REVIEW: Delilah @ HMV Institute, April 18th

Words & pictures by Ed King

I’ve referred to Delilah as ‘my most pleasant surprise’, having only recently discovered the 21 year old artist. I now know; she’s been signed for three years, supported Chase & Status on tour, released two EPs and has an album out this year – but it’s safe to say I ‘discovered’ her late. Thankfully for Delilah’s on-the-road slush fund, many had got there before me.

Digbeth was wet, Wednesday and battleship grey. A suitably young, neon and better informed queue was forming outside the HMV Institute; a venue with significant history for me, as I thumbed through Delilah’s press release.

After a brief shock from reading ‘born in 1990’, followed by some unsubtle eavesdropping (I really should work on that), my perturbing first note was a line from Peep Show. As the bouncer asked for my ticket I almost replied, “do I look like the type of man who goes to ‘wicked parties’?”

Nostalgically ordering a Red Stripe, I sit on the stairs where the dealers used to stand (to me this room is forever the Dance Factory) and scan the crowd – a strong midweek mix of old, young, dressed down and dressed up.

An equally healthy array of instruments sit on stage; guitars, a full drum kit, at least a handful of synths – and as the support act, Josh Kumra, enters donning an acoustic guitar, the crowd give a comforting cheer. I like bands with instruments; a comment not as fatuous today as it sounds.

After 30mins of comfortable singer/songwriting, alongside a 13year old vocalist who sounds like Billie Holiday (Mahalia – remember my name, fame), a clear lighting shift indicates Show Time.

The sea of push up bras, high heels, students and angry faced boyfriends go silent, then loud, as Delilah comes on stage with waves, big smiles and full white dress splendor. A proper arena entrance.

Straight into ‘So Irate’, Delilah is immediate, confident and stronger than her accompaniment. Her vocals take a firm hold and I begin to imagine musicians who simply aren’t there. Perhaps my previously noted ‘array’ wasn’t so ‘healthy’.

Next is ‘Only You’, the first track from her eagerly awaited/long overdue/frustratingly unconfirmed debut album; and whilst continuing in the deep groove you can identify as hers, it would’ve been nice to at least hum along.

More new material allows Delilah more room to dominate the stage, with the young woman’s mature vocals drowning out a flat packed backing; before a quick introduction and forced hiatus of her session musicians (the keyboard player “you might recognise from ‘Deal Or No Deal’”).

Then it’s into the very back catalogue with ‘Cinnababy’ – one of the first songs Delilah ever wrote and a chance to see her alone with a keyboard, before something deeply personal in blue spotlight; a track written about the death of her step father. In my mind not the best of her portfolio, but a delivery that is honest and exceptional.

Back with the backing, it’s ‘Never Be Another’– a dangerously seductive track that suits Delilah’s deep siren song perfectly, but one (after having listened to it all week) I know can sound fuller.

Then a neat cover of John Jacques Smoothie’s ‘Two People’, before two more tracks from her forthcoming album; the latter – ‘Shades of Grey’, clearly “one of my (her) favourites”.

The main set closes on ‘Love You So’; a strong winding track I’ve sung to myself at least once a day since I first heard it (and played it more), but I’m once again pleading for a horn section.

After an encore of the sublime ‘Breathe’; Delilah’s “new single” despite having already featured on her ‘Love You So’ EP, I leave midway through ‘Go’; an over produced Chaka Khan plagiarism I would rather forget.

Stunning on stage; poised and present, Delilah is a noteworthy artist. One with something to offer on a saturated circuit. Already an excellent performer and commanding singer, it’s exciting to imagine what she’ll produce from the “150 songs” she holds in reserve.

But I felt the lack of live sound failed what could have been proffered. Something’s are simply too rich to glaze over. But there’s time. After all, this is an artist’s debut headline tour and album; and one with a strong following, obvious talent and identifiable sound. The holy trinity of sustainable success.

And having seen her in interviews, Delilah presents as a woman with smarts and lot more to offer. Time will tell (no pun intended). Now all she needs is enough cash for a band, or at least an upright piano.

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