The venue was the star of the show on this damp evening in north-west London. This wonderful example of Victorian gothic architecture, the Union Chapel, provides a spectacular backdrop to even the most mundane of performances, and, while Malcolm Middleton didn't slip into this category, the stage certainly bolstered the performer.

Strolling out just after nine, accompanied by Jenny Reeve (violin/vocal) and Steve Jones (double bass), Malcolm Middleton – multi-instrumentalist with post-folk band Arab Strap, turned solo singer-songwriter – cut an engaging figure. His set was punctuated with macabre humour, including repeatedly telling himself to "stop talking so much shite", and a self-deprecating persona.

The acoustics of the Union Chapel are suited to just this sort of event, and from the opening 'A Brighter Beat' – the title track of Middleton's 2007 album and most commercially successful record to date – the performer seemed comfortable playing to a near capacity crowd.

They don't take the pews out for anybody at the Chapel, and alcohol is banned, so the crowd sat enjoying what they were offered, returning polite applause as and when required.

'Fuck It, I Love You' was second, displaying Middleton's penchant for wry social observation. In this respect he mirrors his former band mate Aidan Moffat, but, while this all-seeing-eye style has been popularised by a wave of Arctic Monkey imitators, Middleton performs without the knowing sneer of his, distant, contemporaries. His interpretation is his alone, not developed for the attention of others, and only shared in an intimate performance like this.

A song dedicated to the best whore in America followed, along with 'Blue Plastic Bags', a song dedicated to all those who retire each evening with a poly bag full of "six Stellas, a bottle of Jacob's Creek and 20 fags." There is no shame in this routine enthuses Middleton, as it’s a growing ritual. Other cuts from both his latest album, 'Sleight of Hand' and 'A Brighter Beat' were also performed; including from the latter perhaps his most popular song to date 'We're All Going to Die'.

A cover of Madonna's 'Stay', originally written by Steve Bray, followed later in the set, with Middleton describing her as one of the 80's pop choreographers. B-side, 'Scott Start the Van' was thrown in for the fans, as well as a song that changed the lives of the listener - depending on how much they paid for a ticket – called 'Red Traveling Socks'.

The atmosphere, however, remained formal. The applause polite, rather than enthusiastic. The wool wrapped crowd kept checking their Blackberry's periodically to ensure nothing was awry at home. Despite his best efforts to engage his audience the laughter remained staid, with Middleton seemingly at an unreachable distance. It was difficult to judge how many of the crowd were there to witness his former glories with another band from another time, another world, but Middleton was unwilling to indulge their wishes.

As a result, Middleton is going to have to wait a lot longer to reach those higher echelons once again. While he is a talented singer-songwriter with a dry wit, strong songbook and growing audience – his performance tonight was unlikely to outlive the hallowed venue in which it occurred.











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