It’s not often that authentic talent ever comes out of reality shows, and especially not reality shows devised by drum and bass pioneer and all-round hard-man Goldie, but Natalie Duncan is one such exception. After appearing on Goldie’s 2011 show ‘Goldie’s Band: By Royal Appointment’, a three-part reality series that sought to find the best young talent in the UK for a performance in Buckingham Palace, she was quickly signed by Verve Records and released her debut album Devil In Me in July 2012.
Needless to say, with such an odd start to a career, I was pretty apprehensive and curious going into her gig at Thekla. Having the performance on the bottom floor of the waterborne boat that is Thekla provided an aptly intimate setting for Duncan’s music. Even at full capacity, Thekla’s main room can only hold around 400 people, but for Duncan’s gig it was seated, reducing the capacity to only around 100. Add to this the hushed appreciation of the crowd of middle aged professionals and the stage was set for a unique showcase of acoustic soul.
After the loop-based funk of singer-songwriter and support act Alex Taylor, Duncan came on (perfectly on-time), admittedly nervous and nursing a husky Macy Gray voice after too much gigging (the hard life of a jazz singer she said). As soon as she sat down to her piano, though, the atmosphere of the whole place changed; blasting out the title track of her record, her voice reverberated through the room and inspired complete silence from the audience. Despite her nervousness over her vocals, Duncan still managed to hit all the notes in the challenging song and display the raw vocal power that she has been so acclaimed for. Accompanied by an unusual combination of guitar and xylophone (opting to cover the bass-end herself) Duncan set the tone for a subtle acoustic performance that placed her own talents at the very forefront of the evening.
And it’s not just her vocals that should be praised, Duncan’s piano playing was equally impressive, providing a percussive force at times, taking over the place of the absent drums, but also creating a soft, almost classical tone to some of her solo pieces. A highlight of the evening was “Find Me A Home”, an emotional song telling the story of Duncan’s initial signing to Decca Records and realisation of her isolation in moving to London from her home-town of Nottingham. The chord progression of the track brought to mind a blues-y Adele, and the feeling with which she performed the song showed a real connection to the words that she was singing – a rare occurrence now with the increasing prevalence of hired songwriters, providing the words and sentiment for others to sing.
The only flaw in the set was its length and Duncan’s own lack of confidence in her talents; performing for a short but sweet 50 minutes and failing to include her most famous song “Sky Is Falling’”. Her apprehension is understandable for a debut artist, though, and the short set left the audience wanting more, looking forward to the release of her second album and more gigs to come.