Duke Garwood is a multi-instrumentalist, best known for his languid, bluesy, atmospheric guitar. I first came across him on a Sunday afternoon at Latitude in 2015. Perfect music for the occasion. I was blown away by his guitar playing that day, the richness and warmth of it, the sounds he was conjuring from reverb and tremolo. I was getting hints of Robin Trower over a base of JJ Cale. He was the discovery of the festival that year.
Over the years he’s made a few albums, the best of which, for me, are 2015’s Heavy Love and 2017’s Garden of Ashes. The song titles are straight from the early 1970s: Honey in my Ear, Sweet Wine, Snake Man, Heavy Love, Days Gone Old, Blue. Not to mention the earlier classics, Jesus Got a Gun and Mellow Trucker Lady! Surely, you would say, this man is from the deep American south. But no, he hails from Kent. He’s in his early 50s, and in recent times has collaborated with Mark Lanegan on a couple of albums. His latest solo album, Rogues Gospel, was released last year, though I must admit it completely passed me by. I’ve caught up with it now, and it’s broadly more of the same – perhaps a little more instrumentation, a harder blues feel than the sleepy mellowness of, say, Heavy Love.
I saw Duke play at Nottingham Bodega in 2017 – and then, as far as I could tell, nothing. He does communicate on Twitter from time to time, mostly elliptical musings. I saw no evidence of live performances in this country, until I saw something on social media a month or so ago that suggested he was touring. A quick check and I found that he was playing the Lexington on Pentonville Road. Monopoly fans will know that one – it’s up the hill from King’s Cross, on the way to Islington. The Lexington has a good pub downstairs and a nice venue upstairs with the capacity for around 200 people. I’ve seen some great shows there in the past. It’s where I first came across Emily Barker; and I won’t ever forget the brilliant Wilko Johnson gig in 2011. So I got myself a ticket and suggested to my friend Shane that he might like to come along too. A couple of pints and some mellow blues sounded like a good way to end the weekend.
And that’s exactly what we got. Duke was back to a three piece, after having an additional guitarist back in 2017. Checking my 2015 Latitude photos, I think they may well have been the same drummer and bassist. Didn’t catch their names, I’m afraid, but they laid down a nice simple groove, over which Duke wove his musical spells. The finest Louisiana blues, straight from the garden of England! Or maybe the Thames marshlands gave him a taste for the sounds of the Mississippi delta and the Floridan everglades. Whatever, I love the sounds that he draws from his guitar, caressing the strings, fingers sliding up and down the fretboard, a flip of the tremolo arm. And the fuzz, the reverb – sultry, swaying, seductive, soporific. The swamp blues.
They played for an hour and a quarter, and that was just fine. There’s not a huge variation in melody or rhythm – with one exception towards the end of the main set, when Duke picked up the maracas and raised the tempo of his voice while the bassist powered the song along with a relentless, strident rhythm. It was quite rousing! It got the biggest round of applause. But soon we were back to our familiar groove, nodding gently – to the beat and in appreciation of a master of his craft.
A very satisfying evening – a helping of Duke Garwood takes you to a better place!