Who? James Blunt
When? 15th July 2011
Where? Newmarket Racecourse, Suffolk
Why? Part of the Newmarket Nights series of live events
“I can see a lot of happy faces in the crowd tonight,” beamed former British Army officer James Hillier Blount (no, that's not a typo) on the hastily erected Newmarket Nights stage on Friday evening. “You do know I've got a hundred miserable songs? Are you sure you're at the right gig?” He was, of course, riffing on his unfairly labelled persona of being an artist to slit your wrists to.
But even though his biggest and most depressing songs from debut album Back to Bedlam (“You're Beautiful”, “Goodbye My Lover”, “Wiseman”, “High”) were all present in his nearly 90minute set (I don't think he'd have got away with not playing them, to be honest), they were muddled in successfully amidst album tracks and jauntier singles from his latter LPs (All the Lost Souls and last year's Some Kind of Trouble - reviewed HERE) to create a truly fabulous rollercoaster of a setlist.
To put an end to any naysayers: No, Mr Blunt did not just spend the entire gig sat at his piano or frozen to the spot with his guitar around his neck. Please banish this prejudicial image of a boring stage artist from your mind. He interacted splendidly with the crowd, chatting between numbers and continually moving across to acknowledge, wave at each side and even jump up onto his piano. “You're probably the best dressed audience I've ever played to,” he remarked teasingly, keeping the mood cheery and never dull.
A frustrating block of people (I'm guestimating 30 or so) surged passed us and out of the gates following “You're Beautiful” – clearly fair-weather fans who were there for the evening's horse racing (which acted as the warm-up act, so to speak) and only had hung around to hear his most renowned track. The crowd certainly loved it as they sang along to the international 2005 mega hit and I was surprised that it wasn't his encore number (that pleasure went to the second album's opener “1972” which was played with epic aplomb).
Those party-poopers (sorry, early leavers) certainly lost out as what followed was the most buoyant and festive run of the night, including personal favourite “So Long Jimmy” and indisputable highlight “I'll Be Your Man” which was extended with a funky middle eight which dissolved into the Jackson Five's “I Want You Back” as James motioned for the first few rows to converge and carry him home as he jumped in and crowd-surfed like a true rock god! I'm sure he probably does this during most nights on tour (venue dependent) but for me it was a unexpected delight and really capped off a spectacular Newmarket night.
In a CR@B Shell: Full of energy and exuding confidence with a blistering and diverse collection of emotional and blistering pop songs, the man with a hundred miserable melodies was an absolute revelation live and I would easily have stayed the night at this Suffolk concert event. To quote from his biggest hit: You could see from my face that I was fucking high!