AMP

GABRIELLE APLIN  /  THE 02 INSTITUTE BIRMINGHAM

We drove through Digbeth around 6.30pm and saw the queue, already snaking down the main road and along the side of The Institute.

So we sat in the car for twenty minutes with the heater on – out rock n’ roll THAT if you can! Just needed some ‘slippy’ ham sandwiches, a flask, and a tartan rug and you could have mistaken it for a John Lewis advert, quite apt, as the superb Aplin came to many people’s attention a Christmas or two ago with her exquisite version of ‘Power of Love’ – the Frankie version, not that that cringe-fest from Jennifer Rush.

God, I felt old as I sat in that car, watching any number of undergraduates join the queue. The wife reaffirmed this as she mentioned that “I’d let myself a bit since Christmas”. It was Valentine’s Day – who said romance was dead, eh?

So we joined said queue. For 35 minutes we joined it. It was perishing. The line of folk went past a pub – my idea of a swift drink (Bovril?) and wait for everyone to go in was met in the negative. Quelle surprise.

When we finally got in, we suddenly realised that it was actually warmer outside than in! Some feat that.

Luckily, the two excellent support acts – Hannah Grace and Lewis Watson – got the floor filled up a lot quicker than many a gig I’ve been to. Hannah Grace’s jazzy-soulful-bluesy vocals, accompanied by just a guitar, filled a venue I’d say was about half the size of the Viccy Hall. Brownie points too for her superb version of Bill Withers’ ‘Just the two of us’. Takes some guts covering a massive, iconic tune like that. We’ll be hearing more from this lady.

Lewis Watson seemed like a bloke I’d either adopt and/or take for a beer. He was sound, humble and self-deprecating, and his Newton Faulkner-like set went down well with Mr and Mrs Bunn. The kind of talented lad whose music you’d like your daughter to like, and the kind of lad who you’d want her to have as a boyfriend. Pretty sure he’ll be supporting Oh Wonder – and I’m of to see them, too. I will be getting a bit more acquainted with Mr Watson’s music before that night.

And so to the headline act…..

Those who read the magazine will know what I think of Gabrielle Aplin’s second elpee – ‘Light up the dark’. It’s a bit of a peach to be honest, and despite seeing polar bears shivering in the corner of the Institute, I eagerly awaited to see if the singer-songwriter could do it on a cold Sunday night in Birmingham…….

When you have the quality of material and the voice of Aplin, then the only questioned to be asked is what is she like on stage. Er, pretty mesmerising, to be honest. It’s not just her presence on the boards, or the quality of her voice , not her talent on the guitar/ivories – it’s just that everything she does seems to be so natural, effortless, and so bloody cool. There’s no faux sassiness on the rockier numbers nor put-on vulnerability on the acoustic stuff, either. Just someone with a shedloads of talent, doing what she was put on earth to do.

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One moan was the crowd – I did mention to the wife last night at the gig that “youth is wasted on some of the young” nowadays. It was on some of these here tonight: Put your bloody Ipads down, get off Twitter and Instagram, and don’t record a gig – actually live it and take part in it. It was the least Aplin deserved for a pretty outstanding performance that ranged from the utterly fragile brilliance of ‘Salvation’ to the Charlatans-tinged title track of her second album.

Backed by a full band, Aplin went from rock to blues to country to pop to even tortured-soul sea shanty in the shape of ‘What did you do’. Pick of a pretty mint bunch was the bourbon-rich ‘Slip away’. Sultry, powerful, and an absolutely superb song. Gabrielle Aplin had warmed The Institute up.

She then re-gave us the shivers, in the form of a quite mesmerising version of Bowies ‘Space Oddity’, only breaking to check the health of a lady in the crowd who had fainted (or hypothermia!). She kicked back in effortlessly. Her brilliance shouldn’t be underestimated.

Whilst omitting one of my personal favourite Aplin tunes – ‘Anybody out there’ – possibly the biggest shock of this Valentines Night was the non-showing of The Frankie Goes To Hollywood classic. ‘Good on her’, I thought, do what you want, not what’s expected.

Aplin has a bit of something for everyone, takes the best bits from any number of female singer-songwriters, yet still sounds unique. She started with ‘Coming home’ and concluded with ‘Home’ – an apt choice of songs, with the journey of the gig now complete and successful.

Ours wasn’t – it was still absolutely bloody freezing when we walked back into the Birmingham night air, with the M6 back to Stoke to look forward to. Please come and play Stoke soon, Miss Aplin.

SETLIST: Coming Home/Hurt/Panic Cord/Heavy Heart/Fools Love/What Did You Do?/ Shallow Love/How Do You Feel Today?/Space Oddity/Light Up the Dark/Together/Please Don’t Say You Love Me/Slip Away/Sweet Nothing/Salvation/Home

ANTHONY BUNN