Five years after the success of "Strange and Beautiful", famously used in a car advert, Aqualung (aka 35 year old singer-songwriter Matt Hales) takes to the stage of Shepherds Bush's elegant Bush Hall. It's almost a wonder that we're here at all - his UK profile has dwindled over the years, and history threatened to write him off as a one hit wonder. When all seemed lost, his career has recently been rejuvenated by new found success in America, thanks to the popularity of 2003's "Brighter Than Sunshine".
Opening with new song, "Something to Believe In", it's clear that the Aqualung of today has a far more robust sound than on the eponymous lo-fi debut. Tonight's set heavily draws on material from forthcoming third album, "Memory Man", but although older favourites such as "Strange and Beautiful" are aired, "Brighter than Sunshine" is conspicuously absent.
Coming across as a less flamboyant Rufus Wainwright, there are times when Hales' piano based epic pop wanders worryingly in Keane territory (noticeably "Easier to Lie"), but is thankfully rescued by his fragile vocals and endearingly quirky persona.
Hales stage presence is subdued but charismatic. An unexpected highlight was the performance an impromptu Divine Comedy-style song about the First Aid course he attended earlier in the day. He's a performer that knows his audience well and clearly is comfortable them, keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground with no sign of rock star pretensions, and it's possibly this which has held him back from achieving the levels of success reached by other likeminded souls.
Perhaps his new found status across the water may see his persistence eventually pay off, (Hales first stab at the charts was in the mid 90s with the short-lived Britpoppers Ruth,), but on tonight's evidence, it feels like Aqualung is a well kept secret, adored only by those in the know.
Aqualung play the ICA as part of the iTunes festival on 21st July, and his new single "Pressure Suit" is out on 13th August. Watch the video here.
Words by Martin Hills