Gig Review: George Ezra – The Fleece, Bristol – Monday 3rd March 2014

Photos by Will Fahy (www.willfahy.co.uk) – Review by Arran Dutton – When you’re standing at the bar in The Fleece, you think that no musician about to play at the venue could fail to be inspired by the names you see. Oasis, Jeff Buckley, Coldplay, Radiohead and Amy Winehouse to name a few – they’re giants who have marvelled at the top of the industry, graced the world’s most famous stages, stolen the headlines and revelled in the admiration of the masses. Tonight, Bristolian George Ezra is the young pretender hoping to match the achievements of those whose posters sit above the spirit bottles and after a mere ten minutes on stage it’s clear to all he has the craft and swagger to do just that. Coincidentally, I got the chance to speak to old pals of Mr Ezra who briefly attended University with a chap who “was always going to make it”. Despite an unusually understated entrance from the headliner of a sell out gig, the boy had confidence and with his powerful, stirring and sometimes chilling vocal, why wouldn’t he? “My name is George Ezra and I’m gonna play a few songs for you,” he announces before breaking into “Blame It On Me.” If it wasn’t for the music you could hear a pin drop – the captivated audience hung on every word. Not over roared at all by the crowd reaction upon its closing, perhaps one of Bristol’s future favourite sons was clearly used to this kind of response. When he said, “bear with me, I’m not used to this headlining lark,” you would be forgiven for believing that he had no signs of nerves and that really his own headline tour was something he expected would happen from a young age. After telling how this is the first time he’s ever had two guitars with him at a gig, we’re treated to the sweet and soothing “Benjamin Twine,” a song preluded by the notice that it is in fact dedicated to one of his best friends. Beautifully delivered with apparent and enviable ease, I think back to the pre-gig George Ezra playlists and note that the lyrics written by a man of just twenty years are remarkably mature and anecdotal. You’d think they were written by a much wiser, much travelled old school Blues musician. Embarrassingly, when I was twenty, I’d have probably written about flunking my degree because of Pro Evo and your generic love-bullshit-wanky-crap. During the gig, our headline act for the night tells of his upcoming album for which he is currently whittling down the tracks he recorded in London so that he can finalise its track-listing. There’s a delightful blend of vocal tones from an artist with a distinctive voice that comes from this dominating figure on stage. To date, Willy Mason is still the one musician I look at and think: “I would not expect that guy to have that voice,” but George Ezra is a close second. It’s wonderful to say the least – soft and soothing – powerful and menacing – crisp and mellow. That, my friends, is diversity. The announcement of “Cassy O’” is ‘wooped’ and cheered by a warm audience, though sing-alongs are not a hallmark of this particular gig. Having just recorded the video, he grinned as he told us how it consisted of him and eight girls shooting from 11am to 11pm. “First time for me,” he says after that reveal, which gets a laugh as do many of his wittier remarks throughout the night. This had been one of the tracks that had governed my aforementioned Ezra playlist and on the night this was the first time I felt I could make a direct comparison between live and recording. Again, his vocal range, melody and projection are flawless and for one man and a guitar he certainly produces a strong sound that packs a mighty punch. No doubt with a full band behind him to add weight to the sound, as it does on the recorded track, the place would be rocking and performances of that song would always be memorable. The moments between each song allow me to shape my perception of Ezra. In admitting his admiration for Beyonce’s ability to sing and dance for two hours and mentioning how he’s looking forward to sleeping in his own bed in Bristol tonight, you get the sense that this is a young man who is open minded, willing to learn and has already shown that he will make sacrifices to achieve his dream. Gigging around the country with a label to back you is undoubtedly tiring, albeit a great experience, but the hard work in getting to that position is something that would have been built without the glamour. Ahead of “Get Lonely,” a mischievously dark number that is the highlight of the set so far, Ezra gives an insight into his travels around Europe where he found himself travelling on trains and filling notebooks with words. “It’s a nice way of writing,” he admits, after telling of how he left them alone for three months and then rediscovered words that became the catalyst for a fresh stint of song writing. Upon another great reception, an anecdote from this trip is delivered. The story of being unable to buy alcohol in Malmo, Sweden, because of law, which led to him buying rum in a park from a man missing a finger, will surely provide the lyrics to a song one day, if it hasn’t already, but for now the story is used to introduce the gorgeous “Budapest,” named after the Hungarian city which was the next stop on his trip. “Have you all got good imaginations,” he asks midway through. When the audience responds “Yes,” he replies, “Good, there’s a big guitar solo here.” It’s a sweet song that reminds me of the mellow ramblings of Jack Johnson’s ‘In Between Dreams’. “Yeah, I like that one too,” Ezra says in response to the biggest cheer of the night once the final chords are struck. A host of standout tracks include “Leaving It Up To You” before the Bristolian winds up with the title track from his earlier EP ‘Did You Hear The Rain?’ – It was a song that sent my note writing into overdrive. Utterly breath taking. This is what I scribbled, and be warned, it’s a ramble: Wow. Monstrous. It could accompany a bad guy riding into town in a cowboy movie. Haunting. Powerful. This guy’s voice is scary. It’s like he’s welcoming in the rapture. Huge rapture. This is dark. Awesome. I took out the ‘swears.’ George Ezra capped off an impressive homecoming performance with the best song of the night by far. Finishing at 10.15, his set only lasted 45 minutes but the quality on show gives an indication that we will be presented with a strong debut album in the near future. There wasn’t an encore, so one can only assume that he just wanted a bit more time in his own bed. Who can blame him? With a growing reputation and another tour commencing in June, he’s going to be spending a lot of time away from it. Find out more about this act at www.georgeezra.com Support Act – SOAK: 17 year-old Bridie Monds-Watson, who goes by the stage name of SOAK, will have found a whole new adoring fan base in Bristol after a wonderful performance that included songs from her upcoming EP titled ‘Blud.’ The teenager from Derry’s title track from that EP stood out on a night where her combination of early nerves and a witty tongue that became ever-present as she grew in confidence saw a big crowd warm to her. I have to admit, stood near the back I couldn’t hear what she was saying between songs as her mouse-like speaking voice evaded me, but the audience were clearly entertained and laughed throughout. Luckily, there was no such problem for my ears once she began to play and her gorgeous voice sat lovingly amongst the acoustic loving punters. It reminded me of listening to early Daughter tracks in places, though I think SOAK’s music could be seen as being more accessible, which is of course no criticism to her or Elena Tonra and co. SOAK is currently supporting CHVRCHES on tour and no doubt she’ll soon be heading out and headlining one herself when ‘Blud’ hits us. She mentioned this would be out on St. Patrick’s Day, so keep your eyes and ears open for news of that. Find out more about this act at soakmusic.net

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