Live Review: Gavin James - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London 09/06/2018
Being a long term listener and the friend of a friend (it’s an Irish thing, I guess), I was excited to review Gavin James’ O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire show. I don’t think I could have asked for a better gig to start off my live review career.
I must mention the staff at the O2 in Shepherds Bush. I found them all helpful and genuine: something I always find impacting on my experience at venues such as these.
Scanning the crowd, I found it filled mainly with couples, a good mix of ages and genders. I watched the groups of excited friends, practicing their dance routines, partners kissing each other as a thanks for the tickets and many adults enjoying the taking of selfies. Yet one thing ran through the whole crowd: anticipation of Gavin’s arrival. The lights dimmed and the venue was immediately filled with deafening cheers and the band made their entrance on the stage, including a James Bay cross Bradley Cooper lookalike and a pianist who happened to look uncannily like my friend Byron. (Upon meeting this man later, I decided that the pianist looked nothing like Byron at all.)
Gavin’s arrival sent the audience into another frenzy; so loud that they managed to completely miss the first line of the first song “Bitter Pill.” I knew immediately that I was not going to be disappointed because as soon as his beautiful voice filled the air, I felt my throat tighten and my vision blur. It’s always embarrassing when you cry in front of people but here it felt relevant. Gavin’s music is so emotional and raw that his songs have the ability to grab you by the heart strings and encourage you to dance with the emotions they evoke.
I was expecting to be highly impressed with his insane vocals but I wasn’t expecting to feel the strange sense of pride and excitement for his amazing up-turn in career. I felt the warm and familiar feeling of your home-town and appreciation for this auburn haired, Irish guy that I had never met before.
Watching the crowd again I could see that maybe some people had the same feelings that I had. I witnessed a girl with her hand over her heart staring with wide eyes at the stage and then a couple locked in a romantic embrace, swaying to the melody. I decided that it felt voyeuristic and focused myself on Gavin and his band.
I thoroughly enjoyed the interaction with the crowd, despite being up on one of the balconies. It was nice to experience the back and forth between performers and viewers. It felt like the audience was listening intently to every word that Gavin said despite probably not being able to comprehend his Dublin accent. The band came forward at the end for the last song when they had the crowd echoing back the main tune of the song. Gavin consistently fed the crowd with anecdotes and funny quips about his funny looking childhood head and about how the band all met on Tinder.
His voice never falters or wavers which at points made the whole crowd silence to listen to his more extravagant notes. I would write more about his guitar playing but honestly, his voice and the guitar fit together so smoothly like one instrument.
Ending the show with a 4 song encore, disappearing into the darkness and reappearing in the middle of the crowd was probably the best part of the show. Talking to him later, he mentioned that when he tried to get through the mass of people, they didn’t want to move and even got frustrated until they turned around to realise that it was him trying to get through, still playing his guitar. A song that had been dedicated to the 4am time slot in pubs had become a venue anthem for dedicated fans and friends echoing back the words he had written.
After the gig, (still in awe) Max Herridge and I found ourselves backstage and outside the dressing room chatting with Gavin himself. We introduced ourselves, had a quick hug each, discussed Ireland and our connections through another artist and ended up having a drink with the band. Gavin was lovely and exactly how you would imagine him to be, typically Irish, full of laughter and genuine kindness. After translating some of the Irish slang (‘deadly’, ‘savage’, ‘that’s gas’) for Max, we came to the conclusion that Gavin thoroughly enjoyed his night of singing and running through a large body of people, that we’re sure he will be back soon (in case you missed this one) and that he will definitely be visiting me in Cork next week.
Words by Jesse Wells and Photography by Max Herridge