Sam Duckworth – The Vic Swindon, 07/12/15

Swindon have had a lot of good concerts this year (Decade, Moose Blood, The 1975 – to name but a few) so I’m happy that out of the last three concerts I’m attending this year, two out of three are in my hometown. With Kristopher Roe from The Ataris playing in a couple of weeks time I’m expecting great things from him, but I’d also been extremely excited about Sam Duckworth‘s show. I never got to see Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, so it was nice to finally experience the songs in a live environment.

Sam opened for himself under the name Recreations., his newest project (seriously, this guy just does not stop!), and it was vastly different from the set he played later in the evening. With his Macbook set up on a table, playing the backing tracks to accompany his guitar, it was impressive to hear something performed in such a DIY manner but sounding so polished and professional.
Because of the many years of experience under his belt, Sam is a brilliantly talented songwriter. It’s exemplified beautifully in the new material: ‘Out To Lunch’ is quick, with a dance backing and a raucous singalong chorus; ‘What’s Left?’ is melancholy and slow for the first half of the song, then kicks in; ‘Lifestyle Concept Store’ is a brilliant piece of social commentary about the closure of legendary venues (“Whatever happened to the places where we had our first embraces, where did all the decent venues go?”). As this was his first time playing Swindon he dedicated the song to The Vic, saying “I haven’t been here before, which is odd for someone who’s played over 1,500 shows” – it really drove home how special it was for us to have a musician of his calibre playing for us.
Splicing the set with some Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly songs, I actually ended up enjoying the Recreations. material much more. ‘Zones 9 & 10’ discussed the housing market, “all your hopes and dreams sold for a postcode”, while ‘Red Specs’ had a lovely round with the crowd at the end and a great amount of participation. It almost felt like sitting around a campfire singing, which made for a beautiful atmosphere and an extremely memorable set.
Sam was selling bootlegs of the Recreations. recordings at the show, because he “started writing and pretty much finished an album in the space of a couple of weeks” so he certainly has the material for it. I’m looking forward to hearing more from this project, because what I’ve heard so far is extremely promising.

Setlist: 
Out To Lunch
What’s Left?
An Oak Tree
I Spy
Lifestyle Concept Store
Zones 9 and 10
Red Specs

I didn’t know what to expect from She Makes War. When Laura stepped out on stage with crazy eye make-up and a little ukelele, I thought it was going to be as simple as that – a bit quirky, a tad kooky, but very bright and happy songs.
Of course, I was completely wrong. ‘Scared To Capsize’ starts off on the ukelele, giving Laura a chance to show off her loop pedal skills (I’ve never before seen a loop pedal used with a ukelele, but it makes the instrument even more beautiful), before it builds to a crescendo: multiple vocals layered in the background; multiple ukelele lines complementing each other. This allowed Laura to swap her ukelele out for an electric guitar in the middle of the song, and from that moment, I was impressed. The end of the song is, to put it simply, grunge. The guitar was slightly discordant, with a flat and guttural sound, and the juxtaposition of the grit at the  end of the song to the floating beauty of the beginning was something I hadn’t experienced before.
This schizophrenic fluctuation continued throughout the set. ‘In Cold Blood’ was one of the heavier songs, but if you played that next to ‘The Best’ – a ukelele-driven rock song about Laura’s pyromaniac ex-boyfriend (“I wrote this song and I performed it when we were still together, but I pretended it was about someone else”) – you’d never guess that they were by the same artist. Laura’s voice worked perfectly with both styles of music, and where most musicians box themselves in you can tell that she’s not afraid to explore multiple creative avenues. She joked “for the most part my songs are about massive wankers I’ve met – I’m doing the research so you don’t have to” before the vastly different ‘Please Don’t’, written about her father – another example of how she continually changes it up and tries out different things. A few of her songs were rather bleak and heart-rending, and when telling the crowd that she had CDs for sale she quipped “if you’d like to continue your misery at home at your own leisure”: she might write serious songs, but she has a lovely personality, being self-deprecating and extremely funny.
The song that stood out the most was definitely ‘Delete’. Laura joked beforehand that she had to try to convince her parents that the song wasn’t about suicide, and with the repetitive “I want to delete myself” layered throughout you can see why they might have jumped to that conclusion. The monotonous repetition was looped in the background, almost hypnotic in its consistency, and when Laura walked out into the crowd and started singing through a megaphone it certainly hooked everyone’s attention. Weaving her way through the audience, the megaphone siren echoing shrilly in the darkened room, I felt both confused and completely in awe – it wasn’t something I’d expected to see in a little pub in Swindon, but it was electrically intense. Climbing back up on to the stage, still singing into the megaphone with the intricate looping vocals soaring in the background, it was a brilliant moment when Laura cut all of the recordings out and sang the very last word solely through the megaphone – it really pared it back, making it feel intimate, special… Spectacular. I love it when artists take risks and do something very simple but make it seem mind-blowing, and that was one of those moments for me.
At the end of the set I still felt confused, because it was not what I’d been expecting in the slightest. But I’m pretty sure I loved it, because there was no doubt in my mind when I went and bought the albums and had a lovely little chat with Laura at the end of the show. I just might be able to write an early review of her upcoming album, ‘Direction of Travel’, which releases in March (Laura was selling a few after the show, stating “I’m DIY so I can do what the fuck I like!” which is a very rock-n-roll attitude) – keep an eye out for that post coming in mid-February.

Setlist: 
Scared To Capsize
In Cold Blood
Please Don’t
Delete
The Best
ghostsandshadows
Slow Puncture
Paper Thin

This was definitely the classiest show I’d attended in Swindon: the standing area had been converted, with tables and chairs set up complete with candlelight. It might sound stupid, with this venue being the back of a pub, but it did look beautiful, and I thought it was a really nice touch.
For a Monday night, the amount of people that turned out was rather impressive. There were people wearing Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly shirts, showing that they were obviously fans of his previous venture – it was heartwarming to see people supporting Sam Duckworth so strongly when he hasn’t been performing and releasing songs under his own name for the longest amount of time.
In all honesty, it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to Get Cape. avidly – I don’t know why, but at some point in the last couple of years I’ve just stopped. This meant that I recognised a few of the songs, but I didn’t completely remember them: it was a chance for me to rediscover exactly what I’d loved about Get Cape., and to kick myself for not listening to him more.
The thing is… I don’t really have a lot of things to say about the music. I’ve been attempting to think of the aspects that sold one song for me over another, but the truth of the matter is that I enjoyed every single song that he played – with it being an eighteen song set, that’s pretty damn impressive. It felt as though the show was bigger than it was: Sam’s stage presence is absorbing, and the hour and a half set flew past. Sometimes when the artist is acoustic and has no-one else on stage with them, I can find myself getting restless and a little bit distracted (I mean, come on, it happened when I saw Ed Sheeran at Wembley Stadium, it’s more likely to happen at a small venue in Swindon) but I genuinely paid attention to every word that Sam was singing. With his politically minded lyrics and his desire to live in an equal, welcoming world, it felt like he was preaching (which was appropriate, when he joked that “On the internet it kept popping up that I had a message from ‘Songs of Praise’, and I thought ‘Yes, finally!’, but no, that’s the name of the promoters”). His set made me think, and it really inspired me.
Really, that’s the one word that I can use to sum up this evening: inspiring. Both through Sam’s career (becoming an established solo artist under a stage name, then retiring that stage name and striking out on his own, following the path that he wanted to take) and through Sam’s belief that the world can become a better place, if we all just open our eyes.
Discussing his song ‘Angels In The Snow’, Sam shared the fact that he visited Pripyat, the setting of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He focused upon the monument of two cranes that resides in the centre of the town, one crane pointing towards Hiroshima, the other towards Nagasaki. Talking about the statues, he made a beautiful speech about the destructiveness of nuclear weaponry and how completely unnecessary it is – the fact that the people who suffered in Pripyat still showed support for their brothers and sisters who had suffered the same thing as them just proves that we need to listen to the people who have experienced these things, rather than trying to disregard their opinions.
He also took time to talk about racism in the UK and, while he must have been talking for around about ten minutes, the entire audience was riveted. He could easily make a career for himself in political speaking, if he wasn’t such a damn fine musician. He speaks honestly and openly and, most importantly of all, his views make sense. He doesn’t use rhetoric and rhyme to avoid questions, he faces things head on and he knows exactly what he thinks – he’s not letting anyone change his opinions just to fit in, he’s strong-minded. He’s impressive:

“I don’t really understand what the fuck’s going on, to be honest with you […] The first issue is a fundamental lack of understanding of what’s going on in the Syria conflict. The Syrian people that are trying to fight for democracy have said that [air strikes are] the wrong thing to do. […] The whole thing this terrorist organisation is trying to start is a race war and a religious war, and they’re trying to do it from outside their own country – it’s playing straight into their hands. 

“It’s getting harder to have an opinion that says these people are in our community. […] Within the environments that you’re in, if you start to hear this stuff it’s simple: Muslims want peace. These people are hi-jacking something for their own gain.” 

There wasn’t a mutter or murmur from anyone in the crowd, apart from the addition of information regarding the fact that “Donald Trump called for all Muslims to be banned”, which occurred during Sam’s stage time, to which Sam stated: “Nobody wants to piss off the rich man”.
Touching upon David Cameron’s “terrorist sympathizer” comments, and the fact that the debate in the House of Commons did not give enough time for everyone who wanted to speak to get a chance, Sam definitely opened my eyes to a few things that I hadn’t heard about. When so much of the media is skewed through one political lens or another, it’s hard to know what to believe and what is completely fabricated – looking it up since the show, I’ve got much more of an understanding of what went on, and I’m feeling more interesting and incensed than ever.
Wrapping up his spiel to play ‘Once More With Feeling’, Sam closed with the statement:

“No matter what happens, truth will always win. […] If you want peace, peace comes with truth.” 

When introducing closing song ‘Glass Houses’, you could tell that the earlier conversation was still playing on his mind, as he shared the fact “I like playing the songs because they’re fun to play, but I’d rather they be relics than relevant, especially when it comes to songs about racism”. When you look at the construction of the setlist and note just how many songs he played from his debut album, all songs that still felt relevant and appropriately hard-hitting today, it does make you wonder about the state of the world – nothing has really changed within the past ten years, and that’s terrifying.
Finishing the set, Sam announced “it’s going to be a tough time if you actively want to be part of an equal society. […] Hope begins at home”, and it was the perfect way to close the show – despite the fact that things are dire, despite the fact that Sam had been talking about all of these harrowing and dreadful events, it’s still worth having hope.

Setlist: 
Find The Time
The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager pt. 2
Gluten Free
War of the Worlds
Collapsing Cities
The Plot
1986
Lighthouse Keeper
Call Me Ishmael
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly
3rd Generation
Geldermalsen Cargo
Angels in the Snow
18 to 1
Whitewash is Brainwash
Once More With Feeling
Hiding Place
Glass Houses

Finally, I’d like to give a big shout out to Sheer Music for organising this show! He’s doing a great job of keeping the music scene in Swindon alive, as are Songs of Praise, and I’m very grateful for what they’re doing.