Heading into the bustling yet cosy Sunflower Lounge, in Birmingham city centre, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the line up ahead. The eclectic mix of people in the crowd left no clues, until Bianca and myself started talking to two men sporting ‘Grafton Ash’ T-shirts and promising we were in for a musical treat. The atmosphere was friendly and exciting.
The first act came from singer-songwriter Ryan Sparrow, who graced the stage with a humble presence but promising sound. The acoustic guitar set seemed influenced by the mellow sounds of Ben Howard as his soft and smooth voice accompanied the melancholic themes of his songs. He appeared a little less confident as he stopped to promote his social media pages to the crowd, but it may have been nerves as he admitted he couldn’t use his usual bad language due to his grandma being in the audience! His shout out to his grandma was received well by the audience. Ryan’s presence on stage appeared a little introverted but his musical talent was impressive and intriguing.
The second act came from local boys from Bromsgrove, Grafton Ash. The band, made up of members Dan Roberts, Dan Blake, Stephan Ashford and Sam Dimmick wowed the crowd with their American-folk styled songs that reminded me of sounds from The Levellers, Mumford and Sons and R.E.M. Despite being a four piece band, it was clear that there were two front men, Roberts and Blake, who founded the band as a duo. The boys were oozing with personality and emotion which overflowed the stage; I can imagine they would easily fill a much larger stage with their infectious and intense passion. The front man, Dan Roberts, pulled contorted facial expressions as he made the most of every single word he sung. His quirky character and look reminded me of Kaiser Chiefs’ frontman, Ricky Wilson.
They played their current EP ‘Avalanche’, as well as introducing the audience to their new EP, ‘Existing’. For one song they welcomed Ash Sheehan, of Dead Sea Skulls, to the stage in which he accompanied the band with the Trumpet.
Their sound occasionally touched on old school rock and roll, whilst some songs echoed those from Razorlight and were more pop based. It was understandable that the band seemed to engage everyone in the crowd; each element of their music, whether the american-folk, the rock or the catchy melodies and dreamy harmonies, would appeal to a variety of audiences.
The main act, Tom Walker, is a Scottish born, Manchester raised singer-songwriter who has recently started to make his way on to the music scene. Signed to Sony’s Relentless Records he’s already supported acts like Samm Henshaw and Gallant.
Tom arrived on stage after a strong performance from Grafton Ash. This time, instead of a 4/5 musicians squeezed onto the modest stage with their instruments, Tom stood proudly in the centre on his own, whilst his drummer, Ali Thai, supported him from the side of the stage. He introduced himself to the crowd and expressed his lively and bubbly personality.
Not too long into his first song, ‘Rapture’ it was clear to see why the gig was sold out. His powerful but mature voice and style contrasted his modest, cheeky and understated appearance. He immediately captivated the audience songs resembled the likes of Ed Sheeran, Jack Garratt and Rag‘n’Bone Man. The slight twang and interest in his voice, which may have been influenced by his northern roots, vaguely reminded me of a cross between Joe Newman of Alt-J and Maverick Sabre. Despite the resemblances, Tom stands as his own unique talent that deserves to be recognised.
It was hard to believe that Tom Walker is a young musician, new to the scene with less than 10 completed songs under his belt. The songs he does have, are well refined and almost exude a sense of narrative that could have been a product of years and years of challenges and life experience.
After a few louder, rockier songs with a heavy beat from the drums and synth sounds, he changed the tone of the gig briefly with the help of ‘Pete’ his new guitar. He sang us ‘Blessing’, a beautiful, mellow, more soulful song, to which he also credited co-writer, Mark Valance, who was also in the room.
For ‘Play Dead’ which I recognised from being played on BBC Radio 1, he cranked up the beats again and created a musical explosion on stage, blowing the audience away. During the song ‘Karma’, there was an epic guitar and drum conversation that was the cherry on top of a really impressive set.
By the end of the show he had really captivated and indulged the crowd and left them wanting more. After his last song, ‘Sun Goes Down’, the audience’s wishes for an encore were unfortunately left unfulfilled as he admitted he had no more songs left to play. He explained that he was in the middle of writing his album and jokingly described it as ‘baking a sweet old cake’. After being so impressed by his talent you can count me in – waiting by the oven for the cake to be served with a cup of tea – because I can imagine it’s going to be sensational. With the producers on board that were behind albums by Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys, there is a strong chance Tom Walker is going to be a massive hit. We just have to watch this space.