This is my first time at London’s ‘The Islington’ and as a venue it has obvious potential. The N1 postcode and location just a few minutes from the underground sure help, but internally there’s a dedicated room that is already pretty full when I arrive.
I’m here for The Dunwells and what is ostensibly a London launch for the UK release of their debut album Follow The Road. I say that, as I’m surprised to find that this is The Dunwells in acoustic mode, apart from the bass guitar that is but with a cajón on the stage rather than a full drum kit. In actual fact the promo CD that’s been sent to me features several of their songs presented this way, so they are clearly adept at stripping things back when needed.
Even when they play acoustically, the description stripped back should be viewed as relative, as they have a tremendous energy. Their vibrant melodies positively bristle with hooks and driving dynamics, creating an instantly infectious sound. They have a knack of building momentum through the songs that carries you along in a way that’s hard, futile even, to resist.
The two brothers Joseph and David Dunwell, look a more obviously genetically matched pair than the photo of them I had seen, but vocally too they strike a perfect balance. If anything David is slightly softer, but both have that ardent sense of meaning every word they sing, with a little soulful grit creating the harmonic pearls. If anything, it’s The Dunwells voices that are the real trump card, as all five of the band sing, with both brothers and drummer Jonny Lamb taking turns as lead.
Their songs are rootsy rockers with a strong Americana core, but in acoustic mode they also have that folk-rock feel too The set’s opener Blind Sighted Faith and the following Goodnight My City both demonstrate the band working through the gears. Holding back at first, creating a tension that eventually finds release through the epic sweeps of a chorus, a vocal line or a middle eight hook.
The lovelorn Oh Lord has a bluesy almost gospel feel and the follow up Elizabeth builds on that with classic pop harmonies. They even throw in a cover version of Imogen Heap’s Hide And Seek that slips into the set seamlessly, before we are into one of two new songs premiered this evening. During Time, David tries to instigate some audience participation, which perhaps down to unfamiliarity falls a bit flat. Undaunted, however, the incident is treated with a broad grin and a winsome, Yorkshire deadpan, “Well that didn’t go so well,” at the end of the song.
A couple of numbers later and with David learning the wisdom of a little coaching in advance, the audience is in full voice for So Beautiful, happily bellowing the “Oh look at you now,” refrain back at the band. It surely gives a glimpse of things to come. This is the band in their element, working the room, connecting with their audience, who in turn are lapping up The Dunwells soaring melodies and hanging onto every word.
Another new song Spin and then the delightful banjo powered I Could Be A King bring the set to a close, with Follow The Road reserved for the encore. They’ve so obviously enjoyed themselves, but then so have we.
I have a very brief chat with bassist Rob Clayton as he walks past me to pack up his gear after the show. He’s delighted with the evening telling me, “This is what I love doing, playing to a room full of people.” I’ve met the others too, albeit briefly in their telephone box sized dressing room and they share a down-to-earth good humour, mixed with a bubble of real excitement, a close knit band of brothers having a great time.
Casual, unassuming remarks made during the set about jetting back, “Across the pond,” and news about a video shoot, serves notice that The Dunwells are already enjoying some level of success in America. When you see them play like this, however, you can’t help but feel it’s obviously merited and will soon be repeated here. There’s a simple honesty about the band and also a confidence in their performance, that comes from the knowledge that they have some great songs. You sense that they’ve worked hard for all of this but won’t be shy of getting stuck into the tasks ahead. “Follow The Road my friends,” and if you don’t mind, those assembled here are going to tag along for the ride.
Following their latest American excursion, The Dunwells will play more UK dates in May. Visit their website for details of all forthcoming shows:
Review by: Simon Holland