The quality of London’s concert venues is truly astounding. Whether it’s the humbling beauty of the Union Chapel or peeling wall grit of Notting Hill Arts Club our city is the place to play for any artist. Now there is a new venue clawing to join the iconic club circuit, and it’s not where you’d expect.
Under the Bridge is a music venue underneath the stands of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, geddit? And it’s an appropriate place as it oozes wealthy sophistication, even down to twinkling candle columns leading to the entrance. It’s certainly more prawn sandwiches than meat n gravy pie. It claims to pay homage to the legendary venues in London’s rock history and the greats of British Isles music, which involves covering the walls with rock photography like a living copy of Classic Rock magazine.
It some ways it’s like a posh Proud in Camden in its use of wall space and layout, with its stage parallel to the wide wall. But while Proud’s hipster kudos is assured, Under The Bridge is more attuned to their dads. Which is unfortunate, as its sound system and all angle view of the stage is outstanding. It has the potential for some blistering shows.
Tonight, Under The Bridge is hosting a special invite-only show by James Morrison, the singer songwriter who isn’t Paulo Nuttini or James Blunt, for a MasterCard Priceless event where the bar and nibbles are free. The venue is filled with competition winners, corporate hospitality and hacks, but there is a genuine atmosphere of excitement, and deservedly so because on stage is the classically sultry voice of Ren Harvieu.
Backed by only a piano, Harvieu is swathed in the history of her predecessors such as Billie Holiday and Sam Brown, and embraces the late-night tales of jazz-noir which many contemporaries ditch for over bawled Florence-esque pomposity.
There’s a dark and moody understatement to her impeccable demeanour and voice, beyond her 21 years which will challenge any contender in the sounds of 2012 lists. With friends like the Smiths’ Johnny Marr and Glasvegas’ James Allen she’s keeping the right company and her cover of Roy Orbison’s Cryin’, and own song Forever In Blue, set her uniquely between Anna Calvi and Lana Del Rey, while surpassing both.
The aim of these nights is to give people a unique moment which money can’t buy: tonight this involves a Q&A with Morrison with questions left by attendees on Facebook. This whole palaver is cringingly stage-managed with Morrison seemingly not wanting to do it and the questions somewhat passive: “Who would you like to record with?”, Morrison jokingly replies Coldplay’s Chris Martin because people get them mixed up, so they may as well work together. And some cod-swagger of “I’m just one of the lads” when asked whether he’s actually a bit randy behind the clean-cut melodic music.
This is thankfully brief and Morrison’s full band with backing singers appear for what is a full blown no-expense-spared show. He launches with the sprightly Beautiful Life, which forever sounds of summer. The rest of the set flows like a textbook example of Radio 2 approved middle of the road: expertly crafted but inherently passive.
The set veers between the smooth expertise of Sade and the gruff realism of Chris Rea. There’s a bit of 60’s Van Morrison Hammond swamp and a bit of bluesy duet with a backing singer and some sing along la la las. It’s a precise and polished affair which hits the right tempo and mood throughout and is actually a very good, if meandering, performance.
Morrison is at the front, hi-fiving the audience while delivering his big hitters, You Give Me Something, Begging You Please and Wonderful World as though playing to thousands from a V Festival stage.
Under The Bridge’s stage is achingly honest in its intimacy with the audience and there’s no hiding place for Morrison, so he embraces the appreciative crowd with an epic show of exclusive professionalism. With 18 songs played it was an epic set, which in the encore mimics The Verve’s virtuosity, in a headline-worthy set that could please any crowd.
For a corporate event, MasterCard Priceless was humble in its self-promotion, with sparse branding. The focus was squarely on the event, the music, and of course the free bar.
Tonight’s hospitality was provided courtesy of MasterCard Priceless’ PR, but all opinions are the reviewer’s own.