As the ever-humble C Duncan arrives in Liverpool, Getintothis’ Paul Higham basks in the perfection of the Glaswegian’s classically composed brand of intricate pop music.
Perhaps we are jaded by age but it feels increasingly rare for gigs to have a defining moment. The small touch of magic that elevates it above the humdrum and functional. Something capable of creating a memory that has more than a fleeting lifespan.
It was midway through the set. C Duncan, ever the humble and self-effacing gent, had been taking turns to graciously and individually introduce his band members, one every few songs. On this occasion he introduced his drummer, inviting him to step in front of his equipment and share in the stunning harmonies on the Record Store Day version of Castle Walls.
What followed was a moment of splendour. Much has been made recently of poorly observed gig etiquette. Of otherwise tender moments ruined by banal chat. Not so here. You could hear a pin drop as the band delivered a near a cappella rendition, bolstered only by some delicate strumming. The harmonies felt as choral as the audience were reverential. The perfunctory O2 Academy transformed into a place of worship.
Indeed there is much to cherish in C Duncan, not least his charm, impeccable manners, and humility despite being possessed of a talent that must send inferior beings into a jealous rage. And it was that talent that was in clear evidence tonight. His work is increasingly possessed of a regal elegance, classically composed and meticulously arranged pop music that wears its learning lightly.
Never one to show off, C Duncan makes the complex appear simple. Unusual chord progressions never jar and crucially have a purpose and place, they feel natural, far from being shoe-horned in as a calling card of his abilities. Throughout there is an orchestral, sophisticated feel that basks in an aura of near perfection; one that is indicative of the continued evolution of his sound that gives greater prominence to his classical background as well as revealing the breadth of his ambitions.
There remains room for pop too. Showstoppers from his debut LP Architect, Say and Garden inject a healthy dose of dance-floor euphoria, reminding that music should move bodies as well as minds.
Criticisms are few and far between. Ordinarily we’d yearn for a bit more edge, craving a leanness at the expense of the lush, an arrogant swagger to supplant the well-mannered gentility. However when music is as good as this we don’t miss it one bit.
Attitude exists too often as a tool to plug the gaps talent can’t quite fill. C Duncan has little need to employ such artificial diversions in his stage craft for he is a composer of the highest order. Blessed with an assuredly understated confidence he allows the purity of his songwriting and the clarity of his arrangements to shine brightest.
Opening act, Bristol’s Stevie Parker proved a hit and miss affair. Blessed with a stunning voice, there is much to admire in her craft.
Lusciously textured, ambient and ethereal atmospherics succeed in providing a rich canvas on which her soulful voice and emotive lyrics can weave their intoxicating patterns. Musically there were strong nods to the 1980s and its distinctive brand of gothically atmospheric electro-pop, complete with an ever-so-slightly distracting backing tape.
This is unashamedly pop music though, each song seeming to rise to bold crescendoed finishes lending an epic grandeur to affairs while at the same time sidelining the moody atmospheres conjured earlier. Her work has been compared to London Grammar and on this evidence such comparisons are not too far wide of the mark.
Photos by Getintothis’ Keith Ainsworth