Live Review: Tom Walker - The Lemon Grove, Exeter, 20/10/2018

Last month we got down to Tom Walker’s sold out show at Exeter’s The Lemon Grove where fans were so eager for the evening, the venue was packed out even before the first support act. Support came from Maisie Peters and Sody.

I was lucky enough to be snuck into Tom Walker’s recent, sold-out concert at the Lemon Grove in Exeter. Eager and excited, I turned up half an hour before doors to try and be one of the first into the venue... and was greeted with a queue snaking around the back of the building, accompanied by the quiet yet distinctive buzz which precedes a concert reverberating through the giddy gig-goers. Skipping ahead, into the venue (enjoying them moment where I got to lose my press pass virginity and exclaim to the box office that I was on the guest list for the first time) I was immediately struck by just how full the venue was getting already. Outside of this evening, I can’t think of a single venue that has been THAT packed even before the first support; though that isn’t to say SODY didn’t deserve the crowd which welcomed her. 

But first, the venue. Lemon Grove is first and foremost a nightclub, primarily frequented by Exeter university students such as myself. For instance, when Dermot Kennedy played there on the 13th, there was a strict 22:00 curfew so as to pack up his equipment for a 22:30-3am DJ set by Dougie Poynter. As such, I was slightly apprehensive as to how that would transfer for live music. Terrifically, as it turns out. The acoustics are brilliant, the lights tremendous and the spacing perfect. I can’t speak for the view- being blessed with height means that I am usually rather fortunate with my own viewing of the concert- but all in all, a great venue for live music.

Now, onto Sody. I knew of her before the gig, thanks to the fantastic single ‘Wasted Youth’, which features the amazing Martin Luke Brown, but the studio recordings didn’t do her justice. I thought she was phenomenal, as did a group of fans in the crowd who were only there for her, singing back every word, despite the setlist only featuring two of her released tracks- she ended on ‘Wasted Youth’ and her most recent release, ‘Maybe It Was Me’. I was honestly blown away; she got the gig off to an incredible start. 

Next up, after a short wait, was the lovely Maisie Peters. Her performance was wonderfully charming; she seemed genuinely humbled to be up on stage, playing for such a crowd and before such a huge name as Tom Walker. Her bubbly personality oozed out of every interaction she had with the crowd, whether playing or just talking, and her songs were very much just stories, her delicate voice rising above the hubbub of the crowd and the sound of her minimalist stage set-up (featuring guitar, piano and violin). In all honesty, I don’t think there was a single instance during her set where I wasn’t smiling- her joy was infectious. Doubly impressive about both support s- which I didn’t discover until after - was the fact that both Maisie Peters and SODY are only eighteen. Their respective confidences on stage, as well as their brilliant performances, at only eighteen was incredible. Both supports were brilliant- and managed to perfectly set the atmosphere for Tom Walker.

Tom Walker’s performance, to put it simply, was effortless. Flawless, even. Between the supports, the music preceding his set, culminating in Tom coming on to the screams of the crowd over the anthemic ‘Come On Eileen’ by Dexys Midnight Runners, and the set itself, it was incredible. Starting with fan-favourite ‘Fly Away With Me’, worried me at first. I’ve never considered it to have quite the same impact as some of his other tracks; however, I was very, very wrong. Tom whisked the crowd away on a musical journey - as the title says - before thanking Exeter for the chance to be there and immediately transitioning into the ferocious ‘Heartland’ and the equally powerful ‘Play Dead’. Both songs, as well as showcasing the brilliance of his band, served to show off Tom’s phenomenal vocals, both intimate and formidable.

Next up was ‘My Way’. Unlike the other songs, this was my first time seeing this one being performed live so I was especially curious as to how it would translate onto the stage. And, in typical Tom Walker fashion, he killed it - framed by pink and blue lights across the length of the stage - and helped by the crowd, who made sure to sing back each and every word. After this was the first of his new songs, ‘Walk Alone’, the studio version of which features Rudimental and is the reason for the delay of his debut album, now scheduled for a release on March 1st. Listening to the live version, that delay is entirely justifiable - I could tell the song was going to be stunning when it’s released and have now had those expectations justified, as the song is now out.

After this was ‘Blessings’, a song about trying to make the most out of a night when having no money- which was instantly relatable to at least half of the crowd, particularly the students such as myself. Blessings was performed acoustically, with just Tom on the stage with a guitar in his hands. Particularly resonant was the pre-chorus, featuring the lyrics which make up the title of the upcoming album, ‘What a Time To Be Alive’; the feeling of amazement in the crowd was palpable, captivated by the Mancunian star. After, the band returned for the second of the new songs, ‘All That Matters’, a song about Tom’s grandmother, an ‘amazing woman who has been through it all’. Although the inclusion of these new songs results in the notable absence of some of Tom’s other songs, such as ‘Karma’ or ‘Sun Goes Down’, they enabled Tom to introduce multiple songs from his debut and thus increase the excitement surrounding it. Interestingly, however, ‘All That Matters’ isn’t in the track listing currently - which will be a shame if it isn’t released, as like ‘Walk Alone’ the song was tremendously good, as were all of the songs of the night. 

At the end of the track, however, came an impromptu hiatus to the gig, as cries of ‘can we get the light on’ revealed a crowd member had collapsed, presumably from the heat. Security were called and help arrived in the form of the unfortunate gig-goer being carried out of the crowd and given some fresh air and water. Meanwhile, Tom and the band temporarily left the stage and were given an unplanned break, which must have been welcome after the heat and excitement of their set to that point, even if under unfortunate circumstances. Luckily, the person was okay, and Tom was able to return to the stage. I was briefly worried that the scare might have resulted in a muted atmosphere but instead the crowd seemed to rise against it, and if anything got more into it. The band returned with another new song, ‘How Can You Sleep At Night’, a song about an argument Tom Walker had with his wife back when they were living with 8 other musicians in a shared house; the song, an emotional outburst, again showed Tom at his best- perfectly balancing the contrasts of heart-wrenching lyricism and gentle crooning alongside roaring choruses and the almost physically draining power of his voice. 

Next up was ‘Just You and I’, a romantic ballad-esque track, which on previous occasions have resulted in couples breaking out in proposals, whether planned or spontaneous. There was none of that in Exeter, but the love in the room was almost tangible; namely, the love the crowd was giving off for the music, reflected back tenfold by the main man himself. Having met him previously, when I saw him before, I can honestly say he’s one of the nicest human beings alive - all smiles and charm. 

After was his most recent single (at the time), ‘Angels’, a beautiful song about the angels in your life and the various forms they can appear in, especially those closest to you, and the appreciation that they deserve. In all honesty, the studio version doesn’t do the song justice; it truly needs to be experienced live to get a sense off the passion and the raw honesty encapsulated by the heavenly track. Then, those dreaded words of ‘I’ve got one more song’ are uttered forth, to shrieks and boos. Usually, it’s obvious whether an artist is really finished or going to come back for an encore, but there was a genuine sense of unease amongst the crowd, borne by that impromptu hiatus in the middle- bands are typically restricted for time, so if they had a strict curfew that they had to finish by, they wouldn’t have a choice.
However, as the drum beat started up and the rock-fuelled chords broke out on Tom’s guitar, the song was known and the encore became a definite. ‘Now Exeter, I don’t know about you’, Tom says, after a short intro to the song, ‘but sometimes when I’m reading the paper, or watching the news, I get a little bit pissed off with the things that are going on around the world. So would you like to join me in therapy? When I sing ‘fuck it’ you sing ‘fuck it’ back to me as loud as you can’ he tells us, to screams of agreement, before breaking into my personal favourite, ‘Rapture’. As he said, with everything going on in the world, sometimes people just need some cathartic release- and screaming ‘fuck it’ along with hundreds of other people seemed to do the trick. Again, the studio track doesn’t do the live version justice, with the extended intro and outro of the song improving the already incredible track into something honestly transcendent, a song which unified the crowd into a single entity... and then it was done, and he left the stage to cries and shrieks of disappointment. Then he was back on and starting up into his fourth and final new track of the night, ‘Not Giving In’. The song was the perfect to come back to at the start of an encore, with the chorus crying out “I’ll never stop/ I’m not giving in” - both a nod to the crowd’s worries of the set having ended, and a promise to fans that there’s plenty more music to come. 

Finally, it was the last song. The gentle opening notes of Tom’s massive hit ‘Leave a Light On’ began sounding from the keyboard and the crowd exploded. Some eager fans even began singing the chorus, despite the song not having started . The song started strong and only seemed to get stronger, reducing some members of the crowd to tears and causing at least half of the crowd to get their phones out and put the flashlight on, swaying along to the emotional rollercoaster that the song represents.

And then the gig was over. But throughout it all, Tom didn’t stop smiling. He loved every second of it seeming very comfortable on the stage which relaxed the audience too. You can tell that not only does he deserve to be up on that stage, but he still can’t believe the fact that he is, that he was able to play sold out show after sold out show. Because of that, it was obvious that each and every audience member was stunned and humbled by both Tom’s humility and the performance itself, especially given it was in such a small venue. He has since announced another set of shows in 2019, including The Roundhouse in London, which will undoubtedly sell out as his ever-growing fan base continues to expand, and deservedly so. Tom Walker is only going to keep getting bigger.

Words of James O’Sullivan