Gig review – Holly Humberstone at the O2 Academy, Tuesday 12th March 2024

Holly Humberstone @ no Palco Vodafone Portugal, June 2023. Photo Bruno Ferreira

with Medium Build

Reviewed by Phil Taylor (see his Music Observer blog here)

I make no secret of the fact that I’m a Holly Humberstone fan. I’ve written about her on my blog and elsewhere several times (I’m still buzzing from getting the chance to interview her for LeftLion recently) and I’ve enjoyed following her progress and witnessing her growing confidence over the past couple of years. I’m not sure whether it’s the local connection, her honesty, her relatability or her determination that appeals most – I think it’s a combination of all of those, and of course, the rich, reflective songs she writes.

After having the opportunity in 2023 to see her headlining Barn on the Farm festival and then presenting her album in a stripped-back show in Nottingham, I was really looking forward to seeing her perform a full-length headline show. I caught her in Leicester, which, along with Lincoln, was one of her ‘homecoming’ dates on the Paint My Bedroom Black tour.

Medium Build was Holly’s support artist on every date of the tour. Nick Carpenter is his real name. He’s from Alaska, by way of Tennessee – far from the English East Midlands – although Nick seemed to have found a strange and unexpected connection between the two places despite some difficulties with the notoriously oddly-spelt British place-names.

“Leicester! … The American mind cannot comprehend how you could get so many vowels together that make no sound” he declared, later declaring how “safe” and at home he felt in the city.

Nick played guitar accompanied by Paul, who fired off backing tracks and played keyboard. The set was entertaining and surprisingly hard-hitting, emotionally. I found him and his brand of quirky, alternative Americana, quickly endearing.

He spoke with relaxed excitement and began his songs with a chilled-out drawl. It wasn’t all laid back, though. As Nick sings, you can see how he’s transported to a different emotional place almost immediately. There’s a sense that he’s letting the music take control of his body and soul. In his third offering, Cutting Thru the Country, as he moved further into the song he moved further away from the microphone, ending up a good foot or two back, shout-singing with passion. Then he suddenly reverted to a lovely husky drawl. Very impactful.

There were some other great moments, too. FATbrokeLOSER was a request from a local fan (this transatlantic fame seemed to have taken him by surprise), which included some wonderfully on-the-nose, folk-poetic lyrics, like “I wonder what plans God has for you basic bitches” and “Used to talk to Jesus, now I’m drunk and talking to myself”; and the set closer, I Love Cherry, was vibrant with its almost monotone bassline overlaid with discordant keys.

Through his set, Medium Build provided us an exciting and unique introduction to the evening, delivering immersive music that complemented but also contrasted with what was to come.

Full setlist for Medium Build

Gimme Back My Soul

In My Room

Cutting Thru the Country



I Love Cherry

Holly‘s set opened with an initial atmospheric and building sound providing a base for her band members to add to, one by one, as they walked on and took their positions.

She played 20 songs in total (including her two encores) – that’s a heavy set, but she seemed to ease through it relatively easily for the most part, only displaying a few signs of tiredness. Her voice sounded a little husky in places, but that only seemed to enhance the feeling of maturity and depth to her performance.

I’ve written before about her nerves, her battles with stage fright and her persistence and resilience. I’ve seen how she has grown, matured and elevated her music and her stage presence, most recently with the support of a solid band on stage. Tonight that unity and strength was very much evident. The four on stage really gave the sense of a well-knit team. They’d obviously built a carefully thought out and practised set, one which gave all the musicians scope to develop Holly’s songs into richer live versions.

From behind the drums, Lauren gave solid, spot-on beats, exuding capability and confidence which in turn allowed the others freedom to play to their best. The lead guitar from Jack was more prominent, with more — extended — solos. Holly herself moved more freely around the stage, with lots of eye contact and smiles exchanged with her band members. This sense of teamwork was probably a key factor which gave Holly the energy to deliver such a long and dense set.

The set began with a brilliant, upbeat and scene-setting trio of songs. The first — the song which assembled gradually — was ‘Paint My Bedroom Black’: this one settled into an easy rhythm early on and stayed firmly there, with a feeling of really pushing forward. This progressed neatly into ‘Into Your Room’, which was satisfyingly firm and forceful, a song which really benefited from the energy and organic aspects of the live band. ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’ completed the trio, another one which was infused with live band energy, and was brilliantly extended to allow for a fabulous lead guitar solo from Jack. I saw a similar arrangement at Barn on the Farm last year, but it’s been developed and refined since then.

The set quietened down a little after that, dipping into slightly older material, and giving everyone time to get back a little bit of breath. Overkill was a mellower choice of track, a lesser-known one, but it sounded particularly good tonight, with the chugging electric guitars of the original given a boost, and the drums much more prominent. Vanilla followed – another low-key track, but one which has the kind of chorus which is perfect for a live singalong … the crowd obliged.

A word about that crowd – it was the kind of mixed audience which illustrates Holly’s broad appeal: several rows of core younger fans, plenty of 20s and 30s, some families, and also a generous proportion of older fans (not all of them 6Music dads, either). When I interviewed her, she talked about feeling like Leicester (as well as Lincoln which she visited a few days earlier on this tour) was home, perhaps instead of Nottingham which she wasn’t able to fit in this time. Holly made plenty of that local connection during her chats with the crowd, talking of growing up in what was technically  Leicestershire (although Grantham is always eager to claim her as its own!) She didn’t need to do anything to warm this crowd to her — there was an almost tangible sense of everyone holding her aloft and giving out almost as much gratitude as Holly herself exuded — but her obvious affection for the city certainly did no harm.

To get back to the set, Kissing In Swimming Pools was emotive, deep and rich; and this was followed up by a significant jump up in energy as Medium Build re-entered the stage to duet with full-blooded attention, and quirky dance moves, on Cocoon.

We were only seven songs in by this point – only about a third of the whole list – but it felt like a whole set by now, thanks to the smart curation of tracks, moving through a variety of styles and feels. I can’t hope to capture the full detail of the remainder of the set, which began with soaring, off-the-cliff, launch into one of her newest songs, Dive: this was the kind of gig where I was having way too much fun to take notes.

Some very memorable moments came in Antichrist, which sounded several times more full, impactful and raw than the studio version (an example of where stripping away production can work to the benefit of both the song and the artist); Elvis Impersonators where Holly’s poignant introduction giving the backstory to the song, which was inspired by one of her sisters and her move to Japan, lent the song an added passion and emotional depth; and Ghost Me, which similarly was boosted by Holly’s monologue about its history and also the “local” references to a night out in Nottingham.

I could sense how the band and Holly herself had grown together throughout the tour so far. They were enjoying themselves, interacting in a very relaxed way, and providing a means for Holly to draw energy. She moved around the stage a lot more than I remember seeing previously, and just came across as more … free, even when encumbered with a guitar, or sat behind her piano.

The encores were, of course, predictable, but that didn’t matter at all. We indulged the band in their short journey off stage and back again, before they launched into a nicely paced rendition of Friendly Fire and finally, of course, Scarlett. Holly had a lot of fun with that one, rattling through the fast-paced vocal section effortlessly, and allowing the crowd’s full-throated singalong to carry her to the climax.

And so ended a thoroughly satisfying, hugely enjoyable episode of the Holly Humberstone Show. It was a well-assembled, polished and coherent one – but that polish was not taken too far. I went away feeling I’d been granted the privilege of sharing some of Holly’s formative life experiences; the whole performance was still true to Holly’s soul. I hope her gigs always stay that way. To be honest, I’m pretty sure they will, knowing how much her songs, and their stories, mean to her.

Full setlist:
Paint My Bedroom Black
Into Your Room
The Walls Are Way Too Thin
Kissing in Swimming Pools
Cocoon (with Medium Build)
Deep End
London Is Lonely
Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Elvis Impersonators
Sleep Tight
Ghost Me
Friendly Fire


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