C Duncan wrote the whole of his début, the Mercury Prize-nominated album Architect, in his bedroom in Glasgow. It is a fine achievement, but what about opening the door to let an audience in? How does it translate to the stage?
Rather well as it turns out, though, perhaps not surprisingly given the depth and intricacy of the musical arrangements, it takes four people to bring the album to life in the flesh. This helps the audience build an idea of the beautifully crafted work in and around the vocals, giving a clue to Duncan’s classical heritage but also showing his knack for writing pop hooks. Several of these jostle for position in the minds of the audience as they leave, with a number of tunes whistled under the breath – surely a sign of a good gig.
Duncan needs relatively few frills on stage, and this suits the character of his music. It is a shame not to have a visible representation of his artwork, for that is one of the many aspects of Architect that leaves a lasting appeal, but the immediate pastoral warmth of the music is ample consolation on a windy November night. Duncan leaves that warmth in the hearts of his audience, not just through the music but also his lyrics and general stage demeanour.
Early on he declares himself “very pleased to be home”, which in itself is reassuring in the name of UK togetherness, his real home being Glasgow. Clearly he feels a more lasting British connection. In a short set that gives us the whole of Architect there is little need for banter between songs, though what there is contains an endearing reference to old school mates in the audience, or Duncan’s band members ask for the sound levels to be changed.
This is perhaps an indication they are still in their formative days, as it introduces doubt on whether the performance has met their standards or not. Yet the lack of onstage histrionics is where the principal appeal of the music lies, for the band contribute much to falsetto backing vocals, the swell of the beats and guitar lines totally in keeping with the mood of the songs. For, with its tricky whistled intro, works a treat live, as do the multi-layered voices of Silence And Air. At times in the gig it feels like Chopin and Jamie Woon have gone out for a drive together.
Album closer I’ll Be Gone By Winter sounds more like a special Christmas single, and leaves a lump in the throat with its bittersweet sentiments, but more often C Duncan’s music acts as a hot water bottle might – comforting and soothing, lasting for a good while.
It will be interesting to see how he develops from here, but the transformation of his material from solo album to band on stage is surprisingly effortless and is delivered with good humour, charm and the occasional tear to the eye. He fully deserves his Mercury nomination, but this is just the start of what could be something very special. He’s only 26, after all.