On Simone Felice’s previous visits to Leeds he has invariably played at the Brudenell Social Club. Performing tonight in the tranquil serenity of the Howard Assembly Room, the American musician and author is quick to recognise the differences. Without having to face the perennial clinking of glasses, whirring of the cash register and inane chatter amongst the crowd – the three scourges of the quieter musical show in licensed premises – Felice reflects upon having “such a peaceful night.” It is one, he tells us, that he will cherish forever. He even goes as far as to say that he loves us all and we have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincerity of his sentiments.
In marked contradiction to some of his songs’ subject matter – tales of love, heartbreak, the darker underbelly of modern life and death – Simone Felice presents as a man who is happy in his most immediate surroundings. And for 90 quietly measured minutes – punctuated only by the audience-accompaniment interlude of ‘Bye Bye Palenville’ – we sit in rapt silence listening to songs taken from all points of his recording career.
Simone Felice is here in the UK and Ireland to accompany the recent release of his third solo album, The Projector. Sat alone on a stool in the centre of the stage with only his guitar for company, he wastes no time in introducing us to the record. He delivers the first three songs from it; the album’s imperious title track, ‘The Fawn’ and ‘Hustler’ each one stripped right back and reminding us of his ability to create a profound intimacy through his words and music.
From that platform, Felice gently takes off in the direction of his “live in the studio” album From The Violent Banks Of The Kaaterskill (courtesy of the gorgeous ‘If You Ever Get Famous’); a dedication to his friend Jack with whom he had been out walking in the Yorkshire countryside that very afternoon (‘You And I Belong’); and the haunting reminiscences of ‘To Be You, To Be Me’, preciously recalling “old friends, old loves and times gone by.”
‘New York Times’, with its evocative lines about a gunman in Jersey who broke into a girls’ ballet school – “and when he bust in, point his musket, he turned lily-white muslin into bright red bloom” – was a stark, painful reminder of these often merciless and uncertain times in which we live. The ensuing ‘Summer Morning Rain’ – from Felice’s time with The Duke & The King – and its reminder that “some are born to carry a Tommy gun” reinforces the message that we are never too far from violence, hate and fear.
Yet within such crippling despondency, Simone Felice does offer us much optimism and love. He recalls his home hamlet of Palenville in Greene County, New York with great fondness. He is joined on ‘Bye Bye Palenville’ by Keto, the Nottingham-based singer-songwriter who had earlier put in an enchanting shift which evoked very warm memories of cult folk singer Yashti Bunyan.
And then as if to remind us that he was, after all, one of the founding members of The Felice Brothers he performs ‘Don’t Wake The Scarecrow’. It may well have been one critic’s “number 7 in the all-time greatest folk songs ever written” but it also reminds us why comparisons are often drawn between Simone Felice’s rich soulful voice and that of Cat Stevens. A thoroughly deserved encore of ‘Union Street’ is the perfect end to a perfect evening.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show are HERE