Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

With his 2nd Number 1 album out for only a week, George Ezra kicks off his ‘Staying at Tamara’s’ tour in Leeds in front of thousands of Pretty Shining People.

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It is hard to believe that only 4 years ago on a wet and windy February night in York I witnessed a young guy with a very deep voice and two guitars, play to a small venue crowd, his performance that night was nothing less than stellar and although he hadn’t even released his 2nd EP at the time, you could tell there was so much more to come from George Ezra. The venue tonight is ten times the size, he sold it out in a few hours, and should by rights be playing the Arena down the road.

Ezra now has 2 Number One albums to play a selection of songs from, his latest record ‘Staying at Tamara’s’ went straight in to the top spot after shifting 63,000 units in only a week and became the fasting selling album so far this year. His rise and rise to success has dwarfed others like Hozier, Tom Odell and potentially James Bay – who all emerged at a similar time to grab the leading male singer songwriter spot.

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Tonight as the sound of ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ by Quincy Jones Orchestra fades (You’ll know that better as the theme from Austin Powers) the whole band file out and already the stage is filled with quality musicianship and friends that George has picked up on the way. Some additional brass players are at the back and traditional guitar, bass, drums and keys all in place. He starts with an old one and probably the first track to get him noticed ‘Cassy O’ and I still laugh at the lyrics “Well, I got my tracing paper, so that I could trace my clock, And the bastard face kept changing, and the hands, they wouldn’t stop”. The crowd here are packed in and it’s mainly full of shiny happy 18-30 somethings, they know all the words, they sing, clap and cheer at all the right parts – even a few were bouncing up and down at the front. To get a vantage point for the show I’m having to squeeze in near a side wall.

After Cassy O, we are straight into the new album tracks and ‘Get Away’ is greeted like a carnival sing-a-long, the album that has only been available for 7 days is choc full of smiley tunes and these Yorkshire girls and boys already know them all. So after an up-tempo start we need to slow it down a little for ‘Barcelona’, the sound quality in this venue means you can hear every guitar strum and vocal perfectly.

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Throughout the set each track is introduced by George with his friendly, warm charm, the likeability factor is set at maximum, he’s everyone’s friend and they all love him. There is this permanent smile on his face (wouldn’t you with 2 number one albums under your belt) and he tells stories of staying in hostels and Airbnb houses as he trekked around Europe writing his last record. This lone approach seems to work for him and the product of that process is a collection of happy sing song tunes with a big helping of sugar and spice, no salt or vinegar here. You are not going to get introspective morose political commentary, in fact it is more “I don’t think about that stuff, let’s try to stick together and enjoy life”. ‘Pretty Shining People’ is a classic example and as this track is his new single it will be heard everywhere over the next few months and at festivals up and down the country, we just need a bit of sunshine and warmth to match the song’s temperament.

‘Listen to the Man’ is equally infectious and ‘Don’t Matter Now’ only raises the noise levels even further and the new 2 piece brass section come into their own on this one. George explains that the next song he had the melody worked out in the middle of the night after feeling ill on the tour bus, he quickly recorded it by voice into his phone, and then found the recording several months later. It became ‘Paradise’ which is the fastest song in his arsenal and probably about as rock as George Ezra can ever be.

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After the rock we get a few of the lesser known slower tracks from Staying at Tamara’s and whilst it’s a nice change, I think the punchier ‘Blame it on Me’ should have come a little earlier in the setlist. Fan favourite ‘Shotgun’ is played before the break, which feels a little too soon considering he has only played an hour.

‘Leaving it up to you’ opens the encore and the last tune was always going to be ‘Budapest’ with Ezra still telling the story of how he never actually reached Budapest the first time on his travels. Interaction with the audience hit the top notch with those “You, You, I’d leave it all” call backs, although some people near me were singing “I dooby do”, but we are in Leeds so at least it wasn’t “Yorkshire Yorkshire”.

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He is probably the nicest man in music right now, that’s the clean image he portrays, the friendly personality, and his glossy happy music. I think it will be important for the longer-term career that he puts a bit of darker soul rather than sugar into the mix, otherwise he will end up being the next James Blunt – and nobody wants that! For now, his star is rising faster than any of his peers and I would expect that to continue for at least the next 18 months. Catch him on this tour, his Forestry Commission dates and summer festival appearances, the next stop will be the arenas!

SETLIST: Cassy O / Get Away / Barcelona / Pretty Shining People / Listen to the Man / Saviour / Don’t Matter Now / Paradise / Song 6 / Hold My Girl / All My Love / Blame It On Me / Shotgun / ENCORE: Leaving It Up To You / Budapest

LISTENING: ‘Staying at Tamara’s’ album released 23rd March 2018

WATCHING: ‘Don’t Matter Now’ Live Recording for TV

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