Words: Kelly Ronaldson
January 13th saw Deaf Havana frontman James Veck-Gilodi and keyboard player Max Britton take on the first night of their solo tour under the collective name of James Veck-Gilodi, supported by Bristol’s Meadowlark and a number of acts from various different cities in the UK. Nine days later, on January 21st, the duo played a sold out show at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Upon arrival two hours before doors opened, the crowd – originally consisting of about five or six dedicated fans – had been growing at a fairly quick pace before everyone piled into the venue.
The first opening act was the remarkable UK–based singer songwriter Etham Basden. At just sixteen years old, Etham smashed the set with soulful vocals and an electric guitar, kicking off the show with an r’n’b mash up of Drake, Daft Punk, Sam Smith and others. As Etham left the stage following two powerful original tracks by the name of Leaving the Lights On and Control, the Meadowlark duo took over, with Kate McGill on piano and Daniel Broadley on guitar. Recorded, this Bristol paring sound like a Sarah McLachlan and Leon Spansword collaboration. Live, however, alongside session drummer Toby, Meadowlark resemble the vocal talent of Gabrielle Aplin, with tracks Family Tree and Forlorn marking the biggest highlights of the band’s set.
Around 9pm, out came James Veck-Gilodi and Max Britton, looking somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of people that had crammed into Bush Hall for their second official London show as a solo act. After a quick test of the equipment, James and Max were ready to go, opening their set with a brand new track titled Home – a harmonic country-esque track that sounds like something right out of Nashville (the US town, not the television show). Following the first song, James was struggling to find words as he repeatedly thanked everyone for being there. He was soon distracted though, when he turned to say something to Max – who had already disappeared backstage to ‘find his tambourine’ for their next song, otherwise known as the duo’s first single, Holes. Written during the management issues that Deaf Havana had been through last year, it’s obvious right from the first verse – ‘if I knew the plan was to be a two man band, I would have stuck to my guns all along’ – why this song was chosen as their first release. Probably one of the funniest performances of the night, however, James attempted to get the crowd improvising during Holes, causing an awkward silence somewhere near the end of the song.
It wasn’t long, however, before the night took an emotional turn with a performance of Deaf Havana’s Whiskey, introduced with a quick explanation about how James spends far too much money on alcohol and that he could have done something different with his life. If that wasn’t enough, James followed up with what might be one of the most beautiful tracks he’s ever written. Safe House was written about his girlfriend Maria, the night he met her and how she changed his life for the better. An overwhelming introduction combined with gut-wrenching and soulful vocals, this track was without doubt one of the best songs of the night. Next up came another new track by the name of Sleep. Musically, this song fits perfectly between Home and Whiskey, while sticking to James’ recurring lyrical themes of cynicism and negativity as he sings ‘sleep comes easy with nothing in my life to believe in’.
Marking the halfway point of their set, James introduces the next track, Wasted – probably one of the better known songs if you follow the guys on SoundCloud. It’s clear that over the years James’ song writing and vocal talent has improved, and it really makes a change to see that James is much more confident when performing his own solo material. That’s not to say that Deaf Havana’s performances as a band aren’t remarkable, but with just James and Max on stage, their chemistry is fantastic and the show seems much more intimate (and in some cases, much more humorous). It also gives James the opportunity to play songs as he originally intended, including Kings Road Ghosts, which had been written as an acoustic, but changed for the band’s Old Souls record.
Continuing with an incredible streak of new songs, Brother was next on the set list, followed by the fan favourite Coffee. It was evident when Coffee began that this was the song everyone had been waiting for. There’s simply no denying that while this song was an instant favourite when it was first released, there’s something beautifully raw about the live version. The track that stood out as a personal favourite, however, was Seattle. Introduced with a quick story of Deaf Havana’s tour in America last year, this song almost seems to be an ode to London as James sings ‘It’s raining back in London Town and somewhere in my brain, there’s a little piece of my tired mind, that will never be the same.’
Being a long-term fan of both James and Max, I may be a little biased when I say this, but these guys need to bring out an album soon because this material is just too good not to record.