Gig Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

The Best of British Pop curated by Ellie Goulding explodes on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall for the Streets of London Charity.

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It’s a pretty big show tonight and as I step on to the plush red carpets of the Royal Albert Hall and walk around the corridor to get to my seat, looking at all the large photographs on the wall you realise the calibre of artists that have played in such salubrious surroundings. It’s quite a humbling experience and yet the irony is ringing loud in my ears that I’m surrounded by luxury and wealth, but tonight is really all about raising money for those that don’t have a home. You can’t help but see the homeless everywhere on the Streets of London and other major cities these days, Ellie Goulding steps out on to the stage with a mission and a speech in her hand, this is the fourth consecutive year she has done this, and it won’t be the last. The bands have given their services for free, the punters have paid upwards of £80 a ticket and the charity buckets are gradually being filled with any spare change. Technically she is preaching to the converted, as we have all already given to the charity, but it’s still an emphatic message nonetheless – “Having a home in this day and age should be a basic Human Right”. After that speech by Ellie, she walks off to the side to watch her cast of 2017 and what a line up she has brought.

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It is incredibly quiet as a young guy steps out from the side of stage, walks to the piano sits down and says “Hi – my name’s Tom Odell” and proceeds to play an effortless version of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, it’s quite the perfect start and immediately I start to feel a bit Christmassy for the first time this year. He follows that quickly with his own ‘Another Love’ and that sets the tone for what we will receive in the next hour or so. 2 songs by each artist, an announcement that Ray BLK is next and she dedicates her songs to those homeless in her home district of Catford in South East London. Playing some slick stripped back RnB this lady has a great voice and although Stormzy didn’t join her for ‘My Hood’ it was still a great track live and showed why she was named as the BBC Sound of 2017.

The other thing dawning on me is that tonight’s artists are all British home grown, especially when a very young RAYE bounds around in a slinky silk jump suit, ‘You Don’t Know Me’ was probably a very true statement for 99% of the audience, but by the end of the two songs everyone did. Possibly the least known artist tonight, but the one with the most confidence and a sign that she is going to be a talent to watch (Having checked more out since, I find she already has a history of writing credits with many other artists at the tender age of 19).

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George Ezra is here and he has a couple of band members with him, one carrying a huge double bass, but the sound is still very much acoustic even with ‘It Don’t Matter Now’ as his first track. Playing safe, much to everyone’s relief I think – he sings ‘Budapest’ next, and enjoys the sound of several thousand people cooing back to him. I’m slightly disappointed that the standard Tom Odell set with his xmas tune, we didn’t get similar from the other artists, but I’m still feeling lucky to witness the equivalent of a festival day in an hour. It’s like a conveyor belt, one off… next one on immediately, I can’t imagine what the sound engineers are feeling like.

Bastille’s Dan Smith and Will Farquarson are up next, and after some technical difficulty with Will’s guitar we settle back into a not so perfect version of the new track ‘World Gone Mad’, “That’s the first time we’ve ever played that live… and you can probably tell” admits Dan, thankfully they recover with the superb ‘Pompeii’, and comedy drumming on knees by everyone in the row I was sat in made it even more fun. Dan Smith’s voice is really great and it can shine when it is just him and piano.

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Ellie is back on the mic to introduce (in a very fangirl way) Craig David, it turns out he was her first concert and she was a big fan back in the day before that Bo Selecta character ruined everything. There is a large proportion of the audience keen here too, and the resurge of popularity means he is forced to do a little ‘Fill Me In’ rap acapella style before inviting Bastille’s Dan Smith back to the stage to play their collab song ‘I Know You’. The bromance between these two is evident, lots of hugs and backslapping, the song is more Bastille than Craig David I would suggest, but the two of them seem to complement each other well. Ellie seems to enjoy it too as she is seen boogieing around at the side of the stage.

Jessie Ware is looking very elegant and undeniably right for the environment, she has a small band with her and after ‘Say You Love Me’ explains that her next song ‘Sam’ is about her husband and their new baby and the thought of being a mother for the first time and understanding even more what her mother went through bringing up her family on her own. It’s a complete shift from the RnB and bromance of the previous acts, and a bit of a watery eye moment, her voice is pitch perfect and powerful, she is the complete class act for a classic stage.

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Finally for this support section we have James Blunt, introduced by Ellie as the “Beautiful” James Blunt, I’m assuming that was down to the song he was about to sing, because following Jessie Ware is going to be tough in the visual stakes. I feel sorry for him really, he’s asked to close the support session before the interval and to play a couple of slow numbers, it doesn’t really fit, and the whole set is quite boring as he just sits at the piano, his introductory banter is better than the songs. I would rather have put Craig David and Dan Smith on last, and go out on a high. But phew, that was a stunning hour or so and we haven’t even had the main act yet!

After a 20-min interval, we are running slightly overtime but Ellie Goulding will power through a hits laden set, opening with ‘On My Mind’ and immediately getting everyone on their feet for Calvin Harris’s ‘Outside’. The audience suddenly seems to wake up from the Blunt induced slumbers, or maybe it was another Pinot from the bar at the interval. Nevertheless, we have some major dancing in the seats and at one point a little girl in her white princess party dress runs down the aisle towards Ellie, her father anxiously running behind to catch up. It’s a friendly party atmosphere and finally the Christmas festivities can really begin.

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‘Anything Could Happen’ starts a trio of songs to bring the set to a close, for me it’s still ‘Burn’ that stands out as her best moment, she ends that by grabbing a guitar and headbanging like a hair metal guitar god at the front of the stage. ‘Love Me Like You Do’ follows and a huge confetti shower arches over the stage like a paper rainbow, that means that this set has ended and the cleaners have got a 2-hour shift to hoover it all up.

There is an encore though, and Ellie Goulding walks forward through the confetti, brushing it aside like autumnal leaves on her boots, and sings a faultless ‘O Holy Night’, this is absolutely beautiful – it’s not an easy song to sing, difficult lyrics and a wide vocal range – but another wow moment right there.

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Inviting all her guests up for the last song and it is a chaotic attempt at Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. There is a definite lack of organisation for this, I’m guessing no rehearsal – it showed, and other than the chorus, nobody seemed to know any of the other lyrics. James Blunt disappears into the crowd with a mic to let the audience sing along, and the youngest guest on stage RAYE joins Ellie at the front with a lyric sheet to save her blushes. It doesn’t really matter, we have had a superb party night of great British talent and raised some money for such a worthy cause. On my way back to the tube I saw people giving money to those without homes to go to, a heart-warming sight. If you would like to donate to Streets of London, you don’t have to wait for the next Ellie Goulding event, please click on this link and donate.

Happy Christmas Everyone!

SETLIST: Ellie Goulding – On My Mind, Something in the Way You Move, Outside, Tethered, Explosions, Army, My Blood, Anything Could Happen, Burn, Love Me Like You Do ENCORE: O Holy Night, Last Christmas

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