Gene Simmons has his striking make-up. Freddie Mercury was an onstage extrovert. David Bowie had extravagantly dressed alter egos.
Nick Hemming needed none of this. From the first note of You’ve Got the Universe to the final chord of the encore it was near impossible to take your eyes off The Leisure Society frontman.
Modestly dressed in pale blue jeans and a black shirt, he commanded the stage with a boyish energy as he guided the crowd through the highs and lows of life, assisted by the band’s impressive back catalogue.
Appearing in Manchester in support of homeless charities Big Issue North and Street Noise UK, the folk-rockers latest tour – Arrivals and Departures – celebrates the release of their 2019 album of the same name and 10 years since their first single, The Last of the Melting Snow.
First up though was Bristol-based singer-songwriter Laura Kidd. Her eclectic set list, which featured everything from Morrissey-esque ballads to grunge, was applauded politely, if not enthusiastically, by the over 40s dominated crowd. An interesting start, though clearly not everyone’s cup of tea.
It all changed when The Leisure Society arrived on stage. From the first beat of Sebastian Hankins funereal drums on You’ve Got the Universe the audience was captivated.
The band whipped through a mix of album tracks and old favourites, the story of each song explained by Hemming, frontman turned storyteller.
The hauntingly beautiful All I Have Seen was inspired by the decline of the fishing industry in Hastings; We Were Wasted by a night out in Burton-upon-Trent. Arrivals and Departures, the band’s fifth album, was written after Hemming’s break-up, and mixes the uplifting (Arrivals) with the sombre (Departure) in perfect tandem.
Hemming was quite obviously the star of the show. However, a special mention must go to violinist Mike Siddell whose subtle melody lines were the unsung hero of every track. His solo moments on Save It For Someone Who Cares and Another Sunday Psalm shone the spotlight on a musician at the top of his game and proved that the violin really does have a place in popular music.
The song of the night came midway through the show. Darren Bonehill’s funky bass combined unexpectedly beautifully with Christian Hardy’s disco pop keyboard melody on Fight For Everyone (Alone Aboard the Ark) and lifted the crowd out of their reverent (Hardy’s word) humour.
Although the room was only half full, it suddenly felt like a packed out arena.
After running through some more Arrivals and Departures album tracks (to rapturous applause), the Sussex five-some closed the show – or so we thought – with fan favourite Dust on the Dancefloor and the wildly contrasting Beat of the Drum.
Caving to the continued audience applause, the band emerged minutes later for three more songs. Two melancholy numbers, I’ll Pay For It Now and Arrivals and Departures, broke our hearts before we were sent off into the cold Manchester night with the upbeat A Matter of Time ringing in our ears.
Hemming and co. took us on an emotional rollercoaster. But, we came out smiling.
Another night of great music & a reverent MCR crowd.
— Matt (@bongbrummie) September 17, 2019
Image courtesy of Bongbrummie via Twitter, with thanks.