Gig Review: MATT CARDLE, THE FIRE ALBUM LAUNCH

With his new album Matt Cardle has finally come out of his box and become his own man. He has a new recording contract with SoWhat? records that gives him the control he lacked with Columbia/Sony, a new album, "The Fire" and a sound that is totally, unmistakably Cardle. His three date album launch mini tour took place this week, setting venues alight in Birmingham, Brighton and culminating in the launch party at Scala, London. "The Fire" and lead single, "It's Only Love" are out simultaneously on the 29th October 2012. Take my advice and go straight for the album.

As Birmingham is just a few miles down the road from where I live, it seemed rude not to pop along and see him at the HMV Institute. The concert sold out quickly, so I'm glad my good manners included promptness in ticket ordering.

For the second time ever, I managed to get to the front in this all standing venue and even got a seat due to my being not great at standing for long periods. A quick word here about the attitude of entertainment venues to disability. HMV Institute, like most others, make provision for disabled people to go in a few minutes early so that they can get settled before the main rush and inevitable stampede for the best positions near the stage. Staff are helpful and friendly and the experience is generally very good. Seats for those, like me, who can't stand for a full set are placed where the organisers think will be most suitable. I'm not sure they've ever consulted a real disabled person about this. My tall, comfortable and very stable stool was right near the back of the room in a corner, pretty much as far as you could get from the stage and the exit. I wanted to be up front and personal at this show so we asked whether the stool could be moved. The response was that if I chose to move it, then the Institute could take no responsibility for any issues resulting. Fine. My companion Kathy cheerfully grabbed it and put it against the barrier in front of the stage, which was also fairly close to the exit and ablutions. We were close to a bank of large speakers and a staff member kindly supplied us with earplugs, just in case the noise got too much. I was anticipating beautiful noise, so wasn't unduly worried, but I did use them for a couple of the louder numbers.

It was interesting watching the last minute preparations before the show as guitars were tuned by techs, set lists taped to the floor beside each microphone and plectrums pushed into slots on microphone arms, four on one, five on another. At one point bassist Remy Mallett, popped in behind us, shone a very bright light at something and then disappeared again. Not sure what that was about.

By this time the room was filling up and I wondered which of the people around me planned to talk through the entire event. I'm not a pessimist, but if only two people are going to talk a lot, they'll usually be right behind me and will be speaking loudly to make themselves heard. The only one of Matt's shows I've ever been to where this didn't happen was at High Barn in Essex, where they kindly put chairs for the unsteady right at the front, either side of the stage. That night I was close to the stage "door" (actually a black curtain) and was aware of Matt standing behind it psyching himself up to go on. The tension was tangible even though it was a relatively small, intimate affair. I expected similar nerves tonight, but when he and the band strolled onstage and started fiddling with equipment, checking plugs and generally settling in, they seemed almost nonchalant.

When the first notes of Starlight began, everything changed. Matt's excitement fizzed and bubbled, even affecting his singing a bit and I wondered briefly if there was something wrong. There wasn't of course, it was just adrenalin. Matt has written, produced and even played most of the instruments on his album and he has it exactly to his liking, so why wouldn't he be super confident. By the time he started into the second song, title track "The Fire", he was really on his mettle, filling the whole room with his incredible voice made more spectacular by the sheer joy he was clearly feeling. One notable change to the line up this time was the addition of two female backing singers who were, frankly brilliant. The rest of the band were as excellent as usual, delivering faultless performances throughout.

The set was a mixture of new and familiar. Songs from his platinum first album "Letters" were interspersed with new tracks from "The Fire", all of which were absolute crackers. He has gone back to his soft rock roots and it works. The rocky uplifting tracks were belted out, accompanied by big smiles directed at members of the audience, including a few that came my way which were returned in kind. I could hear women melting all around the room. In the middle of the show was a short acoustic section that he turned into a sing along session to his first major hit "When We Collide" (the only cover of the night). Much as I dislike the lyrics to this song, I found myself joining in, caught in the moment. Actually there was plenty of singing throughout the set to the more familiar numbers like "All for Nothing", lead single "It's Only Love" and the song he's sung live countless times, "All That Matters". "Letters" is a personal favourite and I'm afraid people had to put up with me belting it out at the top of my voice. Sorry folks.

When an entire show consists of stunningly good and varied songs perfectly sung, it's hard to pick out a high or low moment. I think the low was Starlight, just because I worried he was going to hold back and save his voice for the main event in London, but there were so many highs. "Water" was an emotion packed ride into the falsetto stratosphere with notes so high I'm surprised the bats didn't fly down from the belfry to see what was going on. "For Every Heartbreak" was lively and rocky: the kind of song you really don't want to end and "Anyone Else" is really different.

I can see me putting this album on repeat and letting it play all day. The last album I did that with was the eponymous title from his former band Seven Summers which lasted me an entire year and I'm still not tired of it. "The Fire" is right up there with it. "Letters" was great with beautiful songs throughout and I loved it until I heard him sing them live, when it became clear just how utterly incredible they could have been had Columbia allowed him a say in the production. That was their mistake. Happily his new label, SoWhat? have had the wisdom to give him his head.

Maybe if I had to pick one moment from the entire night, it would be his encore "Lately". It's a truly beautiful song, sad and yet optimistic: filled with pain and hope. It's also just a little bit anthemic.

Matt was supported by the highly talented Paul Liddell who started his set by having to sing over a whole roomful of people chatting and mostly ignoring him. By the time he'd sung a couple of his self penned songs, the room was beginning to fall silent. There will always be people who talk throughout an entire show. I put it down to the influence of tv. We can sit at home watching and chatting. Somewhere to the back I could hear a clutch of natterers who carried on for the entire evening. Had I left my seat where it was, they would have been between me and the stage and my night would have been much less enjoyable. Most of us realise that a live show is different and deserves a bit of shush, could we educate the others perhaps by all turning to talkers and asking them politely to shut their cakeholes or leave? Paul is one to watch. He has this strange ability to build up sounds live by recording a riff or rhythm tapped out on the sound box of his guitar and then layering them through a computerised gismo which makes it sound like he has a full band with him and three or four people harmonising in places. He also has a very mellow voice and a new album about to be released. Check him out at http://www.paulliddell.com/

Is it too early to chuck in a wish list for Matt's next album? Probably not as he's already said he's started writing, so: Matthew you talented man, please continue with the collaborations that have worked so well to date and keep up the constant improvement that has become your signature, but maybe also look back a little and pen a tune or two with Neillo? A year's constant listening pleasure can't be wrong. Many fans would also love a new recording of Violet from your Darwyn days. Do you realise just how beautiful this song is?

Well that's about all I have to say. It would be nice to meet him again, just to say hello, but that takes stamina I don't possess to either arrive at a venue very, very early or to stay on afterwards, so I'll just wish him all success with "The Fire". If any album deserved it, it's this one.

More info about Matt and the new album can be found here: http://mattcardlemusic.com

Track List from the Deluxe Album THE FIRE (standard album is the same but without the bonus tracks): 

It's Only Love; The Fire; For Every Heartbreak; Water; Anywhere; Anyone Else; Empire; All that Matters; Lately; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face; Its Only Love (Acoustic) [bonus]; Millionaire (Acoustic) [bonus]; Hanging From Your Heartstrings (bonus)

Your Somebody (bonus)