I was at the venue earlier in the day to meet up with the opening act Ben McKelvey, we had chatted back in January but this was prior to the Wet Wet Wet tour being announced and I wanted to catch up with him to find out all about his experiences of playing to much larger audiences supporting one of the most famous acts of the late 80's, you can read the interview HERE.
Upon arriving at the venue just before showtime, I was surprised to see a mixed bag of people, I was expecting hoards of middle aged women, dressed in flashing stetsons and pink boas for a night of reminiscing whilst listening to a band that helped us through the 80's and early 90's, instead, there were couples of all ages, some youngsters and also a few middle aged men (me included), there for a night of entertainment.
Opening up proceedings for tonights trio of acts was London based Ben McKelvey. Backed by his band The Firebrands, Ben soon had the audience eating out of his hands with his unique blend of folk/rock which leaned on the heavier side of the genre. Chatting to Ben before the show, he explained how the band mix things up in order to bring the right balance to the shows, be this removing the drums and replacing them with a cajon (as they did tonight) and choosing to retain the electric guitar and bass to create extra depth to his sound. Ben looked at home on stage with his acoustic guitar and even decorated the opening track 'Happy Together', with some exquisite harmonica work.
Their set continued with tracks from his recently released debut long player 'Life and Love in England' which as at the time of writing, stands at #6 on the iTunes Singer Songwriter charts alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran, Frank Turner and James Bay.
Highlights for me stood in a track called 'Stay Young' which featured Ben at his very best, the passion, the raw emotion etched across his face whilst he was belting out this song was immediately apparent.
Ben is a star in the making, if you want to see someone on his way up the ladder of success, please try your best to get along to one of his shows. Tonight, his set was not nearly long enough and I feel that he only revealed a slight glimpse of what he's really made of. Seeing them play a bunch of great tracks in a very stripped back, intimate style was incredible and I look forward one day to seeing them perform as a full band with loud noisy drums to really hammer their message home. Definitely someone to keep a very close eye on in the future.
After a short interval to relieve bladders and charge glasses, the lights dimmed for the second act on the bill to take the stage, this was the very talented Markus Feehily, one fifth of the original lineup of Westlife, well, a quarter if you omit Bryan McFadden who left the band in 2004, the remaining 4 keeping the spirit alive for the next 8 years.
Mark Feehily sounded on form and looked every bit the pop star who was out to prove to that he can make it out there in this big wide world as a solo performer (with the assistance of a one man band who played keys, guitar and percussion and the two lovely backing singers). After a couple of songs lifted from his recently released debut album ‘Fire’, out rolled the big guns, kicking things off with ‘Flying Without Wings’ which was executed perfectly, proving that he was one of the more talented members of the worldwide phenomenon that was Westlife. He engaged really well with the capacity audience and introduced the next track as one that he used to sing alongside bandmate Shane Filan who had recently graced the Plymouth Pavilions with his presence, the crowd roared as he broke into the opening words of ‘You Raise Me Up’ which was clearly a crowdpleaser that so many had been looking forward to.
His latest single ‘Sanctuary’ features a sample from fellow Irish songwriter Clannad, this set the scene and allowed Mark to overlay his strong vocal on top, backed by the lovely ladies who did such a grand job with some truly angelic vocal harmonies. This was followed by Markus’s first solo single ‘Love is a Drug’ which went down really well.
It was great to see that after the Westlife breakup in 2012, Markus is managing to hold his own in this cut-throat business we refer to as ‘show’, may he carry on for many years to come!
Onto the main act of the evening, after another short break, the stage was cleared, more gear was shipped in and at 9pm sharp, the lights dropped, the cheer went up and the band took to the stage amongst a medley of tracks by, amongst others, the late Amy Winehouse & Bob Marley. The moment Marti Pellow took to the stage, dressed all in black, the place erupted, the mainly female audience were shrieking and hollering and carrying on and Marti was lapping it up, I must admit that the guy looked GOOD!
Accompanying the band were a 3 piece horn section made up of trumpet, sax and trombone, this really added to their sound and complemented the outfit perfectly. It wasn’t long until they kicked into their back catalogue including all the classics, ‘Wishing I was Lucky’ led into ‘Sweet Surrender’, ‘Julia Says’, ‘Goodnight Girl’, the list just goes on and on! Marti was the true showman, conducting the audience with his relaxed but confident style in the all important sing along sections and wooing the front rows, creating some perfect photo opportunities causing many phones to overheat in the process.
The ladies in the audience were up for a party and a party they got, heckles of "I love you Marti" were returned with "I love you more", the old charmer!
Choosing to kill 3 birds with the one stone, Marti and the boys knocked out a trio of tracks that just bled into one another, these were ‘Angel Eyes', 'Temptation' and 'With a Little Help from my Friends', which again, had the crowd singing along like it was the last night on earth.
They even took time to introduce a new track that they’d been working on, ‘Love Wars’ sounded fresh and Marti took great pleasure in announcing that the song would be available on the next album, available in “twenty….mumble, mumble”, great to see that he has still got his sense of humour!
Time was getting the better of the band and before long, they launched into ’Sweet Little Mystery’, maybe this was the last song of the night? not possible as they were yet to play THAT song, you know the one, the one that stayed at #1 for 15 weeks, the one that was used in the movie ‘Four Weddings’ featuring that hapless cad Hugh Grant (pre Divine Brown days), I’m sure you know what I’m blethering on about….
After a short break, the band returned to the stage to knock out ‘Lip Service’ followed by THAT track! Backed by the horn section and full band, it sounded immense, doing a great job of taking me back 21 years to when I was a fresh faced 22 year old with a penchant for Brit-Pop and clubbing….
What struck me throughout their set was the quality of the musicianship, being what I call a ‘pop’ band, you rarely think about the actual music, just that it has a nice hook and a catchy chorus, I will say now that the bass player was absolutely incredible, mixing his styles from standard pop to funk, throwing in a bit of slap every now and again, the same went for the guitarist who was more than capable of knocking out some killer licks and solos on his various 6 string and twin necked weaponry.
All in all, a thoroughly entertaining evening that really surprised me, I was thinking it would have been a screaming bunch of older women throwing their ‘smalls’ onto the stage whilst Marti slunk across it, carefully avoiding the pools of drool that they were depositing on the floor. If you get the chance to catch these 80’s heroes at a live show or festival this year, do so, you’ll have a fantastic evening, you’ll sing your hearts out and no doubt end up with sore feet too!