Coldplay at Wembley 16.06.2016

Coldplay redeem my faith in the world with a spectral showpiece.

The second of four sold out nights at the home of English failure (football*) saw the London band paint their home town multi-coloured, like they swallowed a rainbow and projectile vomited it across Wembley.

Support acts Lianne Le Havas and Alessia Cara proved to be underwhelming, failing to clear the dark clouds that hovered literally and metaphorically after the horrific events of previous weeks. Despite the former seducing us with her charm and soul, the latter lectured us with her ‘be who you want to be, not what the media wants you to be’, broken-hearted, excessive thanks etc. spiel. Considering the scale of Coldplay’s previous supports (see Jay Z and Girls Aloud circa 2008), the £70 ticket prices perhaps could have stretched further and provided more than just a gazebo to protect their supports from the rain.

Nonetheless the band the 80,000 fans came to see spared no expense theatrically and pyrotechnically. Coldplay’s arrival on stage brought the first of numerous explosions of confetti of the night. Entire forests must have been demolished to supply Coldplay with confetti for their tour; it was possibly the reason why Chris Martin’s ex-wife and renowned environmental nut Gwyneth Paltrow ‘consciously uncoupled’ him. A huge commitment to his trade, dare I say it marital martyrdom. Martin and co. transformed Wembley into a glistening spectacle with an impressive lights show involving LED wristbands; the stadium must have resembled a UFO from afar. The audience thus became part of the show, rather than just spectators. Coldplay clearly weren’t put off by the fact that this same stunt left their Mylo Xyloto Tour completely unprofitable. Nevertheless, the stadium glowed and sparkled beautifully like a psychedelic acid trip from the 60s. Even the band’s instruments dripped multi-coloured paint as though they had fallen into an M & Ms mixing vat. This all distracted from the fact the title track from the band’s latest effort A Head Full of Dreams opened the show rather modestly, despite Chris Martin’s best efforts to lead the procession like a master of ceremonies with the demeanour of an excitable Jack Russell.

Martin gets his fair share of stick but it is hard to deny his showmanship qualities. While the rest of Coldplay stand mute on the grand stage, the band’s lead singer and leader entertains the crowd like a poorly dressed performing monkey (see his repugnant, rainbow-coloured, over-sized basketball sneakers and long-sleeved and short sleeved t-shirt combo) . His energetic bursts up and down the stage runway, solo-spinning like a drunk in a club just before lights go up, not to mention his ability to hold a tune at the same time, renders Martin a real tour de force to admire. However with the more downbeat numbers like Yellow (gotten out of the way surprisingly early), The Scientist, and Fix You seeing mass sing-a longs, it shows involvement takes no persuading. As the lyrics reverberated around North London, it became clear how personal and recognisable they are to each and every member of the audience; a testament to just how ingrained Coldplay have become within British culture.

13450891_10157042234300187_6799952874059811115_nNew, seventh album A Head Full of Dreams was, as expected, heavily showcased this evening. So much so that the Grammy Award-winning debut Parachutes and Brit award-winning and Grammy-nominated X & Y were neglected in favour for the mixed reviewed A Head Full of Dreams and Chris Martin’s sickening ode to his break up with Paltrow, Ghost Stories. Nevertheless it sounded better live, with the likes of Hymn for the Weekend (minus Beyonce, unfortunately) and Jonny Buckland’s infectious guitar rhythms on lead single Adventure of a Lifetime proving that every Coldplay song is made for live performances.

Swapping from the main stage to a smaller podium in the centre of the stadium, the band oscillated to more subdued numbers like 2014’s Magic and the audience Instagram-requested (Coldplay you don’t help yourself) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, wonderfully harking back to second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, Martin and Buckland crowded round the podium in what were nice, stripped-back, understated renditions, particularly compared to the colourful parade that had preceded. A poignant, yet dreadful, cover of the late, great David Bowie’s Heroes, also featured, with the band paying tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Orlando victims, MP Jo Cox and Christina Grimmie, throughout the night.

Paradise was as fun as you’d imagine, until what seemed like the concert had been hijacked by Calvin Harris for an unnecessary nightclub rave-esque ending. Mylo Xyloto’s Charlie Brown provided a highlight of the night, it turned the concert from toe-tapping into full-scale jumping even getting the elderly audience members (sorry father) bouncing enthusiastically. Viva La Vida was the peak, and would later echo along Wembley Way all the way to Wembley Park Station. The encore, however, failed to elevate the concert to new heights with most of the songs you’d expect at the climax used up earlier, instead opting to finish with Up&Up; nice but just that.

Coldplay, love them or loathe them, are currently the biggest pop band in the world. Now veterans of the big stage, having performed the ‘prestigious’ Superbowl Half Time Corporate Circus, and headlining Glastonbury for – what seemed like – the 16th time, their pensions are well and truly secure, please now get back to writing good albums.

Blossoms at Zephyr Lounge with Viola Beach 11.02.2016

Blossoms have quickly established themselves as the new heroes of the Mancunian rock scene, having been passed the highly decorated, highly respected (and admittedly highly drug-laced) mantle previously held by the likes of Oasis and The Stone Roses. This notion is riddled with inaccuracies though, as Blossoms are proudly neither Mancunian nor a rock band. With Joe Donovan sporting an ‘I ❤ Stockport’ t shirt, it is a vital detail that they originate 6 miles from Manchester. It would also be foolish to liken them to these artists, asides from their regionality. They acknowledge the pressure to follow in the footsteps of the bands who inspired them and the Britpop and Baggy movements but are not willing to imitate them. Blossoms have managed to put their own spin on things, but with these ‘elements of euphoria maintained’. To their credit, you’d have to be musically inept or hard of hearing to compare Blossoms to Oasis or The Stone Roses sonically.

Tom Ogden, lead vocalist and guitarist, openly declares the band to be a pop band – the second mistake being calling Blossoms a rock band. They proudly squash the cockroach-like stigma that is outing yourself as a pop band. Others should take note: Mr Healy of The 1975 and Daniel Smith of Bastille, own up. This possibly explains the band’s choice of music as I entered their dressing room backstage at Zephyr Lounge in Leamington Spa. It’s not The Smiths or The Courteeners preparing the band for the gig, it’s Beyonce featuring Jay Z’s Drunk In Love, and there’s no effort to hide this. They’re not pretentious in their musical influences with inspirations ranging from the Grand Theft Auto Vice City soundtrack to ABBA. Lead guitarist Josh Dewhurst takes the opportunity to prove his true status as a true ABBA fan by announcing the traditional Swedish folk background of ABBA’s Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as if it were common knowledge. Although, when recalling his favourite ABBA songs, he could only manage to recollect ‘the one about money or someone’s mama’. Bassist Charlie Salt outdoes Dewhurst, crediting Kevin and Perry and it’s dance, techno and trance sound for his ‘hypnotic basslines’. This interesting and slightly obscure music taste is surprisingly reflective in their very current but simultaneously retro sound.

While the band are delighted with the sold out Zephyr Lounge gig and do an impressive job rocking it, it’s obvious that the sell-out, 2,000 capacity gig at Manchester Albert Hall later in the month cannot come soon enough. A homecoming gig of that magnitude is a salivating prospect for a band yet to release an album. The band recently supported The Libertines at the Manchester Arena and they reveal they ‘felt most comfortable’ on the 20,000 capacity stage, and rubbing noses with Pete Doherty. Blossoms clearly have their sights set on bigger things and more specifically, bigger stages. This quiet confidence is refreshing and gives them a competitive edge over annoyingly modest others. Ogden exemplifies this, stating that they ‘feel like they deserve it and the songs are good enough’, which is evident in their live performance brimming with swagger and self-assurance. They have been recognised by placing fourth in the BBC Sound of 2016, after all.

The unassuming Blossoms member Myles Kellock sits in the corner behind a curtain of blond hair plugged into an Apple Mac as if recharging himself. His only contribution to the interview is when talking about a lost laptop in a taxi in Manchester after their Libertines support slot: ‘completely f*cking gone’ accompanied by a cutthroat gesture. Despite being a man of few words, it is, in fact, the mute keyboard player that makes the band’s sound truly outstanding. His significant contribution of 80s synth and hints of psychedelia add to the already exceptional combination of the impressively mature vocals and towering Joey Ramone-like presence of frontman Ogden, Dewhursts’s powerful guitar solos, the ‘hypnotic basslines’ of Salt, all held together by Donovan barely breaking a sweat on drums. This fusion of dance, synth, rock and indie proves they really are more than a pop band, and shows why Blossoms won’t fade into the endless abyss of British indie-pop bands.

Blossoms’ big hit and the highlight of the night is undoubtedly Charlemagne. An instant indie classic, it encapsulates all the individual talents of the band into three perfect minutes. The name was introduced to Ogden by his historian brother: Charlamagne AKA Charles the Great, King of the Franks who united much of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. The elaborate but fitting title serves as a metaphor for placing someone on a pedestal, and the song is cited as a ‘turning point for their sound’ which has been recognised by the band with the new album reflecting that. Other notable mentions are Blown Rose which has obvious Smiths and Suede influences, At Most A Kiss, which demonstrates Kellock’s importance in producing head-nodding, toe-tapping beats, and set-closer Blow, just another example of their contagious melodies.

Blossoms have a big summer ahead of them, consisting of unrelenting festival touring as far as Japan. More importantly, the release of their highly anticipated debut album, date currently unconfirmed but projected by Ogden to be sometime in the summer. As teasingly far away as this seems the band were clearly feeling very positive about it, promising that it sounded ‘really good’ and even ‘exceeded their expectations’. Ogden proclaims that it is ‘best thing they could produce’ and recognises The Coral’s James Skelly, who produced it, for bringing the best out of the band. Donovan summarises the band’s feeling towards their forthcoming album perfectly, like ‘the feeling of doing your homework the night before’. For someone who knows this feeling all too well, they evidently have reason to be quietly confident.

On my exit, Drunk In Love is resumed, and the band returned to frivolities before effortlessly owning the Zephyr Lounge stage. It is unquestionable that this was a unique opportunity to catch a band destined for greatness in such intimate surroundings. Expect to see Blossoms playing much larger venues in the near future, which is why I will be catching them again at Kasbah on March 4th.


About half way through the interview, the room starts rocking as the sound of the opening band reverberates around the dressing room. I manage to catch the second half of this exciting set by an upcoming indie-pop band called Viola Beach. They play tightly and energetically, reflecting the enthusiasm of a group fresh to the world of touring; the desire of a band hungry to make it big and the confidence to do so. This is most evident during their final song, Swings and Waterslides, as Frontman Kris Leonard tosses the microphone stand onto the floor of the crowd and falling to his back shredding his guitar from the ground. It’s the sight of aspiring rock stars living their dreams.

On Sunday 14th February news emerged of a fatal car crash in Sweden involving Viola Beach members Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin and their manager Craig Tarry. The horrific details of this incident are not worth focusing on. What is worth acknowledging is the reaction of the music world, rallying to support and honour this band. The aforementioned Swings and Waterslides has shot from 60,000 Youtube views to well over a million. It has also reached number two in the iTunes chart (at the time of writing, three days after the news of their deaths), following a campaign to get the song to number one. The campaign’s success isn’t out of sympathy, however, it is the genuine appreciation of a talented band on the cusp of big things. What a tragic way for millions of new fans to discover and adore a young, promising band called Viola Beach.

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George Ezra at Brixton Academy 20.02.2015

Not quite Ezra-Ordinary

George Ezra provides an enjoyable show that will only get better with experience

The beautiful Brixton Academy was a fitting venue to stage one of Britain’s most exciting emerging musical talents of the past few years. However it wasn’t big enough to fit the thousands of fans left disappointed after missing out on tickets for a tour that entirely sold out in ten minutes. Streams of fans queued outside the venue filtering down several Brixton backstreets, eagerly anticipating hearing some popular soulful blues. George Ezra had toured festivals relentlessly last summer and supported Sam Smith in the US last year, but this night was all about him and the backdrop embellishing the word ‘Ezra’ confirmed it. As 8:30 neared, the sold-out Academy waited in anticipation to witness Ezra and that colossal voice.

Jacob Anderson better known by his stage name Raleigh Ritchie, even better known as his character from Game of Thrones Grey Worm, was the warm up act. Evidently delighted to be supporting Ezra, Ritchie leapt around the stage to his hip-hop beats like an AA battery bunny after drinking a four pack of Red Bull. He is arguably a more talented musician and endurance jumper-up-and-downer than actor, and he is definitely someone to look out for on the hip-hop music scene. Though genre-wise not an obvious choice for a support act, Ritchie managed to get the crowd into some sort of dancing mood and ready for the main event.

Tensions grew with the imminent arrival of Ezra as a black screen shielded the stage throughout the interval. This would fall to unveil George Ezra and his band as they simultaneously launched into the very popular and infectious Cassy O. Bar a minor smirk, Ezra looked relatively unfazed by the scale of the crowd, a packed out Brixton academy, as he confidently approached the microphone. As he raced through the song like an unstoppable freight train, what became apparent was his self-assured swagger. Ezra, as he would throughout the concert, swayed, rocked, bounced up and down and side-to-side like he was ballroom dancing with his guitar. It proved to be a strong start, one immediately involving sing-a-longs and dancing, and that would set the night off on the right foot. The next few songs contained the big singles Blame it on Me and Listen to the Man which inevitably went down well with the crowd. Playing these songs so early on just reflects how confident Ezra is in his back catalogue and album.

Between each song Ezra would take a swig of tea presumably to numb voice to those famous gravelly bass baritone levels reminiscent of Lead Belly or Barry White. After all most conversations regarding George Ezra involve someone saying he doesn’t look like he should sound like that, which is true, he sounds like a 50 year old southern blues singer, not a skinny baby-faced 21 year old in a groovy shirt. In spite of this the hysterical screaming of girls in the audience did bring his voice down an octave. Additionally there was not as much talk by Ezra during these breaks, only to point out the relevance of each song to his year travelling round Europe, which forms the premise of his album. It was difficult to tell if he was overwhelmed, humbled, shy, or uninterested. I should probably let him off due to the fact that he was so ill the Manchester gig the next day had to be cancelled. Ezra did, however, spare us the relentless, cringe-worthy thanks at every opportunity that many young artists feel is necessary, so I appreciated that.

Ezra’s big mistake was sending away his backing band, who looked like they were discarded members of Mumford and sons, to perform three solo songs. Beginning with the unrecognisable and unimpressive Over The Creek, it sounded as though his normally reliable semi-acoustic guitar was out of tune. This was followed by a less than average cover of one of Ezra’s (and every singer songwriter that ever existed) idols Bob Dylan. Girl From The North Country went lost on the many teenage fan girls in the audience. Fortunately the backing band re-emerged and blasted out Ezra’s jazziest number Stand by Your Gun bringing the set – and the audience – back to life.

The Bristolian had far better luck with his next cover of Macy Gray’s I Try that he had recorded for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge earlier that week. The nostalgia of this 90s/00s hit was ripe amongst audience members who thoroughly appreciated this number and it looked like Ezra was enjoying himself by this point. It also reflected Ezra’s talent to make this classic song his own, smothering it with blues and his iconic low vocals.

Spectacular Rival would provide evidence of Ezra’s vocal range and talents as he reached depths that no man has ever sung at. It was this, I’m sure, that was to blame for the ice in my drink instantly melting. Beautiful ballad Breakaway proved to be the highlight of the night, a simplistic number that slowly built up to a big sing-a-long, as a full Brixton Academy bellowed ‘breakaway’ at the pleased 21 year old.

Ezra decided not to save Budapest, his biggest single for the encore, the most obvious choice and what most probably expected. I felt like this was a mistake as he possibly peaked too soon, as the crowd euphorically recited the words. It was evidence proving that this song named after the capital city of Hungary was one of 2014s biggest singles. Unfortunately I noticed some ‘fans’ leaving after Budapest before the encore. I guess they’d seen what they wanted, the one song they knew, and didn’t want to risk missing their trains home to witness a few more songs.

Instead he would finish with Did You Hear the Rain?, which is his most passionate song, and the only one that could pass as a rock number. The song opened with an incredible acapella section that built up for a minute and a half before unleashing into a rhythm that is difficult not to dance to. By the end of the song Ezra’s guard and cool exterior was non-existent as he tore into a furious, roaring climax. If I had to nit-pick I would say that Did You Hear the Rain? would make a fantastic opening number, immediately establishing a fiery mood for an evening of delight.

While overall it was generally an enjoyable and impressive gig, there is definite room for improvement. George will be keen to hear my suggestions for improvements, these include a set list shake up, greater crowd interaction and call and response style sing-a-longs, but this will come with experience. Ezra has had some year, his debut album Wanted On Voyage reached number one, went triple platinum, he received four Brit Award nominations and his current tour sold out in ten minutes. The most staggering thing about these achievements is that he is only 21 years old. He undoubtedly has a fantastic future ahead of him.

Also, just in case the girl stood in front of me during the gig happens to go to Warwick University: I may be six foot two but I still can’t see over or through your arms which you held up and waved about for an hour straight like a tree climbing sloth. You will never know how frustrating that was for everyone stood around you.