Foy Vance at Union Chapel
“Don’t think of tonight as a show,” Foy Vance sang unaccompanied to the audience before launching into a piano cover of Free Fallin’, marking the beginning of a mesmerising two-hour musical conversation and sold-out three-night run. Billed as “An Evening with Foy Vance” in an atmospheric and perfectly-suited venue (an actual chapel), ticket-holders sat in the pews with mugs of hot chocolate, ready for a special evening with an artist whose soulful voice is nothing short of truly special.
Not about promoting an album, and less about performing at an audience, the evening was rather about sharing and following a musical train of thought, no matter how random the journey. Whichever tunes were on Vance’s mind, these were the ones played – even if he (hilariously) didn’t remember the full song. Knowing his music was not a prerequisite since many tracks performed were not on record. Joking about a complaint he received on Twitter for not playing his “hits”, Vance declared that this was the wrong gig for hit-seekers: “I don’t care about my top five streamed songs.” Despite this, even when he was singing “can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” on a ukulele, an unnamed tune for London, or about his mate John’s “paranormal balls”, every audience member was transfixed by his faultless vocals, which he continually adapted for his (very) diverse range of songs.
Without his band, there was an air of simplicity and fluidity as instrumentals flowed freely and the Northern Irish singer’s mighty voice filled every corner of the hall. Moving from jazzy piano to folky ukulele and even Irish traditional guitar, he proved that he is an astonishingly talented and versatile musician. There were cheers for the blues-filled Casanova and songs such as Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution, complete with a Trump-attacking interlude, and She Burns with a loop pedal masterclass. Towards the end of the set, instruments were ditched as Vance conducted the audience to hum an accompaniment to Shed a Little Light, before ending on goosebump-inducing Guiding Light (originally a duet with Ed Sheeran) and completely mic-free The Wild Swans on the Lake.
Foy Vance did not follow the perform, applaud, repeat formula – it was an experience, not a regular gig. Comedy and charismatic conversation leapt unexpectedly into song in a heartbeat. The evening didn’t follow a set list (not a show), the support act was a poet – Jon Plunkett – which is usually unheard of (not a show) and Vance was in no hurry to leave, outstaying the venue’s curfew and typical show duration (not a show). He created a Union Chapel-shaped bubble from the outside world, difficult to fully represent with words. Ultimately, however, it was what it said on the tin: a breathtaking, phenomenal evening with Foy Vance.
Photos: Nick Bennett
Watch the video for She Burns here: