White clouds of breath billow from the heads in front of me, climbing up into the inky sky before dissipating. Rubbing my hands in a futile attempt to keep the cold at bay, I shuffle forward with the line towards the relative safety of Limelight 1. The stink of alcohol soaked linoleum wafts from the doors, powerful enough for me to turn my head with a grimace. As I swivel, I see that the once small line behind me has now extended up and around the street corner. Indicative of the culture you can expect from the crowd tonight. I pass through the doors, flanked by a horde of hungry fans, and am bathed in the violent violet lights of Limelight. On the stage, a plain black background, with two words emblazoned in white. TOM GRENNAN. The first foray into Belfast for the rising singer, he has already established a cult following as suggested by the upgrading of the venue from the copier Limelight 2 to the spacious Limelight 1.
Loathe as I am to stand at the barrier (I don’t have the knees for it anymore), I opt for a bench at the side of the venue. As I precariously balance my pint, the opening act approaches the front of the stage with their set list in hand. Everything Is Imagined, the young Irish band with a reputation on the circuit, begin the night’s proceedings. Opting for a similar vibe to Grennan, with thick vocals and operatic crescendo, their blend of electronic, indie and pop music seems tailor-made for the audience. Largely lethargic at the beginning but well and surely whipped into shape by the end, Everything… maintained a certain chippy charm, a curious counterpart to their modern, pleasing swing and pop sensibilities. I was fooled, however, into a false sense of security, and was pleasantly shocked by the fangs of their guitar breakdowns and solos. Confident, despite their unassuming presence, the crowd found itself drawn in, humming along to wordless choruses. Everything… ended their set as they began, with no small amount of gratuity. A band with a unique voice that demands nothing and gives everything, there are few opening acts better suited for this crowd than Everything Is Imagined.
A short interlude separated the second act of the night, one Elli Ingram, who continued the vocal onslaught. Silky smooth with instances of jazz and soul, Ingram walked the delicate line between sway and sleep, and she did it well. Colourful and full of life, Ingram’s stage persona was filled with as much emotion and swing as her music was, which you could feel all the way to your back teeth. Constantly switching the tempo between rhythmic and relaxed, Ingram and her band had an addictive humility, one that drew the crowd in but still maintained an air of ‘This is our F****** show’. Full-bodied vocals staggered with riffs and modulation were the only indication of star power, as the approachable ethos of the group was more than enough to get the crowd going. Everything… set the bar high, but Elli Ingram cleared it with ease.
Ingram left the stage once her set was complete. I scanned the crowd, which now stretched to the end of the venue, and noted a majority of eyes pointed towards the stage, directly at the void behind the microphone. It was clear what was excepted. A Spotify playlist blared songs endlessly from the overhead speakers, and as each one died a collective intake of breath was heard. Tension was on a high, like a bubble waiting to burst. Grennan didn’t keep us waiting long. Sauntering on to the stage with a stroll backed by violins and hallelujahs. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, Grennan greeted the crowd with a boyish charisma, which seemed stuck between embarrassment and grace. He strummed a few chords and then proceeded to serenade his fans with his trademark velvet husk. The crowd sang nearly every word back, from start to finish. As the set progressed, the London born musician came alive. Full of playfulness and patter, Grennan’s part as frontman was filled with vibrancy as he made his way through one hit after another. Like a preacher, the singer used his gravitas to great effect, pulling the crowd around him and making them sway using only his melodies. Lyrics on love and heartbreak rebounded off the bones of his acoustic guitar, while his clear love for music makes it impossible to not enjoy the spectacle. By the end of the show, Grennan is drenched in sweat, a physical symbol of the heart he poured into the performance.
A triumphant debut for the Englishman, Grennan’s performance had a nuanced rock and roll bite, plenty of soul and an all too human pathos that left the crowd blown away. The only negative to be taken was that, as the last show of the tour, the people of Belfast will now be without such a performance for an undetermined amount of time. We’ll be ready when he is.