John McKeown - The Pigalle Club, London (10/09/2009)

Huw Jones | Tuesday, 15 September 2009

John McKeown - The Pigalle Club, London (10/09/2009)

Despite the current economic climate, Piccadilly Circus is as busy as, well, Piccadilly Circus; the intrusive thrust of freesheets, tourists, blaggers, theatregoers and recession proof consumers all watched over by an ever present Anteros and the amalgamated neon illuminations of Sanyo, Coca-Cola and TDK.

Situated at the very heart of the West End, The Pigalle Club, were it not for its garish, albeit faded pink exterior, is an appealing retreat from the hustle and bustle of rush-hour footfall. Inside the 1940s styled supper club the subterranean d├ęcor doesn't get much better, but oblivious to a lack of visual aesthetics, the near capacity audience are only here to appreciate that which is audible.

The small stage belongs to John McKeown, a four strong choir (directed by London Community Gospel Choir founder Reverend Basil Meade), ten-piece string section and a selection of esteemed serious-faced session musicians, among them ex-Steely Dan guitarist Elliott Randall. Dubiously dressed in black-bling hoodie, McKeown looks immediately uncomfortable, the unnecessary shades perhaps an attempt to hide his on-stage uncertainty, but looks can be deceiving and once again visual aesthetics are made irrelevant.

McKeown's sound is one of emotion, realism and hope, in other words, standard middle of the road singer-songwriter fodder. There is in fact little to differentiate between him and others of his ilk, but the sentiment of 'Will You Be Mine', 'Up Where You Belong' and 'Fade Away' exposes a musician, who when playing live, exudes an infectious sincerity that's hard to ignore, as is unfortunately the somewhat unbalanced sound levels which do little justice to the musical resources at his disposal.

Despite introducing 'Things Worth Fighting For' as "not the greatest song I've ever written" McKeown does have the foresight to up the tempo and atmosphere, bringing a West African feel of traditionally dressed Djembe and Conga players to the show, loosening up enough to jump of his perch, pluck a blond from the front row and have a little dance.

Picking up where he left off, the string section is finally used to full effect, violins and cellos amplifying the affecting air that 'Dream On Valentine' and 'For You' possess, and with heartfelt applause all but drowning out a humbled "Thank you, goodnight" the show ends with a stage exit as innocuous as the stage entrance, the only difference being that McKeown is justifiably walking several inches taller.

Rating: 3/5