Review: Greg Holden – St. Pancras Old Church, London

If you haven’t heard Greg Holden’s music you can be forgiven, but once you have, you find yourself wondering how you hadn’t heard it before. It has a broad appeal which perhaps makes it difficult to categorise and it can be extremely (annoyingly) catchy. He’s a singer/songwriter with troubadouric qualities, but doesn’t neatly fit into “pop” or “folk” or “rock” or “indie”, but kind of spans them all equally. He’s a humble and genuine guy who clearly enjoys making music… his gigs are always full of hearthwarming bonhomie, both from him and his troupe of dedicated fans. They’re the musical equivalent of finding a warm pub full of Irish people in the middle of a snowstorm.

St. Pancras Old Church is an interesting venue. It is, as the name suggests, a church. A little above a chapel in size, with a narrow little nave and an apse which is put into use as a stage. Lit mostly by candles, and furnished with narrow wooden seats designed to keep you free from the sin of sloth, it’s a beautiful location for a gig. The fact that we’re in a church, in case it is not immediately apparent, I suspect, is mentioned during all three of the sets of the evening.

First up is a youthful fellow named Edd Plant. Edd with two ‘d’s, since Ed with one ‘d’ would be far too common for Edd. Definitely a hit with the younger, tween members of the audience (this is an all-ages gig), he trips through a number of guitary tracks before ending up at Girl Can’t Dance, a wry, comic, and very good song about meeting a girl at a disco.

The second support slot is filled by a trio led by Liz Lawrence, a tall slim brunette with a great hairstyle. They charge the atmosphere in the church by delivering a set of jangly, upbeat songs which get people clapping and clicking. She recently released her debut album Bedroom Hero in Ireland, and it looks set to come out in the UK next month.

To crown the evening Greg Holden very unassumingly takes the stage, free from his trademark cap. With the help of a drummer and electric guitarist, he opens proceedings with the title track of his most recent album, I Don’t Believe You. In response to this bitter tirade of a song, one slightly odd member of the audience launches his own tirade: “You’re in a church!! And you’re talking about not believing!!”, to which Greg responds politely, in his northern accent: “I’ll believe what I want, thanks very much.”

Album track one is followed with album tracks two, The American Dream, four, As Far As I Can, and five, Tower Terrain, about his transplant from England to New York, where he currently lives. And then, he tempts the overzealous heckler: “I’m going to sing a song which is not going to go down well in here,” before launching into Hell & Back, which immediately gets everyone to their feet. As the last chords fade, the expected happens: “You’re standing on a grave!! You’re standing on a grave and you’re talking about going to hell!!” But Greg diffuses the situation with a firm rebuff, and breaks into She’s Got Something from his recent Sing For The City EP.

After four more songs, including a fairly new one, Home, he comes to the final track of the set list, The Lost Boy. This has been his greatest popular success, bringing him a Christmas No. 1 in the Netherlands. After reading a book about a Sudanese refugee by author Dave Eggers, Greg put pen to paper and wrote about his feelings of frustration and powerlessness to bring about great change in the world. He recorded the song in his home, and sent it to a Dutch DJ friend who had done some work for the Red Cross. A week later, the song was top of the charts and had raised 52,000 Euros for charity.

After a mini-sojourn to the Green Room to a hearty chorus of whoops and applause, the band returned to the stage to play two final songs. A delicate song dedicated to everyone, Serendipity, followed by the ever-present closer and firm, firm crowd favourite, Bar On A. As always, the crowd sang along with the drinking song enthusiastically (despite mainly being under-age), and dispersed into the evening slightly tipsy on good feelings… a sure sign of an evening well-spent.

Paul Woods