His opportunity to say thanks
John Grant & Midlake - Live At Royal Festival Hall

It’s been almost a year and half since John Grant’s debut solo ‘Queen Of Denmark’ took the UK by storm. With awards, recognitions and praise coming from every orifice of every magazine, blog and radio station going, it could have gone straight to his head. After all, Grant is renowned as one that let’s his emotions explode, and says exactly what he thinks; but, instead, he is humble.

At the amazing Royal Festival Hall, a venue that would have swamped Grant just 12 months ago he now fills with ease, it is his opportunity to say thanks. Some thanks came to us, of course, for supporting his record, but most went to a group of Texans who had some faith and made it all happen: Midlake are as engulfing in help and kindness and as they are in their music, apparently. Tonight is a bit of a Grant-Midlake love-in, and for anyone who didn’t know the back story, or didn’t care, it could have been a bit much, reminiscent of a crooner on his Christmas show in the Fifties.

But, we do all know the back story – the torture Grant went through as a child, the shitty relationships, the broken heart, the drugs, the squalor, the loss of his beloved granny. A lot of shit broke this giant of a man, and it was Midlake that rebuilt him.

The offer of a band for his debut came from The Czars-loving Midlake along with open houses and open arms. It seems, from what Grant was saying anyway, that the band pretty much saved him.

So, the love-in is justified, and actually the stories throughout his lengthy set are a pleasure. Grant’s wit, story telling and honesty are shared in bounds. Grant fans are no strangers to his brutal honesty, and it is again laid bare tonight in songs from ‘Queen Of Denmark’, a few Czars classics and previewing some new material. After touring the album for so long and playing night after night, you’d think he’d be bored of his own booming baritone, trademark fuzz drowning out his gorgeous piano playing or even the stark lyrics about a life so long ago, but no. He plays every note and sings every line with as much passion as ever, maybe more in honour of the venue, the sold out crowd, and his band.

‘I Wanna Go To Marz’, ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ and ‘TC and Honeybear’ are loud, dramatic and stunningly beautiful, showcasing Grant’s superb and addictive voice the way it should be. Midlake, minus Tim, bring a whole new dimension to his songs, especially the violin and enchanting flute, which London audiences have rarely seen backing Grant. The Midlake tightness of harmonies, guitar, bass and drums gel together in a new and exciting way, but it’s the flute in particular which is a huge treat.

The scathing ‘Queen of Denmark’ and an encore of ‘Caramel’ and The Czars’ ‘Little Pink House’ push the boundaries and are highlights of the night. The lyrics seem to have never been sung with such heartfelt emotion. It’s breath taking and exhausting for the audience, let alone Grant, who admits he needs to take a break and get making the next record. Yep, hurry up John, we want you back soon.

Words by Gemma Hampson

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