If Foy Vance is somewhat of an unknown quantity to you, as he was for me, there are several things about this show that suggest this star is on the rise and that unfamiliarity might not be the case for long. For a start, when I get into Islington’s Assembly Halls, it’s apparent there’s a good crowd in. The seats have been taken out and it’s also a markedly younger mix than I was expecting. It proves hard, therefore, to find a perch to open up the laptop to make a few notes for this review, so when my colleague for the evening reminds me that there’s a balcony this seems like a obvious solution. We are thwarted, however, being politely told it is full – “Sold out,” indeed.
Then there are the whoops of expectation that greet Foy as he walks out onto the stage. It’s just him and his acoustic guitar, but the opening growl of his voice serves notice that he’s not a man you are going to ignore. Even in solo acoustic mode the opener, Like An Animal, has a rock band dynamic. Using a stomp box sampler to record vocal phrases that layer up, the climax is mesmeric and full-on.
The next number is another surprise as he’s joined on stage by the band, which includes both of tonight’s support acts The Farriers (in duo mode) and Foreign Slippers (also a duo), with the addition of drummer and bassist. I’m admiring the neat economy of this as the opening bars of Joy Of Nothing ring out. Suddenly realising this is the only one of Foy’s songs I know, the hairs on the back of my neck stand proud with the electricity of the performance.
In truth that charge is there throughout the evening, he possesses an easy charisma, suggesting a man comfortable with what he’s doing. His Irish brogue, perhaps softened a little by spending years of his childhood growing up in America and more recent time living in London and Scotland, is still pronounced, yet disappears when he starts singing, subsumed by a powerful, soulful rasp.
There are hints that his comfort is starting to pay off as Foy reveals Homebird was used in a sausage commercial back in Ireland. He jokes that when a friend accused him of selling out his reply was “I can’t wait to sell out I’m just waiting for someone to offer me the right money.” Then there have been songs in films and TV programmes too.
Those formative years in America, with his travelling preacher father, brought him into direct contact with the southern, gospel, call and response singing style. It was the foundation of the great soul singers and the mix of the sacred and secular has clearly left its marks on Foy. Most obviously, his voice is a mix of classic soul styling, by turns, soaring and gritty, but there seems to be something in his philosophy too, a mix of mystical wonder and humanity that finds its way into his songs. There’s beauty and darkness, pain and redemption. Indiscriminant Act Of Kindness Has all of that and more, set to a gorgeous, heartfelt tune.
I can’t help but note echoes of Van Morrison’s Caledonian Soul, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and The Band, but then these are some of the artists that I’ve grown up with and whose work is much more familiar. A curve ball comes as Foy explains, he’s been out touring with Ed Sheeran. It leads into an introduction for Pain Never Hurts (Like Love) and a surprising duet with Harley from Rizzle Kicks who were also on the tour, which has something of an old school soul standard about it. The pair clearly have something of a rapport, built on simple mutual respect and Foy quips, “Who says I’m not hip!”
The thing that convinces me most that Foy is really on the rise, however, is the ease with which he gets the audience singing along and their willingness to follow his lead. Even when the band drops out, the crowd keep singing as Foy conducts from the stage. As he waves and exits stage left they are still going and the refrain slowly builds speed, with accompanying hand claps eventually given way to a tumultuous demand for more.
Foy duly obliges and the gig even runs a little over the clock, so I have to pack up sharpish to hit the last train across the River Styx. There’s the sense as I leave, that without the curfew, Foy would just have carried on. He’s not merely comfortable with what he’s doing, he’s damn well enjoying it and in that, he’s not alone.
Review by: Simon Holland
Latest Single: Joy Of Nothing