C Duncan | Rating: **** | Glasgow School of Art
This low-budget gem, made for a paltry £50, has deservedly received wider exposure in recent months thanks to its Mercury Music Prize nomination.
Over the past year or so, this Royal Conservatoire graduate has converted his meticulously layered recording into a performable work with the help of a three-piece backing band one would be tempted to describe as slick if they weren’t such bashful performers.
Duncan is hardly the swaggering frontman himself but stepped up to officiate by repeatedly offering his unfailingly polite thanks to the audience for their support. No, really, it was our pleasure.
Not even a false fire alarm and an enforced wait outside in the howling rain could have kept us away. “We burned some toast upstairs,” quipped Duncan on taking the stage afterwards.
Such mild peril failed to add an edge to proceedings – Duncan’s music was entirely soothing, dreamy, and often rapturous, while the performance was as straightforward as the music was sophisticated.
Having almost run out of thanks, he gave credit to the lighting man, even though the whole staid presentation lacked the immersive quality of the music.
Duncan’s choirboy voice was the star attraction and the building block for some heavenly harmonies supplied with such natural precision by this bandmates, sometimes exquisitely simple and chiming, as on the ravishing seasonal offering I’ll Be Gone By Winter, elsewhere cleverly layered in call and response, but always giving gorgeous textured live form to the sound of the overdubbed choir of C Duncans on the album.
Garden was a set standout, even on an album of highlights, with its heady combination of perky motorik rhythm and crystal clear falsetto topped off with, by Duncan standards, an epic guitar solo which was as close to indulgent as the performance got.
It is early days for this modest man with patent musical ambition. His recording potential has already been realised in the most audacious handmade way, and an anthemic new song suggests Architect is not a one-off; now it’s time to work up the live presentation so that his show casts a spell worthy of the music.