Click on the picture to see our Turin Brakes slideshow. Photographs: Duncan Lomax, Ravage Productions

Review: Turin Brakes
Venue: The Duchess, November 12

The Duchess is far from full when support act Kevin Pearce takes to the stage, yet like most singer-songwriter-types with an acoustic guitar, he still has to battle through the non-stop chattering at the back of the room.

It’s a shame as he has a great voice, not a million miles away from York’s own Chris Helme in its folksy, but gutsy delivery, and given the budget to play with the backing of a band instead of solo, his songs would no doubt have been given the attention they deserved.

By the time Turin Brakes enter the stage to the sounds of Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack, the audience has swelled somewhat (in more ways than one as much of it seems to be made up of long-time Turin Brakes fans who won’t be seeing 40 again), but it’s an eager crowd who know the songs and sing along, even to the material drawn from the recently released We Were Here.

Turin Brakes have lived with the “folk” tag for much of their career – a label that never really fitted and one that was applied lazily to anyone sporting an acoustic guitar. Now that the likes of Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons have actively embraced the folk tag, it leaves Turin Brakes without a convenient genre to slap onto them.

That’s good though as tonight’s set is so varied. Yes, there are folky numbers, but guitarist Gale Paridjanian now plays electric guitar for much of the night, with an aggression that’s brought to the fore on his soaring slide work.

Singer Olly Knights sticks to acoustic, but it’s no tender strum-along and the band’s soulful songs are belted out at force, only softened by the accuracy and tightness of the harmonies.

Meanwhile bassist Eddy Myer stalks the stage, filling the sound out with busy jazz-tinged runs, and swopping between stand-up bass and stand-up comedian, as he adopts the role of amusing the crowd between
songs.

For most of the night the band lose themselves in louder rockier sections. Old favourites Painkiller and Future Boy grow from modest beginnings into raucous crowd-pleasers, and from the new album, Time And Money is the stand out track of the night.

By the end of Emergency 72, drummer Rob Allum has managed to turn the song into a trippy Tomorrow Never Knows jam that just keeps building, making it hard to believe the sound is coming from a four-piece.

The fact that everyone contributes vocals helps, but undoubtedly their secret weapon is their sound engineer who has managed that most difficult of tasks – ensuring that every note, every string and every harmony are perfectly clear.

It’s probably the best sound I’ve heard at The Duchess, and without wanting to appear as old as I am – it just sounds better by not being at full blast.

After six studio albums and over a decade together, Turin Brakes must be wondering why or how they’ve not followed in the footsteps of Elbow by now and turned their loyal following into a huge commercial success.

By rights, they should be playing three nights at the Barbican, rather than a two-thirds full Duchess, but I’m guessing most of the loyal crowd here tonight are quite glad that they’re taking so long to be discovered by a wider audience.