- Barns Courtney
Success can be a threatening prospect in the music industry. Too often we have seen artists who once had oodles of raw individuality become watered-down versions of themselves in an attempt to build a wider audience to sell to. There’s a point at which, sometimes, an artist becomes more of a business than a creative entity. Failing that, quite often we also see artists lose all credibility as they withdraw from their honest expression and attempt to make themselves more anodyne and likeable; detaching from their cult following and drifting in limbo as they desperately try to ‘make it’. It seems that an artist’s career eventually reaches a moment where they can either opt for underground cult heroism or risk themselves on mainstream stardom. For our headliner tonight, such a moment has reared itself.
In The Shipping Forecast’s Hold, support act BARNS COURTNEY introduces himself to a packed crowd. He dives into a set of impressive bluesy pop songs that gets the stirring audience moving. Considering he is just one man and a guitar he has a formidable stage presence and can cut through the hustle-and-bustle of bar chatterings and turn everyone’s head.
TOM GRENNAN has an undeniable buzz surrounding him this year. He’s a frequent collaborator with Chase & Status and with a steady stream of EPs over the past couple of years, he’s building steam – and fast. He’s already reached the BBC’s Sound Of 2017 longlist and has been spotlighted by MTV Brand New for 2017. Not bad for a young lad from Bedford.
But where does he go from here? Right now, he has a cult following that has had The Hold sold out weeks before tonight’s show. However, as he steps onto the stage and dives headlong into a set full of heart-wrenching ballads and uplifting anthems, it has to be said that a large section of the crowd seems to be quite indifferent to what’s happening on stage. It’s as if the people here just want to be seen being here rather than to revel in the spectacle of the show. Everyone is very aware of themselves.
And it is not Grennan’s fault. He sings passionately from the bottom of his heart and tears through songs such as Something In The Water and Giving It All with a heated intensity. He plays, and sings, well. It’s just that he doesn’t quite drag people’s attention towards the stage. There’s the occasional sing along, and some cheering and camaraderie, but too often it’s unfortunate to witness people talking and laughing amongst themselves while he plays – it’s irritating.
His set is loaded with powerful performances, with a definitive peak in Sweet Hallelujah. However, as he closes the set to a loud applause it’s not convincing that his following is as loyal as their numbers suggest. It could perhaps be that Grennan is, unfortunately for him, the hipster’s flavour of the week. This year will be telling for tonight’s headlining young artist, and it’ll no doubt be interesting to see whatever happens. But whichever way he moves on this crossroad, his performance tonight proves that his talent is not just hype.