One of the more welcome comebacks last year was that of Amy Winehouse. Inexplicably shoved in with the bland likes of Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua when she first appeared, second album Back To Black showcased a genuine talent – the old-school jazz had gone, replaced by a winning Motown-esque form of retro-soul distinguished by Winehouse’s marvellously foul-mouthed lyrics.
Brit Awards deservedly followed, and now Winehouse is now one of the biggest names in today’s music industry, as a packed Octagon would testify to. Firstly though, some undoubted stars of the future in the shape of Mr Hudson & The Library, tonight’s support band.
They’ve already gained headlines for a tour of the nation’s libraries, but they work just as well in a more traditional rock setting. They look great for one thing – frontman Ben Hudson makes for a dapper figure in trilby and scarf, yet even he is overshadowed by the enormous afro of keyboard player Torville Jones.
Diving straight into first single Bread + Roses, it’s clear that they’re destined to be huge stars this year. They have a lilting reggae sound that sounds very accessible and commercial, yet there’s enough edge there to appeal to a more credible audience as well. The addition of Joy Joseph’s steel drums give their songs an extra dimension that comes across especially well live.
Picking out highlights from their set is difficult as each song sounds like a hit single, but Ask The DJ and Brave The Cold sounded particularly good, and judging by the screams of the crowd, Mr Hudson himself is already building up a very appreciative female audience. The show was stolen by Torville Jones though, especially during his superb piano solo during one song.
Armed with some terrific songs (Too Late Too Late is surely an anthem in waiting) and a great image, expect Mr Hudson & The Library to become one of the biggest names during 2007.
A collection of ’70s style lampshades heralded Amy Winehouse’s appearance, giving the Octagon the air of a lounge jazz club – her backing band were the first to arrive, dressed almost identically in natty Reservoir Dogs-style black suits, before the lady herself appeared, looking almost impossibly tiny – one could swear that her famous beehive is taller than she is.
It was a curious start to the show, with little known Frank track Know You Now kicking off proceedings, but the band and audience soon warmed into the groove with the exhilarating Tears Dry Up On Their Own. Winehouse’s voice sounded as extraordinary as ever, if slightly muffled by the Octagon’s acoustics, but she was expertedly backed up by her band – a real ‘old-school’ soul troupe complete with synchronised male backing vocalists.
Given her diminutive stature, that voice seems even more incredible. Thankfully staying away from Mariah Carey-style vocal histrionics, Winehouse imbues soul and sensuality into almost every syllable, especially on the aching Back To Black or the regretful Just Friends. And, of course, nobody else could quite sing a line like “what kind of fuckery is this?” like Winehouse does in Me And Mr Jones.
The setlist was mainly concerned with Back To Black, and the audience went noticeably quieter during the Frank moments, although it was disappointing that some of the finest moments from her debut, such as Stronger Than Me and What Is About Men, were missing. This was more than made up for though by a heartbreakingly good Love Is A Losing Game, and the exuberant steal of Lauryn Hill‘s Doo Wop (That Thing) in the middle of She Can Only Hold Her.
An ‘introducing the band’ section did seem to rather go on a bit (and featured the twin horrors of not only a drum solo but also a bass guitar solo), but the glorious You Know I’m No Good and the inevitable singalong moment of Rehab put the set right back on track.
Ironically enough, it was the encore which saw Winehouse and her band really cut loose with a fantastically fun rendition of Toots And The Maytal‘s Monkey Man before finishing off with a superb cover of Valerie by The Zutons, turning the original’s quirky Merseypop into a achingly soulful number.
She may hit the headlines more for her alcohol intake than her songs, but Amy Winehouse is a bona fide star, no matter how disheveled and slightly awkward she may appear on stage. Keep those shelves free – there’s undoubtedly more awards on the way…