It’s Tuesday evening and it’s cold, wet and miserable outside; not that you can tell from the lower deck of Thekla! This show is sold out and the warmth of body heat and excitement serves as a constant reminder of the fact.
The night kicks off with a packed out main room welcoming the facial hair, floppy hair and checked shirts of emerging Bristol band The Bronze Medal to the stage. Their performance doesn’t get the crowd jumping up and down but instead exudes feeling and commands focus; they undeniably wander away from the beaten track of indie music that their appearance suggests they might adhere to. After a set of vocal harmonies and softly murmured lyrics, singer-songwriter Josh Osho is next to win over the crowd with music that is equally heartfelt but contrastingly upbeat. Singing with the emotion in his lyrics written on his face and boasting an infectious smile the rest of the time, his personality shines from the offset and his performance is rewarded with the first real applause of the evening.
Gabrielle Aplin comes on stage armed with a band and donning a guitar almost as big as her. She stands before the microphone and promptly proceeds to knock it out of place, laughing quietly as she does so. It’s not hard to tell she’s a little nervous and no wonder; just over half a year since her last show here and Gabrielle’s scored herself a major record deal, seen her fan base multiply and has been promoted from the tiny second room to Thekla’s main stage. The set commences with “Keep Pushing Me,” and Gabrielle sings every lyric with purity and conviction that leaves the audience transfixed. By the time she breaks into new track “Evaporate”, every sign of nervousness has faded.
She plays a strong set combining the brand new with old favourites and the one that’s “kind of about a snowman”. Gabrielle’s cover of the classic “The Power of Love” (which reached the Top 5 in the UK singles chart and appears on an advert for John Lewis) is haunting and powerful. But despite grabbing the attention of the nation with the Frankie Goes to Hollywood cover, it’s easy to see that Gabrielle has remained grounded from the affection with which she dedicates a moving performance of Coldplay’s “Fix You” to her Mum, who waves from the corner of the room. The importance of her roots is only reinforced by the overwhelming feeling with which she sings “Rings around Roses,” written for her Dad who, she explains, “has been unable to walk for a year”. The intensity of emotion in her songs is balanced out in between as the crowd is entertained by Bristol banter, ginger jibes at guitarist Tom Crouch and apologies about the fact that she can’t tune her guitar and unravel the meanings behind her lyrics at the same time. Years of practise go some way to explaining how she plays her songs and the crowd with such ease, but part of the positive reaction she is receiving is owed to the simple fact that Gabrielle is a likeable person.
Gabrielle wraps things up with an eagerly awaited performance of “Home” which is endearing, relatable and a winner with the fans, who mimic the delicacy in her voice as they sing every lyric of the chorus. She says how she’s happy to be home and the warmth with which her performance was absorbed by the Bristol crowd shouts back loud and clear: we’re happy to have you.
It’s refreshing to see an artist performing who is aware of the fact that the worth of an encore has disappeared, doesn’t realise that there are people watching from the balconies until the latter half of the set and drinks what could be tea from a mug on stage. This is a gig combining shining personalities, a receptive crowd and most significantly, music that has the ability to demand the absolute attention of everybody there to create an atmosphere that can only be achieved at such an intimate venue.