Lewis & Leigh are a transatlantic duo comprised of Al Lewis from Wales and Mississippi born Alva Leigh and on the day before this show they were nominated for 3 UK Americana awards including Album of the Year for their debut album 'Ghost' and 'The 4.19' had been singled out for Song of the Year. Needless to say, as I'd not been lucky enough to catch the duo live before, I was very much looking forward to their opening slot on the Deacon Blue tour.
This is the Royal Festival Hall so things started at 7.30 sharp (not very rock n’ roll and problematic for those of us who are time challenged) so I was battling the clock and unfamiliar surroundings. I luckily found the ticket pickup point, climbed many flights of stairs (some more than once) and had been shown a shortcut, by a helpful member of RFH staff, to take my seat with literally seconds to spare.
Some might be surprised to find newcomers Lewis & Leigh with such a prestigious spot on the Deacon Blue UK tour, in such venues as the Royal Festival Hall, but i'd still like to think that talent and good songs will always win in the end and Lewis & Leigh have both. Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross may have had an influence on this as he champions new artists on his weekly BBC Radio Scotland show which covers country and roots music. Whatever the reason the exposure can’t hurt and it looked like those in attendance enjoyed the duo which bodes well.
Lewis & Leigh performed an over-in-a-flash 30 min set which mixed tracks from their recently released, and quite excellent, ‘Ghost’ album with tracks from their earlier EP releases. The duo opened with ‘Piece Of Gold’ and I was expected an acoustic presentation but while Al handles acoustic guitar and vocals Alva is very busy with a drum pad / machine thingy (technical term) perched atop her keyboard which enables the duo to flesh out their sound and reproduce the album. The seemingly effortless blend of their voices was very impressive with Alva sounded especially good and with such strong material as ‘Rubble’, the haunting ‘Devil in the Details’ and the wonderful ‘Heart Don’t Want ‘the future looks very bright. It’s interesting to see the difference between the earlier, rawer EP tunes such as ‘Only Fifteen’ which they claimed was “Our version of the happiest sounding sad song you’ll hear” and the smoother, sleeker sounding ‘Ghost’ materialwhich leads me to believe that it’ll be really fascinating watching the duo progress and hone their craft in the future. Alva returned to her drum pad / keys combination for a terrific ‘Keep Your Ghost’ to conclude their set. I look forward to catching the duo playing a full set early in 2017 and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
One of the perks of reviewing Lewis & Leigh was the chance to catch Deacon Blue who are regularly championed by an old friend of mine who claims Ricky Ross “Is a seventies songwriter / storyteller who happened to find success in the wrong decade” which peaked my interest. Unexpectedly receiving the new album for my birthday a few days earlier proved fortunate, as it sounded really good, and helped as I only really knew the hits.
As the lights went down an off stage snatch of ‘People Get Ready’ could be heard before the band moved gently into ‘Come Awake’ an unexpected opener and deep cut from the new album. To be honest I wasn’t really taken with the first few songs which was partly my unfamiliarity with the material but I did feel that maybe the band took some time to find their feet. Things picked up a gear with ‘Chocolate Girl’ which morphed into an 80's classic by The Human League ‘Human’ and the evening was definitely on the up. A freewheeling and raucous ‘Real Gone Kid’ was a real eye opener and the band had me at that point and never let go throughout a 2 hour plus set. Ricky Ross is an excellent frontman happy to take a selfie (or ten) and always made it his mission to include the fans behind the band (The Festival Hall has the option for a 360 degree audience) as he effortlessly switched the mood from serious immigration issues before a truly anthemic ‘Birds’ to full on church revival meeting as he made us all ‘The Believers’. Lorraine McIntosh Is the perfect foil to Ricky Ross as she added terrific vocals and looked to be having a great time, when she stepped up to sing lead on a wonderful ‘Cover From The Sky’ it was one of the highlights of the evening as was the shared vocal on ‘I Will And I Won’t’ one of my favourites on the new record. The aforementioned folky ‘Cover from the Sky’ and a soulful ‘When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring)’ complete with an unexpected, and spot on, organ solo from James Prime showed the versatility of the band. Things got a little messy during the numerous encores (in a good way) as the band were having fun, and so were we, as things concluded with a run through of the Roy Orbison classic ‘Dream Baby’.
A great night out with Deacon Blue proving themselves to be a fine band with a great range of standout tunes and a loyal and vociferous set of fans. Lewis & Leigh are at the other end of their career but nights like tonight will convert many to their cause.
Gig Date: November 16th 2016