Foy Vance turned the Union Chapel into his living room last Friday night, entertaining a 900-strong crowd with his commanding, modern blend of Americana, folk, roots, and blues. Leaving his band at home in Bangor, Northern Ireland; a piano, acoustic guitar, and a ukulele is all that was needed to bring a warm glow to this corner of North London on a brisk Autumn evening.
Opening powerfully at the piano with Unlike Any Other, the audience falls pin-drop silent. Eager grins radiate through the pews like a mini Mexican wave of awe. Vance establishes an immediately casual, intimate atmosphere, drawing the crowd in with his dry wit, self-deprecation and off-the-cuff approach to the set, almost like we’re all sat round a big camp fire. Making use of loop pedals and plenty of chorus effect, he switches between instruments and segues between songs with ease.
Introduced to his music five years ago by a friend who insisted I listen to a then, little-known B-side called: Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, which he said, is such a perfect example of a well-crafted song, that he teaches it as part of the songwriting degree he runs at a renowned London music college – I’ve seen Vance go from a relative unknown jobbing songwriter to a respected veteran with a top 30 album and a recent tour with Elton John under his belt. Despite all this, he has retained an air of exclusivity about him, and is backed tirelessly by a loyal fan base.
As the night progresses he showcases songs from 2016’s: ‘The Wild Swan’ including Coco and Upbeat Feel Good; favourites Guiding Light and Closed Hand Full of Friends; several shrewd covers including a divine version of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ on grand piano and a sprinkling of newer material including Moonshine.
Vance is an artist bold enough and free enough to create precisely the music he wants. Authentic, genuine and committed to his craft, while many contemporaries at his career-stage creatively stagnate or decline, he has matured as a writer and performer. Live he excels. Natural, relaxed and oozing with confidence; playing unaccompanied tonight elevates Vance and provides him the space to showcase his (quite frankly) outstanding voice, which resonates around the Chapel’s gothic interior, filling every dark nook and cranny. Its intricate and rich timbre warms you like a well-aged bourbon.
Performing for well over two hours in total with no encore, capping it off with a moving a capella rendition of The Wild Swans on The Lake, inspired by W.B. Yeats’ poem The Wild Swans at Coole, with the audience dutifully humming the drone.
Vance sold-out the Union Chapel across the three nights, Thursday to Saturday (2nd-4th Nov). His outstanding album, The Wild Swan, is out now.
Words and Photography: WILL STEADMAN (@STEADMAN_WILL)