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Sharp suits and hard times

Simone Felice has never been the sort of person to shy away from relating personal stories: he suffered a brain aneurysm at the age of 12, emergency open heart surgery at the age of 33 and his wife's late-term miscarriage five years ago. That's before you even get to his creative endeavours, which have ranged from a teenage punk band "in his grandpa's barn" to poetry readings in London and Berlin, and the publication of his debut novel Black Jesus in 2011.

And then, of course, there's the music that he is best known for. Felice, from a little town called Palenville nestled in New York's Catskill Mountains, formed The Felice Brothers in 2006 with his siblings James and Ian. After undertaking an unofficial apprenticeship playing in the subways of New York City, they added some friends to the line-up and released several successful albums of rootsy, elbow-swinging Americana.

These days, however, Simone (the 'e' is silent, FYI) operates mainly as a solo artist.

His two albums to date have been moderately well-received, but it's clear that he's not exactly a household name when he takes the stage to a small but respectful crowd at the intimate Workman's Club.


Billed as an 'intimate duo show' - his friend Anna Mitchell accompanies him on harmonium, keyboards and vocals - the low lighting and tables dotted around the floor lend the venue a moody ambience that perfectly suit the sharp-suited Felice's murmured tales of dark love and loss.

He and Mitchell are at the beginning of a long tour, he says: earlier in the day, they drove through the "quaint, deranged village of Knock", which reminded him of his hometown in the Catskills. "There was no virgin there," he quips before rolling into piano ballad Bye Bye Palenville.

It's not all embellished doom and pretentious gloom, though. The songs with the most spark are those with a brisk tempo that shake the audience from their communal solemnity, like New York Times and the strummed, lively Radio Song.

He tells us of his Irish great-grandmother Bessie and how he's proud to be in a country that "values its poets more than its air force" before a rousing finale of folk song Purple Heather.