“It’s a Friday night in Manchester and it’s gonna be a fucking good night.”
In one of the most infamous venues that Manchester has to offer, Irish singer songwriter Gavin James takes to the Gorilla stage to a screaming crowd. With nothing but a couple of guitars to aid him, the 25-year-old stands solo on stage. Tonight there are no gimmicks – all eyes and ears are focussed on him.
In the packed out dimly lit room, James announces before his opening song, “it’s so smoky in here it’s like we’re in a fucking cloud.” With all the effing and blinding, it’s hard to believe that such a pure and delicate voice comes from the same person. But as the guitar riff for opening song, ‘Til the Sun Comes Up’ begins, the crowd fall silent and James’ voice begins to resonate around the room. With not a single phone screen to be seen, the room is submerged into pure darkness, with just the faintest spotlight beaming on James. The audience are clearly absorbing his refined and crisp voice, as the room stands so still and quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
With vivid ginger hair and a strong beard game that would give any hipster a run for their money, James is an unlikely star in this aesthetic industry. But whilst he may not conform to the typical popstar look, his instantly recognisable and refreshing voice demonstrates exactly why there is suddenly a big buzz surrounding his name.
Having previously supported acts such as Kodaline, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran, James has created a large and loyal fan base, which is clear to see tonight. As he sings his most popular songs, ‘22’, ‘Nervous’ and ‘Bitter Pill’, the audience sing along word for word without taking their eyes off him.
Halfway through the show, James treats the audience to an intimate performance in the middle of the crowd of the Ray Charles classic, ‘You Don’t Know Me’. “I apologise to the guys in front of me who’s eyes I’m about to sing into” says James. Even without a microphone, his effortless voice is clear for all to hear. This up close and personal performance of a popular timeless song is understandably a highlight for many.
Once firmly back on stage, James introduces his next song, ‘Say Hello’. However, all is not as it seems, as the instantly recognisable chords of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’ begin the song. After a beautiful rendition of the first verse, James attempts to impersonate Armstrong on the second verse, with a result that resembles the Cookie Monster more than the famous American jazz singer. A remarkable trumpet solo made purely with James’ mouth ends the song, as he then leads into ‘Say Hello’.
What is remarkable about this show is that one moment you feel like you’re at an open mic night, with a newbie turning up and playing love songs he’s written in his bedroom. The next, you feel like you’re at Wembley Stadium, as James wows the audience with his phenomenal falsetto and keeps the audience in the palm of his hands. It is these attributes that make him the brilliant up and coming star that he is.
As the night draws to a close, James brings on earlier support act Craig Gallagher for an animated cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in The Dark. Although somewhat surprising to finish with a cover, it soon becomes clear that this is the perfect closing song. High energy and full of tight harmonies, these two singers complement each other perfectly. That mixed with the chants of “even if we’re just dancing in the dark” from the audience, James finishes the show on a high, leaving the crowd screaming for more as he leaves the stage.
From busking on the streets and numerous open mic nights to performing in venues around the world, James appears as grounded as he was seven years ago when he first started out. If he remains this way and continues to put on shows as good as tonight’s, James is in for a winning formula.