Nottingham Rocks – Nottingham Theatre Royal, Saturday September 14
Returning to the Theatre Royal for a second year, Nottingham Rocks showcased four of the city’s most promising young musical talents, backed by a 14-piece orchestra under the direction of arranger Jonathan Vincent. Remarkably, most of the performers are still in their late teens, and none are over 21. For all of them, the evening presented a unique opportunity: to adapt their material to the demands of an orchestra, and to present themselves to a largely older audience, in a more formal setting than usual.
Georgie Rose and her three-piece band opened the evening in fine style, blending Georgie’s country-tinged balladry and strong songcraft with ambitious, dramatic arrangements. Channelling the spirits of Johnny Cash and Stevie Nicks, the 18-year old rose to the challenge with calm confidence.
With scarcely half a dozen gigs to their name – two of them at last month’s Reading and Leeds festivals – Amber are making astonishing progress. Commanding the stage like seasoned professionals, they brought uptempo rock energy to Heaven and the epic Little Ghost. Powerful orchestral stabs brought out the drama in Spark, and current single Noah, recently playlisted on Radio One, was a triumphant climax to the set. Great things must surely lie around the corner.
After a shaky start with Enough Now, Harleighblu’s set quickly improved, powered by the 21-year old soul singer’s warm stage presence and creamy, luxuriant vocal delivery. The gritty, hip-hop tinged neo-soul of her forthcoming début album was re-cast as sultry supper-club jazz, evoking comparisons with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Receiving its live debut, Love Like This was boosted by a dreamily shimmering, Nelson Riddle-style string arrangement, turning the song into an instant classic.
Stepping away from his band, Saint Raymond’s Callum Burrows was faced with the challenge of marrying his rough-edged, decidedly blokey indie-rock with the controlled discipline of an orchestra. It could have been a car-crash – but as the sparky Everything She Wants converted to sprightly chamber-pop, and the reflective This Town blossomed into a mini-symphony, it became clear that the risk had paid off. Encoring with the hook-laden Fall At Your Feet, Callum left the stage beaming.
Although an impressive night in most respects, it wasn’t always a smooth and seamless ride. Compared with last year’s immaculate performance, the orchestra sounded ragged at times, exposing an awkward gap between the players at the front and the back of the stage. Perhaps a longer rehearsal period would have helped to iron out the wrinkles.
The evening was also in sore need of an on-stage compere, who could have introduced each act more fully, creating a stronger sense of occasion.
As for the four acts themselves, each should take immense pride in their achievements. As Georgie Rose said after the show, “Tonight was beyond special. One of those lifetime moments.”
Note: At the time of this review, Amber Run were known as Amber.