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Simone Felice: Caught live talking intimately about near-death experience

Simone Felipe

Feature by Sue Wilkinson

Three months ago Simone Felice, the charismatic singer of The Duke and the King, almost died when he collapsed with life-threatening heart problems following a UK and US tour.

His devastated band feared the worst. Family, friends and fans were told to pray for the musician’s life.

Heavy duty open heart surgery saved the singer – and remarkably he’s now back on the road with a short solo tour after his miraculous recovery.

“I’m just glad to be alive and to be here,” says an emotional Simone as he hugs fans after his first UK gig following the health scare.

Simone talks openly about his dance with the angel of death and proudly displays the battle scars on his bare chest.

It’s an impressive recovery for a man who had his breast-bone sawn in two and his lungs collapse before having the main valve of his heart replaced.

On this tour the rapport with his audience is as sharp as ever as he presses his hand firmly to his heart and tells the story of his surgery.

“Got the valve of my heart replaced by a new chrome heart that ticks like a pocket watch,” says Simone before launching into the Duke and the King’s If You Ever Get Famous.

The significance of the lyrics aren’t lost on him or the audience.

“When I wrote If You Ever Get Famous two summers ago I could never have guessed at the significance of the line ‘I’ll say a prayer for your heart’,” he says with a knowing smile.

“I’m so happy to be alive and be with you guys. Being here at these gigs is so important to me. It means everything to me.”

It’s not the first time that Simone Felice has come close to death. As a teenager he suffered a brain aneurysm and was pronounced clinically dead following surgery in a local hospital.

After recovering he spent months in intensive care re-learning how to read and write.

“I was 12-years-old so it was a long time ago but it’s always stayed with me,” says Simone.

“I did die in the hospital but I came back so I always feel my time here is precious and I have to do something positive with it.”

Simone’s brush with death gives added intensity to his latest solo performances.

He looks like a man who relishes the simple joy of being alive as he plays songs from his acoustic CD, Live From A Lonely Place.

Recorded at home in his barn just a few weeks after his heart surgery, this retrospective collection features songs from the earliest Felice Brother days, Duke and the King favourites, and a traditional Celtic waltz called Wild Mountain Thyme.

On this tour Felice performs a low-key set sitting on a high stool. The gorgeous songs are so beautiful and lyrically poetic that even the gods might weep.

Old and news songs are pared down to their simple, naked beauty – with just Simone’s voice and his acoustic guitar in the mix.

“Anyone wanna hear some soul music?” he asks, strumming the opening chords to The Morning I Get To Hell.

“Imagine we’re lost in the ‘hood of Detroit. Come and get soulful with me, baby.”

A new song, New York Times, is unveiled for the first time – and goes down well with fans eager to hear new material.

After a few songs, Simone leaps off his chair, jumps into the heart of the audience and encourages fans to sing along and gather around “like a camp fire”.

“It’s just you and me in this together. Join me beside the camp fire. Sing with me.”

A show-stopping cover of Neil Young’s Helpless follows as Felice raises the tempo before ending the set by embracing everyone in the front two rows of the venue.

The most intimate of gigs comes to an end on an emotional high for a musician on a mission to make the most of his time with us.

Simone Felice plays London’s St. Pancras Old Church on Thursday, September 2, 2010.

Photo credit: Credit Lucy Hamblin.