Live Review | The Duchess, York | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Even though Ezio cross many musical boundaries with their adrenaline infused acoustic rock, the duo still maintain they are just a ‘folk music band from Cambridge’. Together since 1990, singer songwriter Ezio Lunedei and guitarist Mark ‘Booga’ Fowell, have steadily built up a strong fan base both as a duo or together with a larger band consisting of Lidia Cascarino on bass, ‘The Reverend’ Lee Russell on a variety of instruments including steel guitar and percussion and finally Alex Reeves on drums. Tonight at the Duchess, it was just the two original members who came along to play some new songs as well as the obligatory handful of crowd pleasers. The Duchess had been prepared in advance and was well equipped to handle the potential deluge of admiring fans who were about to flood the front stage area, but on a fine warm Friday night in the city of York, who could possibly know how many would show up? Before the show, whilst Booga took care of the concessions stand, I had a few words backstage with Ezio who said ‘this is the point, they haven’t arrived yet so I’ve no idea how many will come or how many tickets have been sold, this is my panic moment, will anyone show up? However, he went on to say rather reassuringly, ‘whoever is there, we will play for them’. Ezio was relaxed backstage, slumped in a chair with his hands stretched out on the table before him. Support artist Aimie J Ryan, appeared slightly more on edge in the corner, awaiting her turn in the spotlight, which was coming shortly. I asked Ezio whether he prefers to be onstage with the full band or just with the original duo? “it’s really nice to improvise a lot. When you’re working on new material it’s really nice as a duo because you’re freer and there’s a lot less chance of it going wrong. We’ve worked that long together that it’s second nature”. “I’ve known Booga a long time, twenty-odd years. I’m considerably older than he is and I remember him as a larger than life fifteen year-old with a big afro, who used to come to my gigs. I was playing in a rock band at the time, playing lead guitar and he came to watch that, he was a very precocious and talented guitar player”. Ezio have a loyal following who appear to know every lyric to every song. On songs like “Deeper”, it sometimes becomes easier for Ezio to just stop singing and let the crowd take over. I asked Ezio if he felt that having such a strong, almost cult following, was rewarding or not? “We’re just not trendy enough or good looking enough to have casual fans, it’s a bit of a commitment, they have to struggle a bit to see us they’re either not interested or completely rabid. When we go to another country or perhaps a town we’ve never been to before and they sing all the words it is rewarding, it really is”. Ezio appeared to have no set list to speak of when the duo took to the stage, relying instead on fans’ suggested songs, not by shouting them out, but by texting messages using the mobile phone number blue-tacked to the pillars around the venue. Occasionally during the set, Ezio would reach for his mobile phone and check new messages. “Steal Away? … could do; Cinderella please? … maybe; Deeper? …” I asked Ezio whether he felt it was more difficult to introduce new songs into the live repertoire, and how different the reaction is compared with the more familiar material? “You don’t get the same reaction, but it’s important to keep doing it, otherwise you start turning into your own tribute band, just trotting out the same thing as we’re all getting older. I think it’s important and vital to try and present new things. It’s what I’m trying to do now, I’m trying to ease things into the set and because it’s not as slick and not as played-in and perhaps a bit more clumsy in some ways, it doesn’t get that euphoric thing, but sometimes you mean it so much that they end up being the best ever versions”. There’s a remarkable synergy that goes on between these two musicians, with each knowing instinctively his part in the musical relationship. The two guitarists cooperate advantageously, with neither stealing the limelight for one single second. Booga’s extraordinary dexterity on both electric and acoustic guitars provides the colour to Ezio’s rhythmic base. Familiar songs such as “Steal Away” and “Saxon Street” provided the audience with the reward they came for, whilst some of the newer songs provided the audience with what they may be singing along to very soon. On that subject, I finally asked Ezio when the band is likely to release a follow up to their 2006 album Ten Thousand Bars. “I need to, it’s time now. I’ve got a back log of new material and there’s a couple already recorded… I’m in good shape to now”. For the encore, Ezio gave the audience the choice of three possibilities. “You can have a vote here, democracy at work, you can have “59 Yards”, to which a female voice called out from the back of the room… “I like that one”; “The Further We Stretch” … or “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” it’s up to you…”.