If you are into music, it is likely you already know all about illustrious Parkway boozer, The Dublin Castle.
It was built to serve Irish labourers or ‘navvies’ working on London’s railways. Madness, then The North London Invaders, masqueraded as a respectable jazz band to secure their first gig there in 1979 and unsung hero landlord John Aloysius “Alo” Conlon kickstarted the careers of far too many bands to mention here. He also offered Madness a Friday-night residency. The rest, as they say, is Camden Town (and music) history.
So it was fitting that North Londoner with Irish roots, Luke Carey, should play there on a lively Friday night. The comfortingly rowdy but intimate backroom of the pub – black-walled, plastered with posters and suitably beer-soaked – was right on the money. The perfect location for a sold-out, hometown gig.
Singer-songwriter Luke blends classic acoustic guitar with contemporary and upbeat vocals, drawing inspiration from Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran amongst many others. A talented lyricist, he writes with honesty, razor-sharp observation and wit.
He kicked off with 100/1to cheers from the eager crowd. Released in July this year, it got things fired up nicely with thumping beats and an infectious hook (‘there’s a method to the madness, yeah’). I have been fortunate enough to interview Luke and catch him live before, and he is as genial and authentic in person as he is on stage. ‘I wrote this cheesy love song when I was seventeen…’ he says rather sheepishly, as he introduces Night Goes On. The track, from 2015’s Sketches EP, which smashed the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Album chart and secured a top ten position, isn’t cheesy. It is totally charming.
Luke shows great musical versatility and is also the master of the loop pedal – the audience in the palm of his hands as he produces a steady stream of rhythm and sounds.
The opening strings of Jumped The Gun, from 2016’s sophomore EP Stencils, are met with cheers. Performed live, the track takes on a thumping, punchy quality and by using the loop pedal as a drum, Luke breathes even more life in to it. Where the Wind Blows has a similarly upbeat, contemporary style. Luke calls on his devoted crowd to “make them hear us on Parkway, at Camden Town Station” before springing off the stage and seamlessly leading us into a cheeky singalong to KRS-One’s Sound Of Da Police.
Luke brings infectious, high-energy to his gigs. A personal tribute to rhythm and blues, with a medley that reworked classic tracks Hit The Road Jack, Feeling Good and I’ve Got A Woman, was charismatic rather than saccharine. A crowd-bouncing, pint-splashing, arms-in-the-air kind of moment with substance.
At times, he seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the response from the crowd, giving sincere thanks to everyone for coming along and admitting how much the support meant to him. Then, a brief pause before declaring, ‘OK, that’s the soppy shit out the way!’ with a grin, and launching into Buckledownknucklehead, using a harmonica to beat box. (Is there nothing he can’t do?).
With the second track from Stencils, which reached the number two spot on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Album Chart in just a matter of days, Luke delivers his own interpretation of modern pop culture. Buckledownknucklehead is a personal pep talk about focus and dedication, but he also pokes fun at himself with lyrics that cover his love of pub grub and inevitable comparisons to Ed Sheeran. (‘Seriously, my name is not Ed Sheeran. See, I’m a man going about living my own dream and it might be more likely – if I stop singing his songs then he stops singing just like me…’). Luke told me in an interview in 2016, that the reference was ‘the most respectful way of just saying cheers’. The audience go mad for it.
Despite all the goodnatured self-deprecation and beneath the bravado, there’s a huge amount of talent and determination. Luke is a serious musician and an artist to be taken seriously. When introducing I Didn’t Need Love Anyway, he reveals that it is by far the favourite song he has ever written. ‘It’s a quiet song that takes a while to get into’ he warns the crowd, and politely commands that everyone listens, just for a while. It’s a heartfelt performance and an emotional moment, one that effectively silences the cheers.
For just a few minutes, there’s not a sound in that usually buoyant room, except for Luke’s strong voice. Then, with Easter Road, we are all on our feet again, or at the bar, engaged in a sing-along. That’s the thing with Luke. He can make you laugh and cry at the same time.
He has released a handful of tracks in 2019, and Feel, with rapid fire lyrics and melody flowing like liquid, and Remedy, the last official release this year which he introduces as ‘a cheesy white boy song’. (which, of course, it’s not) sound particularly fresh. On Lovestruck, he acknowledges that heartache may make you stronger but also ‘f*cked you up in the weirdest way’. Dream So Much was the last track performed from the Stencils EP on the night, and had a trancelike feel. The final minute of the song fades into a solid drum and bass beat, which went down a treat. The lyrics may claim that ‘I wanna live by the ocean, wanna live by the sea…’ but it looked like there was no place Luke would rather be than The Dublin Castle that night.
He will be releasing one more track on YouTube before 2019 is out, which he describes as a ‘thank you to everyone being so amazing this year with their support’. There’s no sign of slowing down in 2020 though; he’s currently working on exciting new material for the new year which he sees as a step up, as well as announcing his biggest show to date. Even more good things are coming.
For the encore, Luke jumped into the crowd to perform Happen and Face Of Thunder. It may have been just him, his guitar and the loop, but you’d fooled in thinking he had a full band on stage with him.
It was a triumph. Luke proved himself to be the king of The Dublin Castle, exhibiting his unique talents and impressive material to an up-for-it and devoted fanbase. Whether wowing with breakneck speed rapping, making your heart hurt a little bit with haunting melodies or dazzling with classic material unplugged, Luke’s live performances are always superior.
Suggs, lead singer of Madness and verified Castle royalty, once sang ‘In Camden Town I’ll meet you by the underground. In Camden Town we’ll walk there as the sun goes down’.
If we’re off to see Luke Carey do his very unique thing, in his hometown, then I’m on my way. No hesitation.
Live Review by Nicola Greenbrook of Luke Carey at The Dublin Castle, London on Friday 8th November 2019