Tag Archives: O2 Academy

Paul Draper

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
7th March 2018

The late-90s Chester-based Britpop band Mansun spectacularly imploded during the recording sessions for their fourth album, not long after a low-key UK tour in the late spring of 2002, the Oxford date of which your correspondent reported on in this very magazine – even standing in the same spot as tonight.

Since then, the band’s driving force, main songwriter and singer – Paul Draper – has been through the wars, his absence taking on a mystical, enigmatic quality (accentuated by his current Last Jedi-era Luke Skywalker hair and beard). This tour is the second outing for his debut solo album, 2017’s Spooky Action, plus a (fan-chosen) full set of Mansun’s debut, Attack of the Grey Lantern, twenty-one years after it topped the UK album charts.

Hopefully Spooky Action is catharsis – Paul’s gone on record to say that it’s about Mansun and the people around them – and the lyrics certainly allude to some dark times. Sonically, the seven-song mini set hints at how the Mansun sound would have developed: ‘Don’t Poke the Bear’ precedes anthemic rock squealing with a dissonant synth and rambling string introduction, and ‘Friends Make the Worst Enemies’, understandably self-indulgently, takes Mansun’s falsetto and vocal harmony style into more regretful and reflective territory.

Paul perks up and relaxes in ‘Taxloss’, three songs into Grey Lantern, as if the knowledge that everyone in the room knows every word, every cue and every backing vocal for the rest of the night is a comfort.

The night is the sum of possibly unnecessary yet welcome nostalgia for a fanbase who feared they’d ever hear Paul play again, but also a timely reminder of how a bizarre yet coherent ‘half a concept album’ about an array of inhabitants in a fictitious English village (‘Stripper Vicar’, ‘Dark Mavis’) struck such a chord with the British record-buying public two decades ago.


From Nightshift, April 2018

Charli XCX

O2 Academy, Oxford
30th March 2015

Charlotte Aitchison started work on her (unreleased) first album at 14, was signed in 2010, delayed her second album (True Romance) until 2013 to work on it with the now ubiquitous Ariel Rechtshaid, and is accompanying the UK release of her third (Sucker) with this, her first full tour. However, despite four top ten hits to date, collaborations with Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora, and songs on YA film adaptation soundtracks, she says she didn’t know how many people would turn up tonight as she doesn’t usually play outside of London and Manchester – and indeed, the O2 Academy isn’t full.

Sucker is apparently an attempt to give girls a sense of empowerment by the way of a punkier pop sound, and those who had this sort of thing thrown at them twenty years ago will find the Shampoo vs Republica vibe of the title track familiar. Breaking Up and Body of My Own have a Bow Wow Wow influence too.

Charli doesn’t care what she looks like on stage. Her dancing is energetic and even aggressive, but she always looks like she’s having fun; there’s no Lady Gaga-style disingenuity. It feels like the newer stuff is deliberately anthemic, which makes an interesting contrast with some of the odder offerings from True Romance (Nuclear Seasons and You (Ha Ha Ha)), and I don’t suppose anyone here tonight cares that Hanging Around is the stroppy teenage offspring of NKOTB’s Hanging Tough and Five’s Everybody Get Up, or that So Over You sounds a Let Loose cover.

I can see why so many young kids like Charli – something she cheekily acknowledges when she tries to get everyone clapping with “Come on you parents!” in Break the Rules – and she’ll develop and reinvent her image and sound as they grow up. But she’s quite inspiring for the older audience too, and if she keeps churning out bangers like SuperLove and Boom Clap, I’ll still be on board.


From Nightshift, May 2015

Rae Morris

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
8th February 2015

Blackpool native Rae Morris has a beautiful voice; reminiscent of Emiliana Torrini, Ellie Goulding and sometimes even Björk (especially on Skin) in tone, its apparent ethereal vulnerability and emotion belies its strength and confidence. Now 22, she signed to Atlantic at 18, and she’s been crafting her life experiences into her debut album, Unguarded, since then.

She has been widely compared to Kate Bush, given her effortlessly versatile voice and piano playing and the Running Up That Hill-like heartbeat throughout Under the Shadows, though I get more of a Fleetwood Mac vibe from it. In general, she’s more soulful; Do You Even Know? reminds me bit of Lena Fiagbe, and there are shades of Sade in Closer.

Rae recorded most of her album with the American producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who has recently worked with HAIM, Charli XCX, Vampire Weekend and Madonna. Even just on the basis of tonight, it sounds like he’s taken Rae’s voice–piano formula and invigorated it into something a lot more poppy, while retaining the smoothness and glassiness of her style – even when, in songs like Don’t Go, the instrumentation is sparse. Rae does however apparently credit Fryars – her support act tonight, and with whom she co-wrote and duets on the oddly autotuney Cold – for guiding her from being an acoustic piano singer-songwriter to her current, more electronic incarnation. She’s even written and recorded with Clean Bandit, though the unexpected dubsteppy drumming in her rendition of their collaboration, Up Again, jars a bit.

It’s a shame that the apparent concentration on instrumentation and production has taken the focus away from the interaction between Rae’s voice and her piano; she has enough songcrafting talent and imagination to be more like Tori Amos in this respect. However, her strongest songs are the faster, more anthemic ones like Love Again and Under the Shadows, and I end up wishing for more of these.


From Nightshift, March 2015


O2 Academy, Oxford
21st January 2015

Irishman Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s career so far has been characterised by slow burn. A former member of the Irish choral group Anúna, he dropped out of a music degree at Trinity College Dublin to sign a development deal with Universal Ireland, sang with the Trinity Orchestra (big on the festival circuit apparently) and was also involved with an avant-garde bossa nova group and a soul-funk-rap group (haven’t we all).

His ultimate aim, however, was to be a singer-songwriter, and he retreated home to County Wicklow to write what became his eponymous album, with Rob Kirwan picking up his demos and co-producing. The title track of his debut EP, Take Me To Church, was released in September 2013; nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy, it’s still in the UK top ten tonight – the first night of his extensive 2015 tour.

Hozier’s musical bases have been a slow burn too – hundreds of years in the making. The faith-based background of both gospel and the Anúna congregational choral vocal sensibility underpins the night; blues is the other main reference point, most overtly in To Be Alone and Work Song, with soul, folk and jazz interacting variously. The sexual and religious themes of his biggest hit so far pervade other songs, like Foreigner’s God and the lulling 5/4-time From Eden, sung from the devil’s point of view.

Hozier and his band – including a cello – use dynamics and contrast beautifully; delicate vocals float over a menacing rumble in tonight’s opener, Like Real People Do, and the anguished tone of Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene works masterfully with its simple backing.

He does admittedly veer towards tired Commitments-esque arrangements at times, but Hozier’s strength lies in his contemporary interpretation of – and obvious love of and respect for – blues, soul, folk and jazz formats.


From Nightshift, March 2015


O2 Academy 2, Oxford
29th January 2012

Stephen Jones is a man riled – so much so that it seems he’s built a career on it. It could almost have been deliberate that his band became best known for an often misunderstood song – the anticipation of which hangs in the air tonight like a dirty plastic bag caught on a washing line.

The mid-late 90s expansive guitar sound is still in evidence, but the music largely feels secondary to Stephen’s lyrics and voice. He carries the words’ emotions masterfully, his weariness picking its way carefully between anger, resentment and resignation.

Tonight’s journey takes in self-loathing (Goodnight), hope and despair (Send Me Back My Dreams, Unloveable) via musings on parenthood (Like Them, I Love Her). Songs like Drug Time aren’t subtle, but aren’t mawkish either. The mood conjured by the repetitious, menacing insistence of songs like Back Together and the internet stalker tale www.song seems effortless.

These mini sagas are punctuated by some heated chat and banter with the audience. Cornershop is “dedicated to our government for slowly destroying life”, and the gloriously sinister Bad Old Man is dedicated to Louis Walsh, not far off the luminaries it was rumoured to be about at the time. “Everything’s written from a happy place – I’m not a tortured artist!” Stephen insists, somewhat belligerently, and his encore is announced by an acerbic “I’ve just found my happy pills backstage!”

Stephen complains that “someone’s got Gorgeous Tourette’s” after only three songs, but the band do eventually play You’re Gorgeous – and even the arrangement seems reluctant. He almost spits his parting shot – “You wouldn’t want me to sing that to you if you knew the real meaning of the words” – suggesting the hecklers have hit a nerve about a misunderstanding of Babybird in general. There has long been far more to them than that, though.


From Nightshift, March 2012