It has been a pretty incredible 12 months or so for 22-year-old Londoner Dua Lipa. Her rise from relative unknown to major recording artist has come quickly, helped in no small part by an album packed with material that ranks among the most accomplished British pop music of recent years.
Her current ‘Self Titled’ tour – so named since her debut album is indeed self-titled – has seen her packing out venues around the UK with most dates sold out soon after going on sale. In Bournemouth, the clamour was clear, with the queue to get in going around the block. Once the show started, it became clear that the hype had plenty of substance behind it. Lipa was super-energetic, putting plenty of oomph into her performance throughout and transmitting that energy to the audience.
Her set saw her perform most of the tracks from her debut LP, including opener Hotter Than Hell, Blow Your Mind (Mwah), Be The One, and the collaborative tracks that have helped her raise her profile so effectively this year, namely Scared To Be Lonely, and No Lie.
This was a high tempo, superbly polished display, with Lipa’s wide range vocals flawless throughout, and a visual spectacle emphasised by a slick lighting set-up. It’s all a far cry from when we first saw her live back in 2015, performing at Bristol’s tiny Start The Bus venue (now HY Brasil Music Club) in front of a modest crowd of around 100. Although there was nothing lacking in her performance that night, she has certainly grown in stature and as a performer, with her strong material and powerful live show elevating her to the big league.
She wrapped things up with New Rules, arguably the best pop track of the year so far. It was also Dua Lipa’s first UK number one… and almost certainly it won’t be her last.
Photos: Becca Egerstrom
Pop-rock trio Banfi took to the stage at The Joiners in Southampton as part of their September UK tour. We first caught these guys live at Dot To Dot in Bristol back in May and they were one of the real gems of the line-up, impressing with an accomplished live show, so their tour was one we had to catch.
The set opened with Where We Part, a song which immediately got a cheer from the crowd and everyone singing along and dancing. This was followed by Answers and newest release, June.
A cover of Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street came next, perfectly suited to their style and the delicate vocals of lead singer Joe Banfi. The band then continued to perform their original material, including signature tune Happy When You Go and Sync favourite She Comes Home. Banfi closed their set with Rosedale House with the crowd singing along and clearly gutted when it was all over.
Banfi are visibly at ease on stage, smiling and interacting with one another as well as the crowd. The band mentioned they have an album scheduled for release next year. If their live show is anything to go by, it’ll be an absolute must-have.
Review & Photos: Phoebe Reeks
Blaenavon put on an exciting and action-packed performance for their set on the Invaders of the Future stage at Bestival 2017. With the band hailing from various parts of Hampshire, lead singer Ben Gregory recognised familiar faces in the crowd as they performed so close to home.
The band owned the stage, performing several songs from their recently released debut album, That’s Your Lot, including My Bark is Your Bite, Let’s Pray and Orthodox Man as well as older song, Into the Night. The tent was packed out with fans singing along.
They closed their set with Prague 99, which the crowd really responded to, singing back the lyrics loud and proud. The song ended with a frenzy of guitar and drums as Gregory jumped off stage and got a little closer to the front row fans.
There’s no shortage of talk about Blaenavon right now. Believe the hype.
Review & Photos: Phoebe Reeks
Almost criminally underrated vocalist and musician Andrew Roachford first grabbed wider attention when a 1989 re-issue of his song Cuddly Toy hit number 4 in the UK charts. That and follow-up Family Man were two of the huge gems from his spellbinding eponymous debut album which was released the previous year – and still sounds fantastic almost 30 years on.
We’ve picked out a live version of a slightly later tune for our Backtrack however. Only To Be With You hit the UK Top 30 and was the lead song on the Londoner’s 1994 album Permanent Shade of Blue. This live recording reveals the energy and emotion that comes through in Roachford’s raw yet smooth, soulful voice and gives a hint at what fans can expect on his forthcoming UK tour which includes October dates in Southport (13 October), Leicester (14), Birmingham (20), Sheffield (21), Southampton (27), and Seaton (28), before heading on to a host of other destinations throughout November including Newcastle, Glasgow, London and Manchester. See Facebook for full listings and ticket links to these shows to catch an artist who really should be on everyone’s must-see list.
Roachford – Only To Be With You (Live)
For a band that has been around in one form or another for over 20 years, the Hot 8 Brass Band remain something of a best kept secret for many. Their current tour of the UK is in support of new album On The Spot and although interest has been piqued by last month’s performance at Glastonbury, there’s still much to discover about their unique blend of hip-hop, funk and jazz all wrapped up in the marching band style so closely associated with their hometown of New Orleans.
The backbone of the whole show is band leader Bennie Pete, whose sousaphone is not only a striking visual aspect to the band, but provides the low bassline on which the rest of the sound is built. Frontman and trumpet player Alvarez Huntley is the on-stage spokesman for the group, leading the crowd into as much audience participation as he can by urging them to wave their arms and sing along – but only singing when he says so!
No-one was going to argue with him, such was the positivity and infectious energy in the room. In fact, it’s hard to know how they manage to keep the whole thing going as one seamless thread for the duration of their 90 minute set, with virtually no breaks between songs. The music itself was supercharged throughout, with a mixture of their own material as well as a host of covers all given the ‘Hot 8’ treatment. Among the best of these were the Snoop Dogg track What’s My Name and the Marvin Gaye standard Sexual Healing.
It’s hard to think of a more unique act on the circuit right now. If you have an opportunity to catch them at one of their remaining festival dates this year (including Truck Festival in Oxfordshire and Tramlines in Sheffield) then best make them a priority.
Despite being a pretty big deal in her homeland, Swedish singer Tove Styrke has remained mysteriously under the radar in the UK. With this, her comeback gig after a period of time in the studio, she did much to further the mystery of why she isn’t more up front and centre, with a powerful, high tempo performance that suggests she should be on a far bigger stage – metaphorically as well as literally.
Her long-standing domestic profile is due in part to a third-place finish in Sweden’s version of Pop Idol back in 2009, but the music that immediately followed that TV experience in her youth is a far cry from where this sassy lady is at nowadays. New song Say My Name offers a good handle on the strong and creative approach to pop that Styrke is taking, but her hour-long London show was nicely varied, stringing together a mix of material old and new.
Kicking of with Samurai Boy and Borderline from her second album Kiddo, she followed that with another from the same LP, Ego, which is arguably the most accomplished song of her career up to this point.
She excitedly announced that she had a couple of new songs to play for the first time, and they went down a storm; Mistakes and On The Low giving some indication that her third album will represent another major step forward for her material, full of hooks and energy.
She returned to tracks from Kiddo, mining the album for Who’s Got News, Number One, and Snaren before launching into new tune Say My Name, which was delivered with panache as the crowd sung the lyrics back to her. But it was encore tune Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You which really sums up what she is all about. Bold, confident and fun – it’s pure pop… and she’s brilliant at it.
Performing as part of the Bristol leg of the Dot To Dot Festival, The Big Moon brought their spiky, vibrant indie-rock to a full capacity SWX. It was unsurprising that they drew such a crowd – the group has been earning high praise while extensively touring debut album Love In The 4th Dimension. But the considerable hype surrounding Juliette Jackson’s band is not unjustified; their live proposition is particularly impressive.
As is always the case with festival sets, their show was all too short and sweet, but they crammed the favourites into their half hour timeslot, including Formidable, Cupid and ending with the superb Sucker. There was also a brilliant cover of Madonna’s Beautiful Stranger – a great song, given a cracking twist by the London four-piece.
Upcoming indie four-piece, The Magic Gang proved that they are very much ones to watch at a lively show at London venue Heaven.
After the release of their third EP – the imaginatively titled EP Three – the group ended their UK tour by playing to an enthusiastic crowd in the capital. Opening with song Lady, Please, fans were already alive with energy in the pit. This continued through old song She Won’t Ghost and single All This Way as the crowd swayed back and forth in time to the melodic guitar riffs.
Who said guitar music was dead? Certainly not these four, as they play indie anthem after indie anthem with the full heart and soul of the crowd accompanying them. Feeling Better and new single How Can I Compete provoked an enthusiastic response from the fans, as some took to crowd surfing in a desperate attempt to get closer to the front. Lead vocals were shared by members Kristian Smith and Jack Kaye as they sang bittersweet lyrics like ‘And I really wanna know if it’s alright because it’s getting really hard to tell’ from single Alright – words that speak to any heartbroken teenager.
The Magic Gang – How Can I Compete
It shows that these four are destined for greatness as the energy from both the fans and the band could barely be contained in the small London venue. Hopefully looking to release an album sometime in 2017, The Magic Gang have big things ahead of them.
Words and photos: Tabetha Parrick
Almost a month after the release of his debut album Sweet Dreamer, Will Joseph Cook played his biggest show to date at London’s Heaven.
He opened with the title track from the album, a song that radiates energy which was reflected back from the crowd. Going on to play tune Plastic followed with single Take Me Dancing – no one was standing still in the venue. He went on to ask if anyone knew what day it was just before playing the song For Thursday, adding that he had been waiting all tour for that opportunity.
Cook’s melodic voice filled the venue as much as he filled the stage with his presence, taking breaks from dancing only to play guitar. All eyes were fixed on him as he got fans to crouch down during the verses of song Alive only to jump up during the chorus ready to shout the words “it’s good to be alive” at the top of their lungs.
However it wasn’t all upbeat party tunes, with the singer playing heartfelt ballads Water’s Gone Cold and Habit towards the end of the set. It was a captivating moment as he stood alone on the stage singing with hundreds of voices in the crowd.
He looked like he was enjoying himself as much as his fans, saying “I’m trying not to make long speeches between every track but it’s very hard. It’s such an exciting time to be releasing music. I just want to say thank you.” And an exciting time it was, finishing with songs Biggest Fan and Beach (I Wanna Make You Mine) – both instant classics from the album – and everyone was singing along.
It’s Will Joseph Cook’s own words that capture perfectly what everyone in that venue was thinking by then: “Look around us, this is fucking mental.”
Words and photos: Tabetha Parrick
We never tire of banging on about Fickle Friends. Not only have they put out a string of ridiculously catchy tunes over the past year or two, but they’re also a superbly polished-but-fun live proposition. We saw them late last year during their own headline UK tour (see review) but were so pleased to be able to catch them again, this time in support of The Kooks.
They made an impression with all their radio-friendly hits, including Swim and Cry Baby, with latest banger Hello Hello being a particular highlight. Catch them at a festival this summer if you can – they’re doing the summer big-time with appearances at Liverpool Sound City, The Great Escape, Secret Garden Party, Kendal Calling, Leeds and Reading. They’ll be capping that off with their biggest headline show to date at London’s o2 Forum in Kentish Town on 26 October – tickets here.
Photos by Phoebe Reeks
The Kooks returned to the O2 Academy Bournemouth for a sold-out date on their The Best Of… So Far tour, a mammoth 17-date run of shows that concludes on 13 May at London’s Alexandra Palace.
They rattled through many of their best-known tracks from a back-catalogue of music stretching back over a decade, including Eddie’s Gun, She Moves In Her Own Way, Sofa Song, and Junk of the Heart (Happy), as well as newer material such as current single Be Who You Are.
The Kooks have forged a solid reputation for strong songwriting and engaging live shows over the years since forming in Brighton more than 10 years ago. Frontman Luke Pritchard was in great form, clearly enjoying this extensive return to the road.
Other highlights of the set included Seaside, Always Where I Need To Be and Ooh La ahead of an encore consisting of Around Town and Shine On before ending with signature song Naïve.
The release of a ‘best of’ album and tour can often signal the beginning of the end for a band – a precursor to winding down and fading away. But everything about this triumphant performance suggested that there’s still plenty more to come.
Review and Photos: Phoebe Reeks
If there was some way of harnessing the energy in the room from a gig like this then it would probably solve many of the world’s energy issues at a stroke. Showcasing tracks from their debut album Beyond Repair, Blood Youth metaphorically took the roof off Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Room.
They kicked off with Making Waves before launching through much of the album, including Savanna, I Remember, and Parasite. Their fairly short but very sweet set ended with the epic single Reason to Stay. It was a triumphant gig – thankfully without any of the unwanted drama of the previous night’s show in Leeds which was curtailed when a fan suffered a serious leg injury during the gig. This time around, the high octane fun was allowed to run it’s full course, safely but at full speed – and maximum volume.
Photos: Jessica Piochon
Australian singer-songwriter Matt Gresham, has been making a big impression during his recent support slot on James Arthur‘s Back From The Edge tour. Gresham made his UK debut last summer with superb single Small Voices – and we spoke to him back then about his plans for making progress in the UK and Europe.
Gresham’s first break came on Australia’s X Factor, when in 2013 he quit the show citing the talent show’s artistic restrictions. Since striking out to pursue a more independent route, he has built himself a loyal following, winning over fans and critics alike in becoming one of the country’s hottest emerging talents. His song Whiskey, released in 2014, won Western Australian Music Awards ‘Song of the Year’. Last year, he played a string of showcases at SXSW and a sell-out Australian tour.
The past month though has been all about touring the UK with 2012 UK X-Factor winner Arthur. It’s been a different experience for him no doubt, performing solo to some sizeable venues when his live shows would usually involve a full band. But he rose to that challenge impressively well, grabbing the attention of all the early attendees during this Manchester show – strangely, a second night in the city for the tour having also visited earlier in the month.
Gresham will be releasing his debut album in August, and this tour was very much a preview of some of that material, although there were some familiar songs in there, including Survive On Love, Ghost, and Sync favourite Small Voices.
Now back in Oz for a couple of live shows in early April, he has described the past month or so touring with James Arthur as “the best time of my life”. But there’s little doubt he has plenty of good times ahead as more and more people discover the music of this talented singer.
Photos: Becca Arnold
It’s hard to believe that American pop punk outfit All Time Low have already racked up six studio albums – with number seven on the way in the shape of Last Young Renegade, due out on 2 June.
This was a chance for fans to see them in a smaller venue following last year’s Manchester Arena show and their set included a varied mix of old and new material, although with an emphasis on some of the more well-known favourites rather than too much emphasis on tracks from the forthcoming LP.
Opener Kicking & Screaming was followed by Weightless, Somewhere In Neverland and Six Feet Under The Stars. Beach balls were released into the crowd during Somethings Gotta Give, a track from their 2015 album Future Hearts, keeping those closest to the stage especially entertained for the middle section of the set.
There was the obligatory cheesy mobile phone flashlight moment during Therapy when batteries were drained to help illuminate frontman Alex Gaskarth while he did his thing. That track aside, the pace never really slowed throughout, although there were several other stand-outs. Take Cover and Dirty Laundry certainly scored highly in the crowd-singalong stakes.
During final song of the night Dear Maria, Count Me In, from their 2007 second album So Wrong, It’s Right, Gaskarth and Jack Barakat handed their guitars to their crew before taking up positions on the barrier to sing with fans, giving some of their most fervent devotees a bit of up-close-and-personal time.
Full of energy and showmanship, it’s really rather reassuring to see that these guys have lost none of their live show spark after 14 years in the business.
Photos: Becca Arnold
Just days after the launch of their self-titled debut album, Scottish rock outfit Vukovi brought their high octane live show to Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Room for a hot and sweaty evening of energy and plenty of noise.
Kicking off with latest single La Di Da, they pretty much showcased the entire album during a set of around 50 minutes or so. Weirdo, And He Lost His Mind, Bouncy Castle, I’m Wired and Prey were all strong highlights, with singer Janine Shilstone proving herself to be a highly accomplished frontwoman for the hotly-tipped four-piece.
The album has been receiving rave reviews – not least by us – but the key measure is always how the material stacks up live, and it was a test they passed with flying colours. They clearly won’t be playing venues this small for much longer, especially after more music-loving punters clock on to them this summer during their many festival slots.
Vukovi saved the best until last though, with an encore of Animal and Boy George to send the punters home on a high and with their ears no doubt ringing.
Photos: Jessica Piochon