It’s been an incredible couple of years for 22-year-old Grantham, Lincs-hailing Holly Humberstone. Grafting hard from a young age bore fruit by way of a BBC Introducing Stage slot at a pre-pandemic Glastonbury Festival in 2019. But when the festival returned this year, Humberstone played to a packed out John Peel tent, marking just how her career had grown during those intervening years.
And tonight’s sold out 5,000-capacity show at London’s Brixton Academy, the biggest date on her 10 date ‘Sleep Tight’ UK tour, seems to be a culmination of everything that’s come before.
October’s sorta album Can You Afford to Lose Me? (a combination of a couple of EPs) is the primary source of material tonight, and it is lead song The Walls Are Way Too Thin that kicks off proceedings, the 22-year-old sporting a white Fender guitar, using a monogrammed capo, soaking in the breadth and depth tonight’s audience as they sing the 2021 song back to her enthusiastically, the singer taking an opportune musical break to hand vocal duties over to them.
“There’s a lot of you!” she says, genuinely moved by the size of her crowd before the high-energy, poppy Vanilla is aired. “But the truth is, I have my best nights without you” Humberstone sings, hook-laden synth-pop melding seamlessly with rock guitars.
Humberstone puts down her guitar to sit at a Roland RD-2000 piano for slow-burn tune Please Don’t Leave Just Yet next, largely not moving from within the enclosure of her various instruments for the duration of the night, a shame perhaps for those who had queued in the cold for hours to be pressed against the barriers at either end of the stage.
Humberstone gushes at her audience “this has been a real dream to play this venue, genuinely, since I first started playing music, so I don’t really know what to make of this” before ploughing into London Is Lonely.
“This next song is from the first EP that I released, two years ago” Humberstone says as a driving beat starts up, the enthusiastic fanbase in attendance immediately recognising sombre tune Drop Dead, the rising star staying firmly behind her piano. “This is the most fun I’ve had in so long” she gushes.
“I’ve been working on an album really, really slowly”, Humberstone says, describing what has become her very busy life. “I recently wrote a few songs that I really, really love and I put one of them out a few weeks ago. If you already know the words, then that’s actually cool” she says shyly, introducing her double-EP’s title track Can You Afford To Lose Me?, the Brixton audience demonstrating in fine fashion that they (of course) do know all the words.
“For this next song I’d like to invite out one of my best friends – Ben Leftwich”, the Communion stalwart who opened tonight’s music strolling back on stage. “We actually wrote this song together” she says, going on to describe a difficult break-up before the pair share ballad Friendly Fire. Each of Humberstone’s band slowly make their way forward to join the pair, drummer Lauren O’Donnell Anderson sitting behind the piano, contributing stunning vocals.
Haunted House is introduced by an endearing segue into Humberstone’s Lincolnshire upbringing and a description of the house she grew up in alongside her three sisters that is now, unfortunately, no longer inhabitable. “It’s just a really shitty reminder that my childhood is now over, that chapter is now in the past” she laments.
Next up is Humberstone’s first release: Deep End, a song she describes as about being there for someone regardless of being able to understand what they’re going through. Her band depart the stage as she straps on her Eastwood Airline Map Colin Newman Signature guitar, strumming the song’s signature riff ahead of inviting tonight’s second support act Adam Melchor to join her on harmony vocals.
Overkill has the band back on stage for an uptempo lift, lush guitars resplendent for this hooky pop-rock outing, Humberstone encouraging her audience to raise arms above heads and clap along.
Holly Humberstone @ Brixton Academy
“This has made my entire life, just so you know” Humberstone laughs to a huge ripple of cheers before diving headlong into the guitar-driven sombre album tune Thursday.
The stomping beat of second single Falling Asleep At The Wheel has the Brixton crowd clapping along from the outset before it is their voices they choose to prioritise focusing on, singing along with the fan favourite song’s chorus with merely a couple of guitar strums as accompaniment.
New single (and tour namesake) Sleep Tight rounds out the main set, a live camera feed from the stage projecting faces of the South London audience onto the huge screen which makes up the stage backdrop, tears rolling down the cheeks of those this is all just too much for.
After a brief departure, Humberstone and her band return for what must be one of the night’s highlights by way of 2021 single Scarlett, the stage encased in a signature red light as Humberstone shifts between guitars and keys. “We go together like the bad British weather and the one day I made plans” she sings, reminiscent of the analogies made by a young Alanis Morissette throughout hit tune Ironic.
Tonight is a celebration of just how far Holly Humberstone has climbed in just a few short years, just days away from her 23rd birthday. A handful of EPs in and nerves slowly subsiding with each show, it’s clear she has the presence, star material and – most importantly – the breadth of musical talent to elevate herself to the next level and hopefully she grabs band lead status with both hands and moves beyond the confines of her instruments for future shows.
Live review and photography of Holly Humberstone @ Brixton Academy by Kalpesh Patel on 1st December 2022.