Review: Peasant – The Vortex, London

In a small room overlooking Gillett Square, buried deep in Dalston, is the most intimate of venues: the Vortex Jazz Club. As I sat at a marble-top table in candlelight, I felt more like I was being stood up at some classy restaurant rather than waiting for the dulcet, folk-pop of Damien DeRose and his band. I began to feel more underdressed and like I should have brought a date as couples took to their seats and shared bottles of wine to the sound of the support acts, which included the wonderful, New Zealand singer-songwriter Flip Grater, who, with her free-spirited attitude and captivating songwriting, manages to silence an ever-growing audience of half-drunken couples.

The warm romance of the space – which is so cosy that I had to pull in my chair to allow the band to squeeze by to get to the stage – is what makes this venue so memorable and makes it the perfect venue for the DIY specialist Peasant, who is used to writing and recording in such close-quarters as his bedroom. An immediate rush of excitement overcame the bustling crowd of people, who were still jostling for standing space at the back as friends and fans of Peasant alike continued to pile in, and the drunken couples turned into silent schoolchildren as Damien DeRose took to the stage surrounded by his band and began their first London show as a collective.

‘I said I wasn’t going to talk if I don’t get beer,’ DeRose tells the crowd as he holds his drink aloft and carries on with a set, heavy with tracks from his new album, which are all greeted by cheers of recognition and appreciation. As he dedicates his album’s title-track Bound For Glory to a friend in the crowd, who complained to him that the gig was ‘too expensive’, it is obvious that this is a crowd filled with not just friends of his, but long time followers. The band happily mingle amongst the crowd, taking seats wherever they are offered as Damien goes back to his old ways and performs a few solo songs with all the coyness of an artist truly humbled by the show of support for him. As the band returns, they fly straight into an Americana rock finale which has the crowd jigging around in their seats and calling for an encore, and after he refuses, saying he has no more songs left, he is physically pushed back onto the stage by the hungry crowd and then calmly asks them which song they would like to hear.

The Vortex Jazz Club seems built for artists such as Peasant, who is a musician who plays for his crowd, who in turn aren’t afraid of showing him their gratitude. The true spirit of these personal shows comes through when, after the set, and just a step down from the stage, Peasant and his band mix with the crowd and share drinks with the couples and their wine in this small room, so easily missed when walking through the streets of Dalston.

Josh King