On a windy, wintry evening in Birmingham, The Sunflower Lounge welcomed KIOL and Tom Speight to the stage for an intimate and memorable performance.
Alessandro Bossi, the 20-year-old Italian singer/songwriter now presenting as KIOL, was the perfect supporting act; smiling, energetic and so enthusiastic he snapped a string on his guitar during a rendition of Broken Up Again. If he was at all nervous, this did not show – in fact, his broad smile and slight accent warmed the crowd immediately, despite the bitter cold outside.
His upcoming single Hard Things looks set to be a success, given the whole room was hand-clapping and foot-tapping along. Having worked with Paolo Nutini’s producers, it’s clear to see in this soulful offering a move towards a refined production of his skills. His performance was a dynamic teaser of things to come; very exciting things, by the looks of it.
Following with the same passionate strumming of a guitar, Tom Speight took to the stage. At first, I was a little apprehensive of what to expect from an artist whose gentle, loving song ‘Closer’ makes a regular appearance on ‘Netflix and Chill’ playlists from Spotify. Luckily, I spotted en route that Tom was indulging in a pre-gig Wagamama katsu curry and knew immediately he was my sort of musician. Wearing a camo-patterned bomber jacket and black skinny jeans (did I miss that memo? Or it is a musician thing?) Tom kicked off with his popular My My My like a true professional. He led the band and chatty crowd with the air of someone in his element.
I spotted en route that Tom was indulging in a pre-gig Wagamama katsu curry and knew immediately he was my sort of musician.
Having just hit 20 million streams on Spotify, Tom Speight is providing a blend of folk and pop which is capturing people’s attention. The room was an interesting mix of first-timers (myself included) and more dedicated fans, with Tom taking the time to ask each of us how we came across his music. This is an artist who is succeeding in grabbing attention online and then establishing those relationships on a face to face basis to ensure a solid fan following.
The raw, slightly unpolished quality that comes through on his recorded tracks is all the better in person. This ‘human’ aspect of his songs, something Tom attributes to the specific studio process with producer Chris Bond, is emphasised by the snippets of personal details added in between songs. “I wrote about 10 break-up songs in a week, all about the same girl, but I guess I only need one or two”, he confessed with a slightly sad smile before launching into Running Out After You accompanied by the sweet voice of Lydia Clowes.
Tom isn’t afraid to capitalise on the cosy settings offered by his chosen venues. The Sunflower Lounge provided the perfect environment, with the band stepping off stage at one point for an a cappella rendition of Joni, complete with a circle of spotlights from fan’s mobile phones. It seems almost too simplistic, to stand amongst the group lit just by phones and encourage clapping along, and yet it truly got everyone involved. Regardless of whether this is a staple part of his gig routine, the end result was a feeling of knowing the artist a little better having seen him so up-close and personal.
This experience is continued after the music has ended, with Tom manning his own merchandise stand alongside Lydia Clowes. It’s not often that an artist with such online success has the time to chat with each gig attendee.
Neither artist would look out of place at Latitude Festival. The evening achieved a sweet balance between high energy performance and an intimate atmosphere; providing a snapshot into the passion both these musicians channel into their song writing. If you have a chance to catch Tom or KIOL in action, it’s definitely worth your while.
Review by Sophie Bremner for Grapevine Birmingham