This week we were fortunate enough to be able to attend Sam Smith‘s fourth consecutive gig in London’s O2 Arena. Concluding the UK portion of his sold-out “The Thrill of it All” world tour, the night was something to celebrate for a multitude of reasons. Support came from the talented Lewis Capaldi, whose guitar-based and earthy songs were authentic but let down by his self-demeaning stage presence. Luckily, however, Sam is a natural entertainer and wooed the crowds from the second he rose from the floor on a solemn chair; singing “Burning” with all the melancholic trimmings with which we fell in love. Accompanied by an equally talented live band and four backing singers, the night was both triumphant and heartbreaking. Leading us through his best work – including a remastered version of “Money on my Mind” and “Nirvana” – the crowd was enveloped in the rich and cascading vocals of his heart. Special mention must go to his breathtaking rendition of the Oscar-winning “Writings on the Wall”, during which the large pyramid adorning the back of the stage erupted and broke apart. A truly phenomenal concert to which no amount of praise can do justice: deserving in every way of the exclusive boat-based after party that followed for friends and family.
As a self-professed sufferer of stage fright, Hannah Reid (vocalist for London Grammar) has, in the past, had a tendency to shy away from touring. After a sell-out tour they are back to promote their second album, “Truth is a Beautiful Thing”, in a small series of intimate gigs. Tonight I saw them at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall – a beautiful venue with less than half the capacity of their last tour’s dates. Entering the stage with a quiet gracefulness, the Nottingham-based trio of Hannah, Dan and Dot modestly slipped into “Who Am I”. Backlit by three mesh screens, intricate projections of life illuminated their silhouettes. A gentle cascade of watery images – bacteria multiplying; mountains swaying – flickered softly and they guided us through both new and old tracks. Their stage demeanour was in keeping with their music: mellow indie pop – un-showing, yet authentic. Hannah is a lady of few words but great talent, and so the three of them took it in turns to introduce tracks with an endearing shyness and chat to the smitten crowd. “Hey Now” got a huge resins from the audience as expected, but it was during the less-assuming “Rooting for You” when Hannah really shone. Taking a seat to help her with the high notes, she angelically darted between notes like a floating dandelion head. A truly magnificent performance.
After such an amazing weekend I could not wait to go out with a bang – the Sunday headliners were to be the infamous Kings of Leon – but when the time came the most enjoyable thing about their set their departure from the stage. Now I put my hands up here, admitting that I’m not familiar with their songs save for “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody”, but I could’ve said the same about a whole host of other artists of the festival. It takes a real nerve to assume that you can walk under the spotlights and everyone will know your music. Of course a handful inevitably will, but performing is just one aspect: you must also entertain. Very few songs were introduced, there were no opportunities to singalong and any opportunities to warm to the crowd were ignored. Now obviously a set can be successful without these things but it appears that they need some suggestions. In fact, they appeared to walk on, play the songs (in which they looked rather bored if I’m going there) and walk off to reap the shrivelled fruits of a lacklustre attempt at headlining. It took all of my energy to resist joining the hoards of bored festival-goers dribbling away from the Main Stage to find something more exciting – there was grass underfoot and I’m sure I would have had more fun counting its blades.
Arguably (and I say this because of my own identical preconceptions) with electronic music, live performances do not require the same level of talent as other genres. With pre-recorded synths you need only press play on a laptop, pair it with some impressive (yet unrelated) pyrotechnics and bam: you have a flawless set. Clean Bandit, however, do not fall into this trap. That is, members Grace, Luke and Jack ensure the focus of their music is live instrumental, and along with accompanying vocalists and backing musicians the result was the perfection of pre-recorded electronica achieved through a more classically-trained medium. They played a variety of their hits, bringing Louisa Johnson out to sing “Tears” and Anne-Marie out to sing “Rockabye”, who had performed on another stage earlier in the day.
As I have said before, Lorde may have been the Queen of Saturday’s performances but Christine and the Queens completely stole the show the day after. Even though I was quite familiar with her tracks, it soon dawned on me that the music is only part of the package. When you watch Christine and the Queens you are immersed in a world of delicately twisted movements and French discotheque: you are immersed in an experience rather than a sound. From the word go she completely blew me away – from the simple lighting behind her to the impeccably choreographed movements of her five dancers, she took us on an emotional journey that went everywhere from pushing the boundaries of gendered expectations to the victims of Manchester. Clearly the inspiration she takes comes from real-life, and that is the reason why her music is so powerful.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Rita Ora performing. It dawned on me that she is the type of artist who perhaps as a household name isn’t on the forefront of the typical musical radar but is actually responsible for a huge wealth of hit records. You could sense how much she genuinely enjoyed the festival – her body language radiated with ecstasy as she weaved in and out of her backing dancers with a huge grin on her face, and when we thought it couldn’t get any better she treated us to a surprise appearance by Raye (the singer on “You Don’t Know Me” by Jax Jones) and Charli XCX with who she performed the new record “Girls”.
As a firm favourite of guitarleaves, I knew that Circa Waves would once again deliver the rough-edged, lovable soft rock for which they are known. It may have been a midday slot but the tent was by no means under-filled. I think one of the things which makes the band so special is their ability to relate to the crowd in few words. There is a fine line between allowing the tracks to talk for themselves and talking too much, and while the band may err on the side of the former, you still come away feeling as though you have a personal connection. And even if you don’t -what’s better than good music to accompany the “T-Shirt Weather”?
At just eighteen years old Shawn Mendes has taken the world by storm with his soft Canadian vocals. Finding his success with short snippets of covers on Vine, he is no stranger to large arena crowds – Radio 1’s Big Weekend Hull 2017 may have been his first ever UK festival but it was by no means out of his comfort zone. Alternating between guitar, vocals and the piano he effortlessly wooed the thousands in front of him before enjoying several other artists’ sets from backstage (I’m looking at you, Kings of Leon).
I suppose when the entire band was born in the same hospital there must be some sort of connection that runs deeper than most others. It was evident that five-piece Manchester band Blossoms had spent a great deal of time together from the way they played – a complete trust and knowledge of each others’ abilities helped them through a polished and admirable set. Their debut album may have only been released a year ago but they already have a loyal fanbase, and if the number of people flooding into the tent mid-performance is anything to go by, it is a rapidly growing one. There were a handful of acts which really stood out for me during the festival, and Blossoms were a proud member of this elite group. Have a listen to their performance of “Charlemagne” below and I’m sure you will understand why:
As I wearily dragged my sore feet across the threshold of Burton Constable Hall – weary from ten hours of Dad-dancing the day before – my plan was to head straight to the coffee vendor. But rather than an Americano I was met with a British pick-me-up: Little Mix. Now I’m sure I’m not alone when I say my preconception of the group is that they are no doubt incredibly successful but because I don’t fit the demographic of a young girl I would never be their biggest fan. I think after watching their performance the notion isn’t as far-fetched as I might have thought. I think I was most impressed with their talent – as strange as that sounds I was half-expecting a lip-synced cheesy autotune (as is the case with many high-calibre pop artists) but it was evident that each of the perfect harmonies and rehearsed choreography were a result of handwork and dedication. I was mildly shocked, but incredibly impressed.