The last time Greg Holden played in London – he informs us half way through this sweaty, packed homecoming show – he had hair down to his shoulders and was about six stone heavier. “It wasn’t a pretty sight,” he laughs.
While he might be exaggerating slightly for effect, a lot of things have changed since this New York-based, Aberdeen-born former London resident last stood took to the stage in the capital. Superficially, as he says, he’s shed a few pounds and got himself a new, spiky haircut. But his career has had a much more drastic makeover, with a major label deal and his song ‘Home’ selling five million copies in US when covered by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips.
Backed by guitar, bass and drums, his set tonight proves he’s made the move from singer-songwriter to budding rock star pretty comfortably. He whizzes through a selection of tracks from his new, third album ‘Chase The Sun’ with confidence, spanning everything from Celtic to country influences like such links were second nature.
But it’s the moment about half way through the main set, when the band leave the stage, that things truly come alive. His current track ‘Boys In The Street’ is treated with hushed reverence. Stripped down to the barest of components, its raw emotions clearly move many, and it elicits a truly passionate response at its close.
Evidently bolstered by the approval, Greg seems to suddenly have the confidence to move things up a gear, from the merely professional to something really special. ‘The Lost Boy’ follows soon after, and he delivers this tale of a orphaned Sudanese refugee with a heart touching sincerity. The new song ‘Side of the Road’, about the recent wave of police killings in the US, shows that while his acerbic edge may have softened a little on the more optimistic and positive sounding ‘Chase The Sun’, it’s by no means disappeared.
Closing the set with ‘Hold On Tight’, with echoes of The Waterboys’ brisk strummed liveliness, it’s not long before the swaying, now very vocal crowd demands his return. He plays ‘Home’ alone, the audience left to hum along loudly in the relevant parts, before rewarding the faithful with older favourites ‘I Don’t Believe You’ and ‘Bar On A’, the latter provoking a raucous singalong that the Pogues would be proud of.
It may be three years since Greg Holden last played in London, but despite the changes tonight proves he’s lost none of the devotion his following likes to lavish on him. It surely won’t be so long next time.
– John Robbins
Venue: The Borderline, London
Support Band: Warner Music Group