‘I am in tune, I was just playing the wrong chord,’ Duncan says, abashed, grinning endearingly at the crowd. It was perhaps the only mistake of the evening for the meticulous performer, who occupies a unique space in popular music. After studying music composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, he released his debut album Architect in 2015. With influences from Fauré to Fleet Foxes, Duncan crafted an ethereal synthesis of dream-folk and choral harmony, earning a Mercury Prize nomination for his efforts. A second album, The Midnight Sun, followed only a year later, with Duncan this time employing electronic instruments to create a masterpiece of intricate introspection.
The night starts dramatically, with Duncan and his band arriving onstage in a symphonic haze of blue light and smoke before launching into the sweeping soundscape of ‘Like You Do’. With Duncan’s two albums forming such a distinctive and cohesive body of work, the set seems to flow effortlessly from one song to the next. Synthesizers crescendo and diminish, harmonies rise and fall. Duncan and his ensemble effortlessly transport us from the bleak contemplative chords of ‘Who Lost’ to the carefree whistles of Architect with ease and skill.
At points one had to simply marvel at the musicianship of Duncan and his band. Nothing was lost in the transition from record to live show, and with his compositions that’s no mean feat. The four part vocal harmonies in ‘Silence and Air’ were immaculate and indeed the entire performance was almost scientifically precise. Despite this it never lost its sense of fun, with the band constantly exchanging glances and smiles between themselves and the audience.
Nothing was lost in the transition from record to live show, and with his compositions that’s no mean feat.
It was Duncan’s innocent charm that truly captured the audience though. Bashfully breaking eye contact with the appreciative crowd at the end of every song and mumbling a mellifluously Scottish, ‘Thank you very much,’ he is impossible to dislike.
It is his straightforwardness that is Duncan’s greatest strength, at its core the gig was simply a talented artist performing his songs. With that sort of honesty it’s hard not to leave without feeling a little bit better about, well, everything really.