Words by Andrew Wilson & Ed King / Pics by Denise Wilson
Back in Birmingham for the last date of his UK tour, Puma Blue plays to a comfortably full Sunflower Lounge crowd. But before the birthday boy can take centre stage (23 candles and cake today for Puma Blue) Sam Hollis is up as the evening’s first support act – joined by a full band, the recently solo singer/songwriter launches into a set of confident swagger.
Reminiscent of something between The Libertines or The Slackers, tonight’s Hollis ensemble strike the balance between tight and loose that so many post-Madchester bands have tried to embrace, emulate or evolve. Not an easy task post-naughties either, but one well executed by the first act on stage. And with his first solo EP out in January this year, minus those easy to find reptiles, things look set in a strong new direction for Sam Hollis this year.
Joining Puma Blue across his UK (and possibly beyond) is peer and producer, Lucy Lu – who is actually the solo pseudonym of Hester band mate, Luke Bower.
Stepping into more jazz tinged territory, Lucy Lu is made up of Bower on bass and rhythm guitar – with keys, percussion and saxophone that will jump ship to Puma Blue for the next set. Oozing in talent, the funky grooves and lyrical angst is delivered by an academically tight ensemble, and the room is gripped in a confident and well-schooled musicianship.
The crowd, who would be forgiven for not being seen at much of the Birmingham Jazz programme, are eager in their appreciation, with the effortless strings, charm and soft vocals of ‘Golden Prairie’ getting some well-deserved attention. I smell a return, and possible step up on the Birmingham bill for Lucy Lu. Roll on 2018.
Then it’s time for the rising balloon. Puma Blue is nascent right now, with his summer Swum Baby EP getting all the New Year ‘ones to watch’ lists twitching and ushering in some pretty respectable support slots.
Last time he was in the city was to warm up for Jordan Rakei in October, joining the Brisbane maestro on his UK tour. But now the South London ‘croonah blu’ has his own six string secondment and is back in Birmingham at the top of the bill. A place The Sunflower Lounge crowd seem very happy to welcome him to.
Again, the musicianship is superb; backed by a metronomic drummer, this proficient ensemble move into more Ratpack flavoured waters as the Puma Blue set unfurls. But it’s not pure homage, as the band embraces elements of jazz, dance, reggae and soul – with Puma Blue leading on rhythm guitar and vocals, husky at one end and mirrored by a confident falsetto.
Tracks from his debut EP get a good airing, with the brushed drums and laid back swoon of ‘Only Trying 2 Tell U’ filling out any forgotten corners of the room. ‘Soft Porn’ puts in an appearance, but there is a reggae dipped track midway through the set (whose name I couldn’t catch) that added spice to the proceedings. One to hunt down.
On stage for about an hour with no encore, there is much to laud, applaud and look forward to with Puma Blue – an artist who is earning his place on many people’s musical radars.
And with another jaunt across Europe and a festival summer before we’ll likely see him in the city again, who knows what momentum will be behind this artist by the time Puma Blue returns. One to watch… yeah, sounds about right. Probably in a bigger room next time too.
Puma Blue @ The Sunflower Lounge 24.02.18 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Puma Blue, visit www.soundcloud.com/pumabluemusic
Lucy Lu – supporting Puma Blue @ The Sunflower Lounge 24.02.18 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Lucy Lu, visit www.soundcloud.com/lucy-lu-tings
Sam Hollis – supporting Puma Blue @ The Sunflower Lounge 24.02.18 / Denise Wilson – Birmingham Review
For more on Sam Hollis, visit www.soundcloud.com/samhollis-2
For more from Birmingham Promoters, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.birminghampromoters.com
For more on The Sunflower Lounge, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.thesunflowerlounge.com