Grand Central Hall, Liverpool, 22 May 2021

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert

Have you been to any social distanced gigs?  I can understand why people don’t go to them.  They are quiet, sensible affairs a lot of time.  It is difficult for an artist to build a connection with those in the room.  There is a flipside though.  Nobody chatters through social distanced gigs.  You can watch an act like Wyldest without listening to inane, lager-fuelled conversations at competitive volumes; without the heckler too scared to go to a comedy night as he knows he’d get torn apart by the person on stage; without the supportive friends of the support act who think their job is done once their mate thanks the audience.  It’s really nice to do.  And why you are watching an act like Wyldest, and Blackaby and Charity Shop Pop too, it enhances their performance as you get to take in all manner of complexity and nuance in the sound.

Charity Shop Pop seems to have spent the last fourteen months working on his songwriting as there was a noticeable upgrade from the last time I watched him perform.  The new set is brighter and bolder.  Songs about Notting Hill, sample lyric “I wish I was Hugh Grant so I could get the girl”, sound like self-deprecating wit rather than deliberately awkward simp Notes app messages turned to music.  It works to get the audience onside.

The biggest problem Charity Shop Pop seems to have at the moment is that a couple of his best songs are about Corona life and nobody is going to want a reminder of that after 21st June.  You might want to get the rhyming dictionary out and pretend that youknowhat never happened.

I had never listened to Blackaby before, but before he had finished his first track I felt like I was willing to fight anybody who claimed to be a bigger fan than me.  His set showed a rare talent reminding me of Ray Davies, and that was before he covered The Kinks.  His voice was beautiful and filled the room, and with the stripped back musical setup of just his acoustic guitar it was the perfect setup to let you experience how nuanced and sweet his vocal is.  And the best thing I can say about his performance was that he covered With A Little Help From My Friends without it seeming tacky, tedious or tribute band.  In Will’s hands it was an emotional lullaby.

I was very excited to watch Wyldest.  Zoe is one of those people who you wish the world had more of as it would make it a far better place.  The fact she combines that with a vast musical talent is a bonus.  With the second Wyldest album, Monthly Friend, out in the next few days, I expected to hear just those songs, but instead we had a mix from Monthly Friend, and Dream Chaos – with a couple of bonus numbers included too.

Despite not having the rest of her band alongside her, Zoe created a complex and wonderful sound which more than filled the room.  For songs like recent single Hollow Zoe was able to tiptoe along the tightrope between pop and art perfectly.  The performance and gig felt special.  Wyldest are back in Liverpool for Sound City later on in the year, and I can’t wait for that one.

I will miss socially distanced gigs when they’re finished, but I’ll never want them to come back.

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

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