You could be forgiven for assuming that Mariah Carey’s Christmas date at The O2 was going to be the most festive music moment of this week. She has, after all, written the biggest Xmas banger of the last few decades, annual royalties from which could feed a small country from one December 25th to the next. Or get her a new pair of shoes…
24 hours later and 9 miles across the capital, however, Tom Chaplin showed attendees at Royal Festival Hall that all they actually want/need for Christmas is him. (Some of those front row fans were surprisingly forward, almost as keen as Directioners.) In an evening that saw him showcase his recent release, Twelve Tales Of Christmas, as well as last year’s The Wave and a handful of Keane numbers, Chaplin also covered the breadth of the holiday season, and the emotional baggage that comes with the gifts.
“This is one of the saddest songs on what turned out to be quite a sad Christmas record,” he jokes (although it’s actually very true) before We Remember You At Christmas. For The Lost, dedicated to the victims of the attacks in Manchester and London (“just down the road from here”) is perhaps the most poignant part, with a choir joining Tom and his band. It’s the sort of performance that’s more than spine-tingling; the shivers travel up the back and to the skull before your brain bursts with the sentiments of the song. And it’s not the only one to do so; Under A Million Lights sees album collaborator and support act Fyfe Dangferfield join the increasingly growing number of performers, with the repeats of “turn your light on” prompting an iPhone torch-wielding choir from the crowd. (Like seeing Madonna‘s near-death at The BRITs, but in a very different way, it’s one of those live music moments that I won’t forget in a hurry.)
While Twelve Tales… is mainly made up of original (sad…) material, there are unconventional covers that add a little history to his version of Christmas events. “When I said I was doing a holiday album everyone said the same thing – don’t do Walking In The Air,” he says before performing The Snowman track. Whoever those naysayers were can eat their words, however, as the choir-boy classic is transformed into a stark, haunting number. Stay Another Day (East 17’s 1994 Christmas number 1) is another stunning transformation, as recently confirmed by songwriter and Brian Harvey’s mortal enemy, Tony Mortimer.
The Keane tracks (some embedded in brains for over a decade now) get the strongest reactions, so having drummer Richard Hughes’ playing on Somewhere Only We Know is perhaps the gift long-time fans would have sacrificed their new electric toothbrushes for. Although with Tom mentioning on more than one occasion that this will be his last live performance for a while, it’s unlikely the Keane reunion will be announced in the foreseeable. His absence from the stage in whatever capacity is a damn shame, as his voice is completely flawless throughout the evening: As strong as a blizzard when it needs to be, and as crisp and cool as the ice on a silent night elsewhere.
Before taking his final bow, Tom takes the audience on one final Christmas-gig detour. Not quite covering Mariah Carey‘s Extra Festive version of All I Want For Christmas Is You (although based on previous evidence he’d do a good job of it), but he mashes-up White Christmas and Live And Let Die. Like booze, your Grandad and your new other-half – it’s a surprisingly strong combination – and proves that if Christmas is good for one thing it’s about everything and everyone coming together.