The Union Chapel is without a shadow of a doubt London’s most atmospheric venue. As it is also an in-service church, it has a certain decorum, and the stained glass windows, the dome and the gothic archways lend the place a suitability for gigs quite unlike anything else in the capital. When you get a good band here, you often get a great gig.
Peter Murphy, former front man of Bauhaus, resident of Turkey and wearer of unsightly trouser braces, rose to the venue’s demands like the veteran he is from the very start of his set. It was his first solo appearance in the UK for some years – but we were to find that he’d lost none of his stage presence in his time away.
He was joined on stage by a backing band composed half of Canadian musicians such as the excellent violinist Hugh Marsh, and half of Turks playing a variety of traditional middle eastern instruments such as a kemenche. Together, they made impressive noises.
A large bald patch was complemented perfectly by wiry, uncombed hair on the sides of Murphy’s head as he offered up to the gods and the audience a distinctive baritone voice. This he used to pronounce lots words as the letter E – somewhat gratingly. At times, his voice was not a whole lot different to that of David Bowie, with similar if deeper sepulchral qualities.
There was plenty of stagemanship too. Your Face, from new album Dust, had him holding a light in his hands in spiritual ceremony – this light pulsing to the heartbeat rhythm track. Elsewhere, musicians came and went, but it was not till the closing instrumental of the last song from the main set that Murphy left the stage.
Following a wide-ranging set featuring several old Bauhaus numbers and plenty of new material, he returned for the first of two encores wearing a new costume. He would change it again before the night ended.
The audience loved the older tracks, but it was his newer Arabic fusion music that had me swaying and toe-tapping in the nave. Building up the pace with an impressive array of percussion, Murphy himself took to tabla drumming for the closing stages of the set.
He was clearly delighted to be back, for security staff had to ask him to leave the stage, so long was his set. For someone of his advancing years, the energy Peter Murphy exuded at this gig would put many younger acts to shame.