By Nick Parkhouse
Has there ever been a musician who is more of a victim of his own success than James Blunt?
Despite two Brit awards, two Ivor Novello awards and his debut album being the biggest selling record in the UK in the 21st century – Back to Bedlam has sold over three million copies in Britain alone – you can barely mention the poor fella’s name without hoots of derision and contempt.
With three albums now under his belt, Blunt was back at the Royal Concert Hall for a second time, playing to a packed house who were in their seats with a punctuality rarely seen in a gig-going audience.
As a warm-up for the main event we were treated to a melodic and engaging set from Brooklyn five piece Wakey! Wakey! Occupying the ground between Five for Fighting and The Fray, Mike Grubbs and his band were likeable enough and will presumably end up selling records by the wagon load. The fact that they are about as likely to change the face of popular music as Olly Murs didn’t dampen the polite and generous reaction of the audience.
For half a dozen songs or so, I was concerned that James Blunt was going to live up to all the unfair criticisms that are thrown at him. Considering he has performed hundreds of concerts over the last seven years or so, he was nervous and gauche and appeared reluctant to engage with a passionate Nottingham crowd.
The excellent So Far Gone opened the show with a whimper whilst the ever popular Billy and Wisemen – both recognisable tracks from Back to Bedlam – seemed to fall flat.
However, after a lovely rendition of the beautiful Carry Me Home, Blunt began to grow in confidence.
The 37-year-old began to warm up as the audience became more vocal and a spine tingling version of his 2005 single Goodbye My Lover brought a rapturous reception from the crowd.
By the time he performed Superstar – his ’80s tribute’ – the audience were on their feet and the energetic I’ll Be Your Man, catchy single Stay The Night and the brilliant 1973 kept the Concert Hall crowd dancing until the end.
Strangely, despite Blunt’s assurances that he would play much of his old material throughout the gig, it was his new songs that made this show.
His monster hit You’re Beautiful sounds awfully dated – a lovely example of the politeness of the Nottingham audience was when they chose to sing the radio friendly lyric from that song – whilst High and So Long, Jimmy have been tainted by overexposure.
Songs from his latest album Some Kind of Trouble sounded terrific, and the upbeat nature of These Are The Words and Turn Me On meant that the audience could really get involved.
Chasing through the crowd and standing on his piano are about as rock and roll as Blunt gets, but he’s bright enough to understand his audience and sensible enough to give the crowd what they are looking for.
It was a show that was slick, competent and efficient without touching any great emotional nerve. And, whatever you think of Blunt, he clearly remains popular with large swathes of the population.
On the basis of this performance, there’s plenty of life in Blunt yet – despite what your colleague at the water cooler thinks of him.
So Far Gone, Dangerous, Billy, Wisemen, Carry You Home, These Are The Words, I’ll Take Everything, Out Of My Mind, Goodbye My Lover, No Tears, High, Superstar, Same Mistake, If Time Is All I Have, You’re Beautiful, So Long Jimmy, I’ll Be Your Man, Stay The Night, Into The Dark, Turn Me On, 1973.