Simone Felice sings at Bush HallSimone Felice starts his gig at Bush Hall with New York Times – it’s a haunt­ing and grit­ty num­ber which encap­su­lates famil­iar Felice ter­ri­to­ry – man’s vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and cru­el­ty, human strug­gle, death. But also love, find­ing beau­ty and joy in life, and the plea­sure and impor­tance of good friends. Of the grit­ti­er sub­ject mat­ter, Felice does­n’t shy away but tack­les things head on, and uses the beau­ty of his words to some­how work though pain and find hope.

The sec­ond song is from Strangers, his brand new albumBye Bye Palenville, about fathers who aban­don their chil­dren, is an exquis­ite bal­lad and my favourite on this new release. The arrange­ment is spare and sim­ple, which allows Felice’s expres­sive and slight­ly trem­bling vocals to be the focus. Lat­er in the set comes the emo­tive num­ber Our Lady of the Gun, Felice voic­ing his con­cerns about Amer­i­ca’s rela­tion­ship with guns.

Simone Felice sings at Bush Hall

Despite these heavy­weight themes, it does nev­er­the­less appear that Felice is mov­ing – slow­ly – in a more upbeat direc­tion, and Strangers feels like a more well-round­ed album. Of his cheerier num­bers he plays Molly‑O, a sort of camp­fire num­ber with a sin­ga­long cho­rus, to be sung when ine­bri­at­ed. The joy­ful You & I Belong gets an air­ing too. From his for­mer days with the Felice Broth­ers, he includes Radio Song and Don’t Wake the Scare­crow.

If it’s at all pos­si­ble, the force of Simone Felice’s stage pres­ence seems to have inten­si­fied since his appear­ance in 2013 at St Giles in the Fields Church. He is mag­net­ic from the moment he steps onto the stage, where he stands com­plete­ly still, star­ing out at the audi­ence and hold­ing them right there. His moves are those of a dancer as he prowls, sin­u­ous and flu­id, yet there’s an incred­i­ble strength too, a sea of emo­tion reflect­ed in the tensed mus­cles. He strikes his foot onto the floor for empha­sis with the flour­ish of a fla­men­co dancer. The drum kit waits over on the right side of the stage; when required he paces over to play them and gives them a fair bash­ing. Felice is accom­pa­nied by Gabriel Dres­dale on cel­lo and Mat­ty Green on dobro – both superb musi­cians are fas­ci­nat­ing to watch though some­times you find all three per­form­ers are unwit­ting­ly com­pet­ing for your attention.

It feels like we’re been treat­ed to a long set, and the inti­mate sur­round­ings of Bush Hall are burst­ing to the seams with a thrilled crowd. When the three musi­cians come back onto the stage for an encore, every­one joins in with the cho­rus of Help­less, before head­ing off into the night. It has been anoth­er tri­umphant per­for­mance for this defi­ant­ly orig­i­nal and gift­ed artist.

WHO: Simone Felice plus support
WHEN: April 10, 2014
WHERE: Bush Hall, London
TICKETS: £18 approx

Bush Hall now has din­ing rooms next door to the venue, serv­ing Mod­ern British Food, 020 8749 0731

Bush hall dining rooms

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