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“It’s finally good to leave my brother at home, it gives me chance to sing the songs I wrote”, David Dunwell – guitarist, co-vocalist and lyricist of The Dunwells – on performing an intimate acoustic session at County Bar for the first Live At The Oak of Term 3. Intimate because the numbers peaked at 13, but it didn’t faze the Yorkshire lad.
“I just love to sing, I think I’ve got a great voice” he says modestly. Ironically this ameliorates his brother Joe’s claim to being the lead singer of The Dunwells. Much of the audience didn’t realise David was a guitarist by trade.
Supported by talented guitarist Alex Haslam and vocalist James Geary, the evening lived up to its bill as a relaxed evening for the hectic exam period approaching. Both supports played an array of covers and original material; Haslam demonstrating his acoustic prowess with a homemade instrumental and Geary showing off his vocal range with Sheeran and Ezra present, as well as passing off his band’s songs as his own in his short set.
However it was David’s set that reminded us of The Dunwell’s energy and passion they delivered back in Term 2.
“Music is my life. It’s not just a job, it literally is my life,” he explains as he nonchalantly strums on his guitar. Like his preceding guests, David’s set consisted of original material as well as the odd cover. ‘Cannonball’ by Damien Rice (his favourite song to cover) succeeded a Bruce Springsteen number, an artist on the same agency as The Dunwells coincidentally, something David sheepishly noted.
Opening with new single ‘Lucky Ones’, David described the process of making their new video. “It was filmed in Manchester at a swimming pool that’s due to be demolished in a few months. We had a proper film crew and everything, we are in it. Just a little cameo, you might see us.”
As well as new songs off their forthcoming LP, David also wheeled off tracks from their currently-slender back catalogue. ‘Oh Lord’, ‘So Beautiful’ and ‘Elizabeth’ from their debut record Blind Sighted Faith all featured, with the latter requiring a little audience participation. “Usually I’d get the crowd involved here but we’re quite exposed so I’ll let you off” he lied. The crowd provided the backing vocals to his chorus – ‘Call if you want it but, don’t make it easy’. “I’m not leaving until you’re all singing” joked the guitarist.
An insight into the new album was unveiled with ‘Animal’, ‘Light Up My Skies’ and ‘Communicate’ all showcased. ‘Communicate’ (at the time of writing) has amassed over 900,000 hits on Spotify, a sign that David deserved to be playing sold-out venues rather than meagre crowds at a university bar. But that’s the kind of guy he is, just happy to be able to release his music into the wild.
With the new album (as yet untitled) due for September, this quiet gig provided stripped back versions of the band’s new songs, many of which have adopted electronic touches, as opposed to their pure, guitar-driven, folk debut. David described ‘Light Up My Skies’ as the song that kept them in the music game. “We hadn’t heard anything from the record label in ages, but me and Joe kept on writing songs. We thought we were out of it, but we sent them this and suddenly we were back in,” he explains. This is the only song so far which still features David on lead vocals. “Joe just has this aura about him, he’ll probably take over eventually.”
David also described the events at Lollapalooza in 2012, when the self-described “scruffy lads from Leeds” found themselves in the Hilton hotel after thunderstorm warnings with hundreds of fans and artists, and decided to commandeer a grand piano in the corner of the room and play an impromptu short set. This was picked up by the American media and gave them more publicity than actually playing Lollapalooza would have, although they managed to complete their dream by playing the year after.
Festival appearances this year will likely be limited to the UK, with The Great Escape Festival in Brighton the first announced. “We have no others we’re allowed to mention yet,” he unveiled when pushed for more dates. His set climaxed with a beautiful rendition of ‘So Beautiful’, before returning to Leeds and no doubt ending up somewhere else in the country to promote the band’s material the following day. It’s difficult to put into words how much music is David’s life, willing to put on a dazzling performance to 13 people having previously been on The Jay Leno Show only a few years previous.
After the publicity American journalists gave the group in 2012, David jokingly asked whether there were any present in County to help the band. Alas, there were not, but hopefully a humble SCAN reporter will do.