Will Young - Delamere Forest

The UK’s monsoon season scoffs at the unfounded optimism of the Forestry Commission’s annual outdoor concert series but the north west’s downpours eventually halt in late afternoon. Classy support Nerina Pallot takes to the stage early evening as the sky clears. “You all look lovely,” she beams. “I like your hats.” Always, you suspect, just one step away from genuine fruit loop eccentricity, she sparks classical songwriter leanings with enough observational quirk to stay clear of the conventional. Even recent album Year of the Wolf, which flirted with mainstream mores, smacked of cool re-invention rather than predictable smoothing. Tonight she mixes recent (a delicate ‘Put Your Hands Up’) and old (a deliciously ribald ‘Geek Love’.) In deference to the rain she re-models Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ as a thumping piano ballad. ‘Sophia’ and ‘Everybody’s Gone To War’ please the couple of thousand Young disciples on the stage-front standing area but the groups and families on the hill, gathered around picnic mats and folding chairs are more interested in chit-chat and terrible-looking plonk. Bad manners and stupidity combined: their loss.

A decade on, the original Pop Idol continues to defy conventions. This series of outdoor shows follows a sold-out UK tour in support of latest album Echoes, 300,000 sales in the UK providing inarguable evidence of the ongoing appeal of Will Young. This is what happens when the good voices get handed out to those with brains and personality. A goodly portion of the female population continue to live in adoring denial but, if anything, the singer’s appeal has broadened.

The new stuff sits well with the old but he gets through most of it early on anyway. ‘Come On', ‘Losing Myself’ and ‘I Just Want a Lover’ are less about his stock-in-trade soul pop and balladry, more beats driven. It’s a slight re-jig that suits him; certainly suits the voice, as clean and range-y as it ever was. The solid backing band keeps it light. Their leader applauds them throughout and quite right - they’re tuned in, rather than drifting on session muso cruise control.

Once we’re warmed up, he starts knocking out the hits and they just keep coming. It’s the old ‘You Know More Songs By...Than You Thought You Did’ chestnut, only with Young it genuinely is a little startling. Most are rock solid. ‘Leave Right Now’ and ‘All Time Love’ are fragile ballads, made for far more intimate settings than this but they lift and travel. The voice sells them to the back of the field and you remember he won Pop Idol not just because he could sing a bit but because, for a youngster, Will knew how to interpret, take a song and put a unique spin on it. ‘Evergreen’ and ‘Light My Fire’ remind you where he came from but he has originals that trump the covers.

‘Grace’, ‘Changes’, ‘Who Am I’ all shine. ‘Your Game’ is tight soul-funk. A Bryan Adams cover (‘Amy’) mid-set is a little odd and almost kills the mood but the between song banter is unforced and warm, and holds the crowd. As well as thanks for actually turning up when the day-long downpour might have put many off, he takes banners from the crowd (“WILL YOUNG – WELL HUNG”) and sportingly squeezes into a custom t-shirt thrown onstage that reads “Willie In The Woods”. He resists shallow campery and these days seems to have finally shrugged off the self-doubt he exhibited early on.

If maintaining a career as a proper post-talent show pop star was that easy they’d all be at it and we’d be overrun. But is it really all that hard? Will’s approach seems simple enough – don’t be a dick, try to be interesting, know who you are and stick to it (we trust that, say, ‘Pitbull ft. Will Young’ remains nothing but a horrible nightmare.) As ever, he maintains much of the goodwill by ditching the ego and being able to laugh at himself but seriously, on this evidence, there’s little need.

Last updated: 04/05/2018 10:58:34

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