Charlie Simpson image

Charlie Simpson – King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow, 29th January

Charlie Simpson image

Something I have never seen before occurred upon arrival at King Tut’s. There was no way in. Literally. A long line of people stretched right through the bar and out of those blasted doors I always find myself fighting with. Within minutes, the queue had stretched out even further and wound a little way, out onto the street. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat impressed. True, it also meant I had no choice but to sit and wait in the frozen air. Still, anyone who can bring in such a crowd has to be somebody very special, right? By the time I made it through the bar and upstairs to the venue, a lone guitarist (who I would later discover was the insanely talented Willow Robinson) to a packed room. I hate it when I miss this start of these things, especially one as talented as Willow Robinson. Another thing I dislike is a crowd paying no attention and chattering throughout a set. It’s not like he’s boring or terrible – far from it. At first, he struck me as something like a gruff, James Taylor – a James Taylor with attitude, if you will – and foul-mouthed in an amusing, and slightly endearing way, as though you’re never quite sure if they’re kidding or not. True enough, the chap drew polite applause at the end of each song, but it was all very half-hearted as if the crowd were suddenly aware their conversations were no longer backed by such pleasant sounds. The front row are hooked – and little wonder, really. The crowd quietens for a moment. “This song is about being fucked up, and fucked in the head,” Robinson announces; a fantastic description and one I think everyone can relate to. What’s really striking about Willow Robinson is the flawless way he plays that guitar, and the bold, rich vocals. He just oozes confidence but without any trace of arrogance. It’s refreshing to see, really. He puts in everything he’s got; unfortunately the crowd don’t really seem to be paying him much attention, if any. They are completely motionless. If only it was because they were being utterly blown away by Robinson’s incredible talent. Wake the Hell up, Glasgow!

Tonight, Blackwell consist of one guy and piano. Apparently, there’s usually also a drummer but I’ve never seen one. Admittedly, I’m going back about three years… The problem of there being a missing drummer is solved by asking the crowd for a beat. Surprisingly, most of them comply but it’s rather short-lived. And, more irritatingly, the crowd are still fucking talking over him. Despite this, the response from the crowd is getting better, and a few more are paying attention. I don’t know about you, but I get a little excited when someone pulls out a megaphone. Upbeat and jaunty, you’d probably expect the crowd to perk up, but the only thing up is the obligatory iPad. Just the one, mind. On the positive side of things, a couple of guys somewhere in the middle are having a ball. A Tears For Fears cover (‘Shout’) should go down very nicely, but barely a handful – including myself, somewhere at the back – sing along. Perhaps this is something of an indicator of the average age of the audience. Or maybe I’m just old. I suspect it may well be a combination of the two… It’s an ambitious song to cover with only a piano, but it’s a bloody good effort nonetheless. Last up is a track I heard way back when (yet still have no clue what the Hell it’s called) that calls for some participation from the crowd. As expected, it starts off well, only for the crowd to lose interest for a moment. Those guys in the middle are doing their damnedest to make up for it, and fairly soon a few more soldiers join in, however short-lived it may be. A job well done all round from Blackwell, regardless.

It isn’t long before Emma Blackery takes to the stage, so quick some are taken by surprise, myself included. I’m also surprised, however ridiculously, by how tiny the girl is. For a brief moment, I’m both concerned the crowd beneath her might just eat the poor girl alive, and so I also feel fiercely protective… Thankfully, it turns out I have nothing to be afraid of. The vocals are very much a mixed bag; part syrupy sweet, part angst-ridden and part absolute, pure gold. And people are still bloody well talking. Shut the fuck up! Emma Blackery sounds as though she’s running on sugar, caffeine and adrenaline; the girl barely even stops for breath. The highlight, I think, is the cover of Taylor Swift‘s ‘Blank Space’, and a clear crowd winner. It’s the first time most of the room has perked up a little and actually looked like they were having a good time. The cover itself is a stunning version of an already great pop song. The crowd go back to their stoic stance, and I am so close to giving up hope. Emma speaks at 100 miles per hour and comes across really well if a little on the hyperactive side. I think Glasgow would gladly have Emma Blackery back again. As soon as the tempo slows again, the talking reemerges. The song itself is just gorgeous, I cannot get my head around why nobody else has noticed. The mind boggles… A fantastic show from Emma Blackery. She’s definitely one you should be looking out for.

To roof-raising cheers and applause, Charlie Simpson bounds on stage armed with a guitar. Barely anyone notices one half of Blackwell (well, OK, the only one present tonight) taking his spot behind the piano once more. Finally, the crowd are wide awake and up for a party. Took them long enough! Opening with ‘Comets’, followed by ‘Down Down Down’, he can barely be heard over the audience who fervently offer back every single line. I can only imagine what that sounds like from way up there at the front, but from the back, it does sound awesome. ‘Thorns’ starts with a bit of a hiccup but the crowd aren’t bothered much. Charlie merely starts it all over again, and the audience carry on as though nothing had happened. It’s obvious that Charlie is totally in his element on that stage – he looks completely at ease, like he belongs right there. ‘Emily’ is in stark contrast to the previous tracks so far and is vastly different from the track on the recent album. Here, there is a whole other dimension that cannot and will not ever be heard on the album itself. It also has something of a calming effect on the crowd, too. Most are completely and utterly rapt and a few more are swaying on the spot. Just like the last time Charlie Simpson played here back, you can tell the audience is itching to dance and yet at the same time they’re almost afraid to, and I have no idea why. I’ll dance by myself, then…

A couple of times someone loudly professes their love for Charlie. The first time he very politely says thank-you, the second, he looks away as though he’s embarrassed. On the one hand – understandable; doing a show as stripped back as this would probably leave anyone feeling vulnerable and yet, given that the Glasgow date was the very first show on the tour to sell out, it’s clear that Glasgow really does love the guy. The Imogen Heap cover, ‘Hide and Seek’ is a stunningly beautiful surprise addition to the evening. Also surprising is the fact that a fair few folk gathered actually know it. When ‘Cemetery‘ starts, the crowd are back on form and singing back every word, loud and clear. ‘Still Young’ is, unfathomably, the only track that invites the talking from the crowd, making it a little harder to hear but from what I can make out, it’s a fantastic track and one that deserves so much more attention than it’s getting here. Shows like this are not the norm, but could this be the start of something new? I certainly hope so. The songs – all of them – lend themselves really well to a setting such as this, minimal fuss and as stripped back as possible. I would go as far as to say that perhaps this may really go a fair way to change things. OK, maybe I’m pushing it a little, but a girl can dream, can’t she? In any case, I would definitely love to see more and more bands and artists taking a risk in playing shows like this. Before too long, it’s time for the last track, and a single loud, stunned No! rings out from the crowd. I agree, it’s far too soon! Nobody wants it to end; a brilliant, beautiful and brave show from Charlie Simpson, and one I would wager very few will ever forget.
LINKS:
Willow Robinson – https://soundcloud.com/willowrobinson
Blackwell – https://soundcloud.com/weareblackwell
Emma Blackery – https://www.youtube.com/user/emmablackery
Charlie Simpson – https://www.youtube.com/user/charliesimpsonmusic

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