Freya Ridings, Ewan Phillips, The Tors – Rock City, Nottingham – 8th October 2023
Ewan Phillips is the first support act. It’s his first tour and playing in front of such a large audience is not something he’s experienced previously. But if he’s nervous he’s not really showing signs of it as he begins his set by asking the audience to join him on his opening song. It’s risky but he gets generous support and plenty of applause. The energy is high from the start. It wasn’t mentioned (perhaps to staunch any accusations of nepotism (joke) as to why he was the support act) but Ewan and Freya were recently married.
The Tors are a three piece outfit from Devon. Two brothers on guitars and their drummer. It’s rock music but not quite loud enough to hurt your ears. Maybe they’ve been asked to keep the decibel level down just a touch so as not to blow away the Freya Ridings fans. They also get some decent audience participation encouraging the audience to get out their phones and create a sea of waving lights. Of course, it’s an old trick that used to involve cigarette lighters but now with a modern tech twist. The lads get the audience to sing along with the final song of their set.
As for the headline act of the night, I’ve seen Freya Ridings perform before. Back in 2018, Ray Lamontagne chose Ridings to support him on several UK tour dates. I attended the show at the City Hall in Sheffield. Lamontagne, known for his incredible voice and his intricate songwriting, obviously saw those same abilities and inner talent in Ridings. On that occasion, she sat at a piano and played half a dozen songs. She was spellbinding. A single, powerful voice and keys.
Tonight, five years later, she’s joined on stage by seven musicians a full rock band plus a brass section. It’s quite a departure from that performance I saw in 2018 and a shift in sound from her album, but it works. As Ridings takes to the stage it’s very clear that she’s the star, dressed in a golden shimmering sequin top and a long black skirt, with boots, she unconsciously demands the attention of everyone in the room.
Ridings writes all of her own songs and they clearly come from the heart, her passion runs through every song. They’re poignant and emotional, examining heartache, and the fragility of relationships. They speak of pain and longing but are written with a sense of maturity that belies the fact that she wrote her first album when she was in her late teens. She pours her emotions into her songs and they are instantly accessible to anyone who has experienced a break up or simply been in love.
The set opens with Dancing in a Hurricane and Weekends. It’s a cracking start. She plays guitar and dances throughout, swinging her long red hair from side to side. She sings with utter conviction and whilst her vocal delivery can take a little getting used to, she has a beautiful voice and an impressive vocal range. Between singing she explains some of the stories behind the songs.
She favours guitar in the first half of the set – Bite Me, Bitter and Whiter on the Vine all suit guitar with a band supporting her. But it’s in the second half of the set when she sits at the piano, centre stage, picked out by a twinkling spotlight that Ridings really impresses. The quieter and introspective Face in the Crowd and Ultraviolet are stunning. And less feels more when it’s just Ridings on her own. Face in the Crowd feels like the direct follow up to Lost Without You, lyrically and musically similar, yet still distinct.
Blood Orange rounds out the main set and there is a short break before the encore. Naturally Lost Without You and Castles finish the night.
Photos by Ellisha – thanks!
Categories: Live Reviews