David J Roch
Union Chapel, London
“All I can say is … wow!” mutters Sheffield’s David J Roch as he shuffles on to the stage of the Union Chapel, gazing wide-eyed at the grand splendor of the Victorian Gothic masterpiece that still functions as a working church. It’s a venue renowned for its intimate beauty but often criticised for its acoustics; loud guitars and drums have an unfortunate tendency to ricochet around the octagonal auditorium. But armed – at first – with only an acoustic guitar, it suits Roch perfectly. The Chapel was designed for singing and, in the singer who once went under the pseudonym of Little Lost David, it has its very own one-man choir, his voice somersaulting between angelic falsetto and a devilish baritone. The term singer-songwriter might provoke terror in the hearts of many but it’s instantly clear that what’s on show here is closer to Buckley than Blunt, with the most unique and impressive set of lungs since Antony Hegarty.
The album, Skin & Bones, is produced by Jim Sclavunos of the Bad Seeds and Grinderman, which probably gives a better pointer to where Roch is coming from: raw, confessional songs of love, loss and Beelzebub whose blasphemous power is given extra resonance by the hallowed setting. “The devil don’t care what you do,” he growls during a particularly impressive near acapella number, musing “I guess that’s why he’s my pal.” The addition of muted trumpet and understated percussion midway through the set brings to mind the more standard indie fare of Belle & Sebastian or the Hidden Cameras, yet Roch’s demonic howls of rage steer the songs safely away from anything that could be remotely described as twee.
The campfire finale, Peace With The Devil has the largely unfamiliar audience in rapt awe. Earlier in the set, Roch jokes that, as an undertaker by day, he and God have an understanding. And as he screams “We’re all going to hell!” in front of the pulpit, swathed in red light, it’s tempting to conjecture what Him upstairs might make of this young troubadour. One imagines all he could say was “wow”.