2011 was a big year for Slow Club; they finally released their second album, Paradise, which caused a quiet storm, but big enough for them to graduate on to venues as big as Shepherd’s Bush Empire. But they didn’t forget their roots, and they were frequently found skulking around their more familiar pub and club venues.
They’ve stayed loyal to this venue too, and this is the fourth year in a row they’ve played a Christmas gig at the Union Chapel. This one feels different though; for a start, tickets are like gold dust and sold out months ago, and there’s a mood shift amongst the audience too. Instead of being part of a small clique of fans rooting for the duo, there’s an air of celebration about tonight.
The pair take to the stage alone, leaving their live band mates waiting in the wings, as they give Pulp‘s Disco 2000 a stripped back make-under. From then on, it’s new all the way; with most of their last album getting a look in, along with a handful of songs from their forthcoming, but as yet unrecorded, EP, and only one song – Giving Up On Love – from their back catalogue.
It’s a brave decision, but one that pays off, and songs like If We’re Still Alive, Beginners, Where I’m Waking and Two Cousins sound confident, dramatic and energised as their thumping drums beat through the chapel. It’s on songs like these that Rebecca Taylor excels. She’s loud and wails them out as she bounds around, swinging her hair in front of her face, but is absolutely note perfect. Charles Watson, however, is the polar opposite. A more understated character, he remains glued to the mic, carefully strumming away as he peeps from under his woolly hat. But his voice is beautiful; fragile and delicate, sad and longing. Horses Jumping (“Or if you’re from where me and Charles are, ‘osses jumpin’,” Rebecca quips) becomes a tear jerker under his watch.
When the two collide they’re at their very best. They’ve a chemistry that’s endearing to watch, and songs like Hackney Marsh, Gold Mountain and Never Look Back are rousing as their voices weave into each other.
They might be well used to the venue and large audiences by now, but they seem nervous and Taylor’s caustic cheek and blue humour is reigned in – perhaps on account of her mum being in the audience. She’s not the only one feeling the pressure, and there are a few slip ups that are laughed off, and in fact relished by the audience. “One day we’ll be a bloody serious band,” she says as they pick things up after a collapsed intro – to which Charles responds “No we won’t – White Lies would never recover from that.” What was intended as a moment of self deprecation actually hit the nail on the head. Ever since their brief flirtation with the Laura Marling/Mumford and Sons school of indie-folk, Slow Club have specialised in a kind of accidental brilliance. As they stumble around the stage, none of it seems to fit quite right but somehow they pull it off.
The songs from their new EP are more of the same loud and quiet balladry but one, Everything Is New, has reflective sparseness to it that sounds like early Belle and Sebastian. By the time they play Giving Up On Love Watson has ordered everyone to stand up, and the pop rocket gets everyone bopping in the pews. Against the meatier songs of Paradise, it sounds sketchy and crude, a sign of how far they’ve come.
An encore of down beat festive songs including All Alone On Christmas and It’s Christmas And You’re Boring Me, threaten to put a dampener of the night, until Taylor wraps things up with “a song made famous by Michael Buble“, Christmas Please Come Home.
Despite the trips and slips, it was a triumphant set at the end of a great year for the Sheffield duo. They aced the “tricky” second album, so with an EP to follow in the coming months, next year’s date with the Union Chapel looks set to be another interesting one.