BEFORE Adele claimed the latter half of 2015 with record-obliterating anthem Hello, we were still very much under the spell of an assembly of young, unassuming troubadours; James Bay, George Ezra, Tom Odell et al, all competing for time under the bluesy-pop-folk artist spotlight last year.
Hozier is as much of a talented storyteller as he is an accomplished musician
Arguably, none have been quite as captivating as 25-year-old singer-songwriter Hozier, whose cathartic yet foot-tapping anthem Take Me to Church is still doing radio rotations two years since its initial release. 300 million Youtube views later, not to mention the BBC Song of the Year 2015 award under his belt, the hit track that catapulted Hozier’s career is still a firm favourite with his fanbase. And performed live, it’s a melodious riot.
Returning to Manchester after performing at the Albert Hall last year, the Irish singer-songwriter from Wicklow performed a rapturous gig at the 02 Apollo, consisting of back-to-back hits from his self-titled and heavily-acclaimed debut album, Hozier.
With support from a five-piece band, including an accomplished cellist, Hozier put on a vocal masterclass and exercised his distinctive, penetrating vibrato.
The tracklist flipped from bluesy, barn-thumping renditions of tracks Jackie and Wilson and the ever-popular Work Song, to uplifting pop-folk singalongs such as Someone New and From Eden - which garnered the most applause. Feedback from the packed crowd was one of pure adulation, plus a lot of shouty tone-deaf bellowing to the big hits.
What’s clear live, more so than simply listening to the studio album, is Hozier's talent, not only as a musician, but also as a storyteller. On stage, he weaves between poignant stories of Catholic guilt (‘I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife’), climaxing relationships (‘I wake at the first cringe of morning/ And my heart's already sinned’) and ‘asking someone to do the right thing out of bad situations’.
With the help of fellow Irish songbird, Karen Cowley from the band Wyvern Lingo, the pair sang a ghostly duet for In A Week. It’s a tragic Romeo and Juliet-style tale of young lovers ‘doing what lovers do’ on the hills near his home of Wicklow – a place which he says is usually followed by the phrase ‘found dead’. Typically the story ends with the pair being feasted on by bugs and foxes.
Albeit dark, Hozier does well to disguise his melancholy themes with perfectly upbeat radio-friendly choruses. The crowd stomps, dances and claps to Arsonist’s Lullaby, and delight in singing along to his feel-good track From Eden. This gig is far more of an uplifting, get-up-on-your-feet celebration than a sombre sit-down.
While Take Me To Church provided a plinth for the young musician's career, this consummate performance showed off Hozier’s glittering repertoire and tremendous talent as a songwriter - a true troubadour. He’ll be back performing again at the O2 Apollo in February. Go see it and allow yourself to get lost in Hozier's tales.
Find tickets for Hozier's upcoming gig on 6 February here.