Oozing star quality – Charlie Simpson. Photographs: Simon Godley. Click to see a bigger image
Charlie Simpson + Jemma Johnson
Fibbers, Toft Green, York
Sat Jan 31
For the second night running the “house full” signs are up outside of Fibbers.
On Friday, it was Independent Venue Week – a seven day long celebration of small grassroots venues like Fibbers that continue to be the very lifeblood of the live music industry – and a cracking bill that included local heroes Boss Caine, Chris Helme and both Rick Witter and Joe Johnson from Shed Seven that ensured the place was sold out.
Tonight it is Charlie Simpson’s turn to play to a 500 capacity crowd inside the Toft Green venue.
And Charlie Simpson is someone who knows a little bit about independence. A man who first shot to fame in the early oughties as one third of Busted – the boyband who briefly reigned as the biggest single pop act in Britain – he then abruptly quit the band almost ten years ago to the day and at a time when Busted’s collective star was still very much in the ascendency.
Citing disillusionment at the environment in which he found himself and an associated lack of musical fulfilment, Charlie Simpson then channelled all of his energies into Fightstar, the emo/rock band he had formed as a side project a few years earlier.
But now with Fightstar having been on hiatus since 2010 (albeit with some one-off, tenth anniversary shows planned for later on this month), he has been able to fully concentrate on his own solo career.
Arms aloft, with joie de vivre. Click to see a bigger image
Tonight’s show forms part of a 13-city solo acoustic tour across the UK and Ireland, giving Charlie Simpson the opportunity to “go out and play these songs (from his two solo albums) as they were originally written”. And perform them he does.
If you discount his delightful cover of the English singer-songwriter Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek (which had initially appeared as a B-side to Fightstar’s 2009 single The English Way and was, after all, performed solo by him with just piano and voice), Simpson eschews everything from his earlier career.
Instead he concentrates fully on material from his two solo albums, 2011’s debut Young Pilgrim and last year’s follow-up Long Road Home.
For 60 perfectly weighted minutes, Charlie Simpson splits a dozen songs evenly across both records (with the utmost precision Hide and Seek sits right there in the very middle of the set, as if it is an axis upon which his entire performance spins).
And for this hour Simpson proves that he is equally comfortable across much of the indie-pop/rock spectrum, be it with the contagious hook-laden pop sensibility of songs like the opener Comets, the arms aloft joie-de-vivre of Thorns or Still Young (complete with its totally unprompted crowd refrain of “ooh, ooh, oohs”).
There are tender ballads (Emily) or the glorious West Coast drenched harmonies of Sundown.
A winner… Jemma Johnson. Click to see a bigger image
There’s even time to introduce Jemma Johnson, a local singer-songwriter and music graduate who won the recent Charlie Presents Youtube competition in which members of the public were invited to perform a cover of Winter Hymns, the first single to be taken from Long Road Home.
Tonight she produces a lovely, tender reading of the song with Simpson’s voice providing a most natural counterpoint on the chorus.
A football terracing-like chant from the crowd of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” brings Simpson and his fellow musicians Alex Davies and Andy Bakewell – on guitars and keys respectively – back onto the Fibbers stage for a well-deserved encore of Farmer and his Gun.
With his lantern-jawed matinée idol good looks and easy charm Charlie Simpson is a man who oozes star quality.
But he also has undeniable talent and on this evening’s evidence alone, a large handful of really top tunes with which he is able to create an even greater distance between himself and his boyband past.