On Thursday, I went to London to see a singer I love, Mark Kozelek, play at the Union Chapel in Islington. Whenever I walk down Upper Street, I always remember back to when I lived in London and it was one of my favourite places to wander on my lunch break. It was perhaps a little quieter than usual but there were no signs of any rioting, only groups of policemen every few yards and outside every pub.
The Union Chapel is a beautiful and cavernous building, with very high ceilings and stained glass windows up in the darkness. I had been there once before, to see Wildbirds and Peacedrums perform with a choir, which was also a very exciting experience for me. Mark Kozelek was perhaps even more of an event, because I have been a fan for several years but had never been to one of his gigs before. The chapel was lit only with candles and some low lighting on the stage, but quite early on, Mark asked for the lights to be turned down even further, which definitely added to the atmosphere. There was no support, so he came on stage early and played for about two hours. I was so happy to be in the same room as one of my favourite singers, hearing his incredibly emotional and moving voice.
The setlist consisted mainly of his more recent music, from Admiral Fell Promises, along with some songs by a band called Desert Shore, with which Mark has been singing. He also played some quite funny songs he’d written while on tour. This was definitely the most unexpected part of the evening, as I wouldn’t usually associate Mark Kozelek with comedy. Considering the songs were quite disparaging about various English cities and MK fans, they received a good response from the audience. Mark was fairly chatty and I felt as if he really wanted to create a connection with the audience, asking questions and trying to start a conversation, which was quite difficult at times considering everyone was fairly quiet and ‘polite’. For better or worse, the Union Chapel isn’t the kind of venue where drunken exchanges with the musicians tend to happen, but I thought the atmosphere was nice, very attentive and absorbed in the music.
Mark’s guitar playing is very expressive and works perfectly with his voice. The best moments for me were the songs I already knew well and loved: Heron Blue, Katy Song and Mistress. Actually, my one small complaint about the gig is that (even though I understand why this doesn’t happen) I would have liked it if Mark had played some more older songs, the ones I’d liked since way back.
I first heard Red House Painters (Mark Kozelek’s band in the 90s) in the summer after my second year at university. I was teaching English at summer schools in Italy, and had just got together with my ex-boyfriend, who was also teaching there. My boyfriend had to go home a week earlier than me, since his contract had ended, and so he left me with some CDs he’d brought, one of which was Down Colorful Hill. When I felt lonely, I listened to the CDs at night with headphones, in the room I shared with the other English teachers in an old house in the countryside, and that was how I began to fall in love with Red House Painters. When, later on, I heard all RHP’s other records, Rollercoaster became my favourite album and maybe still is. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve rediscovered Down Colorful Hill. To me, the songs 24, Medicine Bottle, and the title track are all incredibly sad and beautiful.
So I would have liked to hear these old songs played live, even though maybe that time has passed for Mark Kozelek. Despite this, I really loved the gig as it was and feel lucky to have been there.