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Review: Deaf Havana (Live - Original Penguin 'Plugged In')

This post originally appeared on culturecompass.co.uk.

Not a Bore, Ever….

I was extremely disappointed to find that I had double booked myself and therefore unable to attend this special show by one of my favourite UK acts. I wanted to make sure this one off event was covered, and thankfully passionate music lover Laurence Hebberd came to rescue to review the show. I knew the boys wouldn’t disappoint…..Sophie

Having only headlined a sold out 5000 capacity Roundhouse just under two weeks earlier, seeing Deaf Havana play a show in a small, dingy downstairs bar in Hackney, with a ceiling that looks similar to the inside of a circus tent, to around 50 people is an extremely special opportunity. As part of the Original Penguin Plugged In series, this venue is filled with a select group of fans who all won tickets and press, ready to see what the band have to offer.

With no support act, the band arrive on stairs an hour after doors have opened. The crowd have all removed their coats (as the venue is well heated and things may get a bit sweaty) and all have a drink in hand. Space is very limited, and views aren’t always direct, with some attendees having to stand on benches along the sides of the room. Lead vocalist and guitarist James Veck-Gilodi describes the evening as “Somewhere in between an acoustic gig and a real gig”, with the band on a mix of acoustic and electronic instruments. A painting of legend Jimi Hendrix watches over and it’s time to see whether a successful live band who continuously sell out large venues on the circuit can strip back their act to a more intimate level – and boy, they can!

Throughout the show, there’s a contingent of fans singing every lyric back – these are the die hard fans who go to every tour, support the band through every moment of their career and really relate to the music. You can see a diverse range of ages – teenagers all the way through to adults, with every single person enjoying the surroundings and the night’s offerings.

Opener and recent single Boston Square shows that James’ voice is sounding stronger than ever with the band supporting him on a sturdy setup of drums and percussion, acoustic guitars and keys. The show is the evening before James’ little brother (and backing vocalist) Matthew Veck-Gilodi’s birthday – so, of course, the audience, sing him a little song to wish him a good one! It makes the evening as more of a celebration of the band’s success rather than simply a special session. James presents another recent single ‘King’s Road Ghost’ by saying he’s going to play it “how I originally wrote it”. Sang solo, it’s extremely eery, but beautifully done.

Half way through the set, ‘Everybody’s Dancing…’ is described as written about how no-one wanted to dance with James when he was in primary show and now he “looks like a Greek God”. On his own, James is a strong vocalist, adding in ad lib vocal sections to songs, but also heroically backed up by his brother on backing vocals, with the two merging well. Matthew even gets a chance to show his strength as lead vocalist on track ‘Mildred’ – the only modern track that features someone other than James on lead vocals. You can really tell how close they are as a band – no matter how small or big the show is – it still means the absolute world to them.

Some songs have been done in this set-up previously, but ‘I’m a Bore, Mostly’ has never been done in this way. ‘Anemophobia’ is presented with simple piano/keyboard (played by Max Brixton) and acapella vocals from James with the crowd harmonising throughout. ‘Tuesday People’ welcomes the lovely addition of bongs via drummer Tom Ogden with Lee Wilson and Chris Pennells completing the fantastic picture throughout the set.

Matching their larger live sets, Deaf Havana close the set with fan favourite ‘Hunstanton Pier’. Written about the location where the majority of the band grew up, the slower, stripped back version gives off even more emotion than normal. Backed up by piano and some percussion, James leads the band and crowd in a sing-along that echoes throughout the venue as the band exit the stage and crowd leave the venue – a lasting memory of an evening showing expert musicianship.

With Deaf Havana, you can really tell how much they appreciate an imitate audience – it feels like an extremely personal experience. The band want you to be a part of the show – even the newer songs which some of the crowd may not know make you feel welcome. James even happily cracks jokes with punters in the front few rows.

You can take (some of) the electricity out of this live band and you won’t lose the energy – you just receive a more relaxed, mellow experience – something which works well in this setting and with the repertoire of songs they have – it’s real evidence of Deaf Havana’s diverse nature as a band.


  1. Boston Square

  2. Little White Lies

  3. The Past Six Years

  4. Kings’ Road Ghost

  5. Everybody’s Dancing and I Want to Die

  6. I’m a Bore, Mostly

  7. Anemophobia

  8. Tuesday People

  9. Mildred

  10. Hunstanton Pier