So I managed to bookend the weekend just gone with a couple of top notch gigs both put on by the wonderful Leeds based HeeHaw Sessions crew. First up on Friday night saw the venerable Leeds institution the Hyde Park Picture House taken over for a gig by Bonnie Prince Billy with the Trembling Bells. I must admit I was surprised at the venue and not sure how it would work but actually it proved perfect with a real homely feel to it; barrel of ale where you would normally buy your pop corn and a small stage created the right feel for the night. Bit of a coup I felt to be able to get the Bonnie Prince to play but apparently there is a link to his drummer who is from Leeds and use to work in the Picture House. The Trembling Bells (or some members of them) kicked things off with some totally stripped down harmonies that were timeless and I felt that the same songs would have felt equally at home being sung in the great hall of some Tudor monarch and when Will joined them, adding in his unique Americana to their homely British folk, it created a heady brew of beautiful harmonies, Merle Haggard covers and pared back originality. I headed off into the rain happy and ready for Simon Felice (above) on Monday at the more normal haunt of the Brudenell Social Club
Now I’ve seen Simon Felice play in Leeds in a few guises: with his brothers in the marvellous Felice Brothers; playing pure acoustic solo shows; with the Duke and the King and he has never failed to disappoint so I was looking forward to the new line up and to get the chance to hear his latest release brought to life. Must say it was without doubt the best show I’ve seen him do and the others have all been belters. The new group of multi instrumentalists that he has gathered round him added a tightness and fervour to some of his older tracks and ensured that they gave him the platform to fizzle with a rare intensity that you don’t see very often. Honorable mention must go to the beautiful Simi Stone, who played a few supporting numbers before taking up position in the band and her rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless sent shivers down the spine, together with Aurora Bangarth on drums who added a real snap to the songs. It was a whole gig of highlights but the standout for me was when Simon took his place behind the skins and let rip with a searing rendition of “Hey Bobby Ray” off the new album.
What both bands over the weekend had was a real connection through the honesty of their songwriting and performance. It’s of course incredibly difficult to describe the emotion and intensity of a great gig but if Simon Felice especially is playing in your town, get down there. Here he is playing “New York Times” from an earlier gig on the tour.