I went to Koko for the Letters album launch with high hopes after following Matt Cardle’s progress from the guy on the Seven Summers videos who sang brilliantly whilst flicking occasional nervous glances at the camera, to the assured, rocking performer he is now. It isn’t so much that he’s changed dramatically, but he has learned that people really want to connect with him and now he connects back with every ounce of his heart and soul. 

The show was opened by young newcomer Gabrielle Aplin performing a mixture of self penned songs and covers. Her excitement and nervousness were plain to see between songs, but this dissolved with every first note. The girl can sing and the girl can write – my other half commented that had he been able to hear the lyrics more clearly she would have had the whole package and the crowd seemed to agree as she was cheered and applauded enthusiastically.

That applause, though, only seemed loud until it came time for Matt to come on and the volume of the roars, screams and stamping feet racked up several notches. He has the air of someone who still cannot believe his luck. It’s understandable; he spent so many years performing in pubs and at small events, and hawking his cd’s unsuccessfully around record companies he must have felt at times like the invisible man and they must have been crazy to let him slip through their fingers. Columbia were wiser and now have him safely under a contract that will reportedly allow them to market his talent worldwide. 

He and his band sorted themselves out, plugging in instruments and generally faffing about with mikes and equipment, as musicians do before they start. The audience noise intensified as people moved forward onto the floor and balconies, angling for that perfect view. Some fans screamed “Love you!” to which Matt replied: “Love you too sweetheart.” He thanked everyone for showing up and for all the support he’s received to date and then introduced the first song, explaining its relevance in the whole scheme of things. Matt has a unique appeal that seems to transcend age or gender and the only common factor this night was that, due to an age restriction, everyone was over sixteen – some by a few days, some by decades and, contrary to what some reviewers have said, men made up a respectable proportion of the audience. Had the age restriction not been in place, there would probably have been an even more diverse range of fans from toddler up. 

He took a little time between songs to thank everyone who had helped him to get where he is and to express the hope that they would stick with him – as if there were any doubt. Many of his friends and family were there too and his parents and girlfriend could be seen on the balcony dancing along. Delighted looks and signals were exchanged between stage and balcony which seemed to imbue the whole thing with that happy golden glow you usually only get when looking back on a great experience. 

First song of the set was the title track Letters. The album isn’t available  until October the 17th, but many of the audience had listened to the previews and trawled YouTube for footage from his Scottish gigs and knew the lyrics well enough to sing along (some were even in tune). Matt relaxed into his music and his audience melted into his voice. I usually give a little latitude on live performances, there is bound to be a missed chord here, a flat note there, but not with Matt Cardle. He aced every song and his band, still new to the job, did a great job of supporting him. They continued with other album tracks Pull Me Under and Letters, while sections of the audience carried on singing with him, bringing grins to the faces of all on stage. Matt’s personal favourite, All for Nothing was soulfully performed and was followed by Stars and Lovers, the last song before he began a short acoustic set consisting of Jolene andNights in White Satin. He introduced the latter by saying it was the only two and a half minutes of the X Factor when he actually felt like himself. He has made no secret of the fact that he wants to shake the X Factor tag now, but not in a negative way, he simply wants to prove himself and Monday night he made an excellent start. Matt co-wrote every song on the album bar two, the forthcoming single, Run For Your Life, a Gary Barlow original clearly written with Matt in mind and When We Collide. The first of those works well as a transition between what Matt was performing on X Factor and what he’s doing now. It’s set to hit the shops and the charts pretty much simultaneously in a day or so. The other made Christmas No.1 and Matt seems to enjoy performing it (although he tends to call it by its original name Many of Horror when he does). Sparks was also released recently as a free download on Amazon. It hit Number 1 in the mp3 chart shortly after. 

Now, what was I saying? Oh yes, the gig. After a few more tunes from the album with the band he went off in true rock star fashion, to be brought back on for an encore. During his tour he has been performing a stunning version of Alanis Morisette’s Uninvited and he treated us to this now. I’ve heard a whisper that he’d quite like to record it. Yes I know the knockers will say it’s a cover and therefore a cop out, but Matt is a musician for life, not just for Christmas. He writes great songs, but he doesn’t stand on his dignity. If a song impresses him enough, he’ll play it.

At one point, he looked up to the balcony where the current X Factor finalists were enjoying the show and told them that they were going to have a lot of fun. They’ve also got their work cut out trying live up to the standards he set. His album was made possible by the show, but is as far away from the X Factor as you could get, original, varied, co-written by the singer and performed with a real band. Many of the songs are growers, but that’s no bad thing and better than instantly loving a song, only to get sick of it after a few plays. I’ve had one track or another running through my head since the gig. Currently it’s the title song, but yesterday I had All for Nothing and as earworms go they rock! Koko rocked too. All too short, of course, but if you missed it, I’m sorry, you really did miss out!

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