LIVE REVIEW: Tom Chaplin + Ainslie Wills at Albert Hall, Manchester

Since releasing debut solo album ‘The Wave’ last October, Tom Chaplin has toured the Western hemisphere once over, taking in dates across the UK and the US. Now into the second leg of a more extensive touring spell, Chaplin and co. are on the road throughout May and will reconvene in the summer for a selection of special shows. The Manchester date of the tour sees the band take residence in the beatific splendour of The Albert Hall for a show of fierce solidarity and tremendous respect.

Taking the early slot is Australian singer-songwriter Ainslie Wills. For Wills, ‘the dream’ has come true – opening for the Keane frontman across a multitude of live dates – transporting the Australian three-piece band across the world for a starry-eyed adventure. A journey, which Wills remarks is testament to one fated musical moment, the softly rousing ‘Constellations’, which is played tonight. The set is a melange of piano-led alt-pop and moving sensational voice. This vocal force is only matched by the might of universally felt sentiments and themes of a more personal nature which centre most of the subject matter, particularly highlighted by the track ‘Hit A Nerve’, where Wills launches into a detailed story of a fan interrogation that became a little too close for comfort. Ending on standout single ‘Drive’, a kick drum and snare combination frolics with Wills’ ardent but flowery drawl, later unfurling into a glamorous coo of fantastic steel. It’s a performance that sees reference points to Norah Jones’ reliable musical prowess, Courtney Barnett’s raucous grit and Fiona Apple’s alternative spirit. A most welcome thirty minutes of engaging progressive pop.

Soon enough Tom Chaplin and his band walk onto the stage to a beaming glow of excitement and intensified yelps. Going into this headline performance you might be sceptical of the singer’s ability to hold a sold out room, off the back of a record like ‘The Wave’ but what’s clear from the get-go is that any doubt would be sorely misplaced. In fact, the audience reaction continues to build throughout the night, roaring and booming like a stadium full of engrossed football fans, and with the sprinkling of megawatt pop courtesy of Keane’s back catalogue, there is not a sour face in sight. Kicking the show off with the subdued soar of ‘Still Waiting’, the eager audience meet the revelry with a serenade of hand claps and vocal chorus. Like the record itself, the performance trawls the ascent from rock bottom to recovery and the strength of self-awareness that’s reached to get to that position.

Moving through the familiar releases, ‘Hardened Heart’ steers the showman in Chaplin to emerge, confidently whipping from one side of the stage to the other and reaching out as if to touch the audience, it’s a sufficient master plan that pays its dividends. By this point, Chaplin doesn’t even have to sing a note, the crowd have got it covered which brings a smile to his face. So when the memorable keyboard melody of ‘Bend & Break’ starts to play, it feels more like a ceremonial release of endorphins than a rehash of old ground. What’s different about his solo show, is that it’s a much more personal affair, one of shared intimacy with his loving onlookers, albeit at times this partnership feels like an oversell of sorts, translating more as a exaggerated representation of the man but still this endearment of charm is heartwarming to see. Versatility is proven within the show’s format, whether Chaplin is at piano playing a tender ballad or strumming his acoustic guitar, there’s more on offer than just the upbeat semi-rock numbers and sparkling pop movers.

‘Solid Gold’ is a good old weepy with acoustic guitar, violin, and electronic production completed by clouds of rolling dry ice; ‘The River’ boasts funky guitar and synth pizzazz, heading straight for the dancefloor rather than the heart; and ‘Quicksand’ hits fever pitch, gaining the loudest crowd reaction yet. Stamina is well and truly tested in the near two-hour run time, it is a big show but one that is embraced to its fullest by both parties. The encore provides great substance and one last hurrah before the evening ends, revelling in a one-off cover for tonight’s gig, they launch into a satisfying rendition of The Smiths’ ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’. Before a bunch of Keane favourites are aired (‘Everybody’s Changing’ , ‘The Lovers are Losing’ , ‘Somewhere Only We Know’), leaving latest single ‘See It So Clear’ to wrap up proceedings. Featuring a surprise appearance from Ainslie Wills on additional vocals, it is a suitable finale that yields extra intensity to the elation of the night’s most encouraging chorus.

Tom Chaplin’s debut solo record ‘The Wave’ is out now via Island Records.

Photo Credit: Tom Oxley

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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