Melanie C - O2 Islington Academy London
I hated Britpop. Blur and Oasis did nothing for me and the numerous bandwagon jumpers that followed in their footsteps throughout the mid 90s also failed to impress. There were a handful of UK indie acts that I did buy into but I gravitated towards the world of pop to find a bit of excitement, tuning in to MTV Select and other video request programmes in a attempt to scratch my musical itches.
I was amused by the Spice Girls phenomena when their debut single ‘Wannabe’ hit the airwaves in 1996, and enjoyed the rowdy nature of the five piece, always winding up the various presenters and interviewers they came across during their promotional duties, but I didn’t buy into the single as it was just a typical throwaway piece of fun. A few months later I viewed the girl’s video for their second single ‘Say You’ll Be There’, perusing the antics of Katrina Highkick and her comrades and found myself being wowed by the vocal runs of Sporty Spice throughout the song!
In the couple of years that followed I kept a close watch on what the Girl Power Gang were up to, especially Sporty, with several singles really hitting the mark. I even went as far as seeing the group live so was extremely curious when Melanie C decided to try her hand recording a solo album, with the fruits of her labour Northern Star appearing in 1999. Mel had already stepped away from the Spices slightly the previous year when she was paired with Bryan Adams for the top three hitting single ‘When You’re Gone’ but the 3x platinum selling album really established the singer as a solo artist. Three further solo albums followed over the next seven years but although they each had their own merits, especially Beautiful Intentions, they failed to connect with the general public in the same way as her debut.
I tended to dip in an out of the singer's career over the same period and only took a real interest in what Mel was up to in the last year or so after connecting with her via Twitter, finding myself eagerly awaiting her fifth album The Sea last September. It's unusual for fifth albums but I'd say Melanie's current collection is her strongest to date as a whole - and feels extremely current. The Sea contains a handful of uptempo pop tracks that would really give Katy Perry a run for her money and a trio were featured in Mel’s Islington set, with furious opener ‘Rock Me’, ‘Think About It’ (containing a killer chorus) and first encore number ‘Stupid Game' all coming across extremely well in the live arena.
This was the first time I'd seen Melanie live since a gig at London's Astoria during her Northern Star era and I was really kicking myself that I'd left it way too long as I was bowled over by the singer's performance at the Islington show as her voice was on top form and she had a stunning stage presence. The Academy show was a sell out, with many of the audience having travelled from other countries to view the former Spice Girl in the venue's fairly intimate surroundings. The gig was heaving but there was still a very friendly atmosphere throughout, even though, as Mel said, it was a bit squishy squashy down the front!
The show delivered a few stand out moments, with the previously mentioned 'Sea' songs standing up there alongside a gorgeous rendition of the title track from her sophomore release Reason, one of the songs Melanie is most proud of having written. New mid tempo track 'One By One' penned with Starsailor's James Walsh was another highlight. A further track from Mel's new collection also impressed, even though Mel apologised for her guitar playing before the start of 'Burn' - "Looks good, sounds shit!".
Although the singer had every right to be proud of her new material she didn't scrimp on her back catalogue and fans were rewarded with the likes of 'Next Best Superstar', 'Never Be the Same Again' and huge crowd favourite 'When You're Gone' but it was the final song of the night that got everybody going for it, with the updated mix of 'I Turn To You' bringing the house down and making me vow to leave less of a gap between Mel C gigs next time round!