An unimposing church in Somers Town may be a far cry from the baking heat of L.A. where Duke Garwood chose to record Heavy Love, his latest collection of twilit blues. However, the hushed reverential atmosphere of St. Pancras Old Church, dimly lit by house lamps where the band have set up in front of the altar and a triptych of the crucifixion, lends itself to the rumbling meditations on human intimacy on offer at this evening’s sold-out affair.
Bearing a striking resemblance to his brother, cosmic soundsmith Dom Garwood AKA San Moritzz quietly takes position first behind a keyboard draped in a tiger print rug and laden with effects pedals and a squat monophonic synthesiser. From this mission control centre he embarks on an extended, wandering improvisation which builds from a watery organ drone, with loops and beats adding layer upon layer of sonic texture with each flick of a switch or modulation he makes. His style was recently dubbed “interzone noir” by his brother, and it seems to be the most accurate description as the free flow meld of sounds evokes far-flung reaches in time and space, from the bubbling clicks of a primordial jungle via the Vangelis-ian synth swells of a mechanised city to the oscillating thrum at the heart of a galaxy. As wordlessly as he took the stage, San Moritzz gives a thumbs-up and a wave to the audience to signal the jam’s close and leaves the stage to applause.
Later, Duke Garwood and his three-piece band arrive onstage looking as if they met in a police lineup, each member (hir-)suited and booted in black, and lay into a slow delta groove. The air seems to thicken with the primal rhythm, while shadows play across Garwood’s stern face and dishevelled hair as he croons in a crackling drawl as thick as molasses. Like his vocals, Garwood’s hollow body guitar is raspy but goes down smooth, drenched in reverb and lying on the verge of distortion to give a deep-throated hum on the low notes and a sparkling shimmer on the highs as he lightly brushes the strings. Even when wrangling wild, sustaining leads from his instrument on Disco Lights, Garwood remains still as his hands move deftly. Similarly, there is a measured and deliberate pace to the evening, but taking into consideration Garwood’s slow burning career over nearly thirty years to become the six-string sage of gothic country-blues, it reflects Garwood’s confidence in ploughing ahead to his own ponderous beat.
He changes to a resonator for the faintly Eastern vibes of Suppertime In Hell, the slinky descending melody playing off the synchronicity between Paul May’s shuffling drum beats and Patrick Dawe’s warm conga rhythms during the outro. “It is on our written agenda that I stand alone and play a heartbreaking tune,” Garwood murmurs before easing into nocturnal torch song Sweet Wine, which gains a mournful gravitas when the church’s bell tower chimes ten mid-song. It’s a nice touch of serendipity and almost causes him to lose his brooding composure as he cracks a sly smile, but its spellbinding effect mingled with his guitar’s pensive melody is palpable and garners the most rapturous applause of the evening.
The illusion of Garwood’s hickory smoked vocals drawn from the sticky heart of America is broken only when he speaks in his husky London brogue. But even then, his onstage patter while tuning can be so cryptically bizarre it stops him becoming too familiar. “Thank you for your patience while I tune up,” Garwood says before releasing the controlled chaos of Heavy Love closer Hawaiian Death Song. “The way I play makes everything go swirly. And swirliness is swirliness, I like it”. Building from Garwood’s rippling guitar-picking and deep moan, Hawaiian Death Song grows in rolling intensity as waves of clattering percussion mix with the extra layers of sonic sinisterness added by second guitarist John J Presley. The doom-laden roar resounds off the church’s walls, decked in biblical wall plaques painted gold, until it fades to a spine-tingling whimper. The main set closes on Heavy Love, for which Garwood invites principle Savages agitator Jehnny Beth, who provided backing vocals on the record, to take the second mic to his right that has been standing conspicuously vacant up until this point. Her eerie siren’s call and sleight angular movements are a stark contrast to Garwood’s lumbering frame and deep voice as he petitions his lover to “Crush my chest with your heat and you can take all of me”. They make an odd couple, but the juxtaposition only adds to the hazy, otherworldly feel of the blues as it slips along, concluding “Love is all there is.”
“Lovely. You have to bring us back if you want more of us,” Garwood says goadingly before exiting the stage with Presley and Dawes. May, however, stays sat behind his drum kit amongst the applause, not joining in with the usual encore pantomime and, naturally, Garwood and co. retake the stage shortly thereafter. “Nice one,” Garwood smirks. “Paul is so cool he doesn’t even need to leave the stage”. The band then feel their way into the Junior Kimbrough-ish blues of Rise A Woman before delivering “another country song”, Burning Seas. “My love and me, we’re bound by sin,” Garwood intones as his glimmering guitar line fills the church, closing the night with a vision of hell wrapped up in a lullaby” The burning seas will guide us in”. True to type, you can always expect Duke Garwood to do things his way, and do them masterfully.
Review by: James MacKinnon