It might be located in an essentially characterless part of North London, a gentle stroll from Highbury and Islington tube and opposite a Wetherspoons, but the Union Chapel might just be London’s most perfect venue.

If you’ve never been there to see a band, you really should. There are lots of venues in grand or beautiful buildings, but generally they are converted or restored, managing in some ways to feel not quite real. But the Union Chapel continues to fulfil its primary purpose, as a church, every Sunday morning, and as a result, one always feels very lucky to be watching music there.

You can hardly blame people lucky enough to perform there for overreaching a little, then. And, to be sure, the Willkommen Collective (a group of bands on the same label, with largely the same membership) ever so slightly over-reached themselves this evening. It didn’t make for a disaster. No,in fact I had a very enjoyable evening. But you sense they wanted a little too much from their night in this marvellous space.

Take the opening act, Rowan Coupland. Handing out lyric sheets and asking the audience to sing along would be ambitious for a well known act, but for the opening act in a venue less than a quarter full, it was too much. A shame, because the rest of the Collective made for a perfectly effective choir, and these simple songs might have set the tone for the rest of the evening. Instead, I suspect he made the crowd seem a little embarrassed.

Shoreline were more successful. A traditional-style folk act, building up lots of layers of strings and harmonies over their slow paced songs, they may not have necessarily written songs to match their sixties heroes (yet), but there were moments in this performance that caught the mood magnificently.

Upstairs, there is a bar. But, and I like an ale as much as the next man of course, this seemed like time to order tea from the ‘tea and biscuits’ stand. Well, this is a church, after all and I didn’t fancy vacating my pew for too long.

Next up, came the band’s only non-Wilkommen Act, Sweet Billy Pilgrim. Their music, on record built on loops and atmospherics, came to life in a live setting. Songs like ‘Future Perfect Tens’ sounded perfect here, in keeping with the trend this evening of slow songs, elegantly crafted and cleverly harmonised, although perhaps of an even higher standard.

Alas, their long set was storing up problems for later on…

After Sons of Noel And Adrian played a set that was warmly received by most of the crowd, but never quite raised my heart-rate, the main event took to the stage.

The Leisure Society are Wilkommen headline act in every sense, and (as much as I like the bulk of the label’s output) are certainly the only ones likely to appear on Radio Two.

Unfortunately, the'r arrival onto the stage was less grand than might have been hoped, and not just because any suspense was quashed by their appearance as side-players in all the other bands, as lead singer Nick (already in too much of a rush to change into the suit he had planned for this evening) announced "We’ve just been told we only have ten minutes>" Damn.

In fact, they played for a princely twenty, but it was very frustrating nevertheless, especially for those of us who were mainly here to see them.

Nevertheless, the swooping songs, string drenched, melancholic yet tuneful, rang out beautiful amongst the backdrop of stained glass and ceramics. ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’, a recent single, fully justified the impressive reputation this band have been building up.

The audience wanted more. Hopefully, Wilkommen will be invited back to give us just that, but will perhaps decide that fewer acts, playing longer sets, would be the best way to go now.

The photogarphs that accompany this article were originally published on The Line of Best Fit website at

Related Links:

Commenting On: Union Chapel, London, 12/6/2009 - Wilkommen Collective

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last