- Stevie Parker
C DUNCAN sits in a comfortable place where his three driving forces meet. The place where art, composing and live performance converge is the place where this prolific creator finds his natural place. Two albums in, and with a third already on the way, it’s hard to believe that it’s only two years since he first appeared with the Mercury-nominated Architect album, and this is his third show in Liverpool in that short time. You’d struggle to find ample comparisons for Duncan’s unique and innovative sound, born of his background in classical music and composition. And when playing Liverpool, that is a huge plus point. Outward facing and inwardly welcoming, this city’s audiences take people like C Duncan to their heart. We like to champion those who stand aside, those who do something different.
As the room fills, the evening starts with a set from STEVIE PARKER. Edgy, nervy and dark pop structures are laid over heavily atmospheric and spacious layers of beats and guitar hooks, giving plenty of room for Parker’s trademark folk-pop vocal to float above. And float is exactly the word – and that’s kind of the problem. All too often, Parker’s songs rely on the distracting waver in her voice which at times feels and sounds a little forced, a little too earnest, maybe. There are times, though, when it absolutely works and adds to the force of the dynamics of the songs, such as in her closing song, the title track from her recent Blue EP. It’s also found in her beautiful, mid-set rendition of the Joe Jackson classic It’s Different For Girls, reimagined here in a dark, brooding and intimidatory version.
C Duncan arrives onstage with a genteel nod to the crowd, and within seconds, the tightly packed room is drawn in by those beautiful and strange choral builds, and layer upon layer of tight, close harmonies. It’s an utterly beguiling experience to take part in, and he and the band are seemingly as happy to deliver it as we are to bear witness. We find ourselves hung on every moment, each intriguing chord progression, each expertly-placed melody. And ‘placed’, is exactly the right word. Duncan’s Conservatoire background has created a composer who places each part together with a deft precision, and an extraordinary poise, to create these luscious and celestial pieces. There are so many moments of sheer pop beauty here, so much exquisite creation taken from Duncan’s two very different albums, but special mention must go to Castle Walls. This song – composed specially for a Record Store Day release in 2015 – brings the room to a hushed standstill, such is its intimate closeness and delicate harmonies. It’s so close, so special, and so absolutely in and of the moment, it takes the breath away.
The next steps in this intriguing artist’s journey will be as fascinating as those he’s already taken. Second album The Midnight Sun took the lead from Architect, but brought a slightly darker, more experimental edge, which is delivered so well in a live setting. There is certainly a platform to build upon, and when his shows are as good as this, he’ll always have a deeply appreciative audience here in Liverpool.