Walking into the bustling O2 Guildhall in downtown Southampton on Saturday night, I’d have been forgiven for thinking I’d accidentally walked into a church. If it wasn’t for the plentiful pouring of alcohol, the atmosphere and diversity of the assembled crowds didn’t give the impression of a live music event.
But that’s beauty of Tom Chaplin. The former lead singer of Keane defies categorisation, appealing to a broad age demographic and bringing them together for a energetic performance that celebrated the joy of live, love and above all else, the esoteric strength of the human spirit. Although his decision to pursue a solo musical career following the hiatus of his band in 2013 was a potentially polarising move, it’s one that appears to have paid off – that is, if the plethora of Keane t-shirts were anything to go by.
Whilst warmup act Ainslie Willis was admirable in her efforts to rouse the crowd before the main event, the Guildhall remained eerily-silent as her dulcet voice echoed away into the night, following a sweet if unmemorable set. However, when the main man showed up, complete with styled hair and ostentatious sequinned jacket, the night soared into life. Fans of debut solo work The Wave were doubtlessly pleased by the inclusion of the entirety of the album, but only a few choice pieces aside – an emotional rendition of ‘Solid Gold’ and the colourful light show of ‘Bring the Rain’ being obvious standouts – the main attraction was, obviously, Keane songs. Whilst it was initially-melancholic to hear Chaplin perform without his ensemble, the nostalgia soon washed away as the familiar sounds of such favourites as ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ and ‘Bedshaped’ flooded the stage. It was very telling that songs featuring the other members of his crew – such as the talented violinist Rosie – got the most vocal reception from the audience, but that’s no slant against Chaplin’s voice; his angelic, mournful vocals were as resonant as ever.
Even during his tenure in Keane, Chaplin’s performances are infamous for featuring rather downbeat encore sections, and Saturday’s set was no different. Bizarrely, he decided to play two bonus tracks from the limited edition of The Wave, as well as a totally forgettable track from local Southampton performer and album collaborator, Matt Hales (Aqualung). Fortunately, following this dull section, he once again burst into life, culminating the set with the cheery See it So Clear – both his and my favourite track off of The Wave.
If there’s one thing that stood out above everything else in the performance, it was the rousing and welcoming demeanour of Chaplin. More than once he remarked upon how much he was enjoying himself, and was thrilled to see some ‘familiar faces’ amongst the crowdp. Keane may never achieve the same global recognition that fellow Brits Coldplay have, but seeing the genuine warmth and rapport that Chaplin has with his fans – both old and new – undercuts any sense of lacking.
Just make sure you get back to Keane eventually, eh Tom?