daily Telegraph.

dan michaelson
It’s still light outside, and because of the huge upper windows in the building, bright inside when tonight’s support Dan Michaelson commences. It’s therefore the job of the former Absentee frontman to add a welcome element of gloom to the evening with his melancholic folk though he jokes about the curtains he’d ordered for the venue not having turned up. He may privately not feel totally at ease with such a relatively large audience but he should be as he is Cohen, Cash and Waits all rolled into one marvellous gruff gravel chewing crooner. Accompanied by nothing more than acoustic guitar, his songs are beautifully sparse and his vocals unfeasibly deep, rich and drawn out. However, though the tunes are dark and the lyrics, where decipherable, extremely maudlin, as a performance, it’s nothing like that, courtesy of his ‘tween track charm and wit. With his tongue firmly in cheek, he quips towards the end that he’s delivered his set at such a breakneck speed he has time for two more songs rather than one, to appreciative chuckles. Ironically, as the warm up he leaves us chilled out, and upbeat.

As further evidence of the eccentricity of the location, the intermission between acts sees a young girl walking down the aisles selling tubs of Purbeck ice cream. I’m racking my brain but I don’t think they do that down the Hope & Anchor over the road...

johnny parry
I don’t imagine the Johnny Parry Chamber Orchestra plays too many gigs. There can be no short notice guerrilla busking efforts when there are more than two dozen of you in the band. Even finding a stage big enough to accommodate them and their numerous instruments must be difficult so it’s in, the all too scarce, complimentary settings like this, that they can truly call home. Parry is the enigmatic frontman of a group of very talented black clad musicians and their songs veer between chamber pop, modern classical and, in its most stripped back form with little more than Parry performing, Cohen-esq balladry. As an aid they also have a projector screen with videos and photo montages to add a visual element to each number, though it’s arguable whether these distracting flickering images always improve the song, or not. However while I’m not a big fan of classical music, Parry and his cohorts find a way to make it appealing to even unwashed peasants like me, with the brass and string fuelled euphoric finales to many of the songs proving to be delightfully uplifting while also showing me how a pea grows.

A terrific night’s entertainment, and quite a few tenors for just a tenner...


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