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The Society of the Golden Slippers: A Secret Gig

Featuring Robert Vincent, Sweet Billy Pilgrim and Hazlitt

Monday, March 19th, 2012

I nearly passed by the venue as it was hidden down and around and up inside 67 Dean Street in Soho. I noticed a discreet flyer on a door down a set of wrought-iron stairs and past a tiny pub.  “This is the only bar”, the doorman warns me and motions to the corner of the dimly lit but characteristic alcove before allowing me upstairs “two floors up” he says.

I wind my way up and glance around to small flyers scattered across the walls and window-sills to make sure I’m on the right track.  It seems almost like a private home and I feel as though one wrong turn will lead to my interrupting some private scene in a flat’s bedroom.

Noisy chatter leads me to the right one however and I negotiate my path through the crowded rooms.  One looks like a sitting-room with comfortable chairs and sofas scattered about and the next is like a dark old bedroom (a bit like the one I had imagined on the staircase) but filled to the bursting point with pillows and small stools.  The walls are an aged blue green, a small black dog with wiry curls is attempting to nick someone’s Prada gloves, and a fireplace crackles with a cosy flame.

Settling in I claim a stool (which I later find is nicknamed an elf-chair) that is front and centre as the first group takes the “stage” (more like an insane amount of instruments and wiring that have invaded a quarter of the small old-fashioned room.

The first act, Robert Vincent, had a nostalgic folk sound with a voice beyond his years.  His companions on the keyboard and a small floor drum are a cute fringed girl in a green asymmetrical tunic top and the best dressed man of the night as the percussionist with a slim scarf knotted over a solid black tee, thick rimmed glasses and a bowler hat.

Second to fill the room were the group, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, who couldn’t come more highly recommended then by my seatmate.  “He has a really unusual voice” she tells me but she and her husband had been following the past few years and can’t get enough.  “he even had them as his ringtone.”  The soft whimsical songs float and dance alternately, bringing in the liveliest banjo I’ve seen so far on this side of the pond.

The clapping and cheers quieted, bright filming lights flooded the room.   As half the crowd made their exodus out the door  I heard two guests debating whether they would stay. “She has a beautiful voice!” I insisted of the last act of the night, Hazlitt…actually I’d been telling anyone who would sit still that night about her and knew she wouldn’t disappoint.

The words were so hot from writing that she had a friend hold the lyrics in the case she forgot them and her quartet and percussionist set up a small forest of music-stands behind her.  After short announcements she thanked the crowd and began—with the first note the entire room must have plunged into a simultaneous shiver.  Her ethereal vocals and the cinematic feel of the stringed instruments and cymbal took the night to the next notch.  Most of the songs were sung in Latin but she brought in a few new ones in English.  The cameraman from BBC stumbled into the crowd at one point to get a better view and I have to say I held my poise a bit better knowing it was going to be on film.  Between songs she laughed, joked and took swigs of beer.  As with any of her performances I was sad to hear the last song announced and joined in the explosive applause at the end.

In all it was a beautiful warm night filled with soul and talented musicians.  The crowd felt intimate and close in the tiny rooms and I felt privileged to be a part of such a special night.  Hats off to the Society of the Golden Slipper for Hosting and to a trifecta of performances.

-April Whitlow

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