Review Nottingham Rock City by EJ Scanlan
When you think of British pop stars who have stormed the 2020’s so far, three artists may spring to mind… Dua Lipa, Anne-Marie and Becky Hill, but even though she’s only really taken off within the last two years, Becky Hill started in the music industry nearly ten years ago, appearing on the very first series of The Voice UK, coached and mentored by then pop star of the moment, Jessie J. Although she only reached the semi-final (where she was robbed of winning if you ask me), she is the only artist that went on to have a career.
In her early years, she became a force to be reckoned with in the dance/pop scene, with collaborations with Wilkinson, Matoma and Little Simz under her belt. She toured as a vocalist with Rudimental when they became massive with their debut album, “Home”, which is one of my favourite albums of all time, and even got a UK Number 1 single with Oliver Heldens with the absolute banger that is “Gecko (Overdrive)”. With her powerful distinctive vocals and her catchy atmospheric dance-pop melodies, it was clear that she was on her way to the big time.
Nine years later, her compilation album, “Get To Know” peaked at number 20 on the UK album charts and her debut album, “Only Honest On The Weekend” peaked at number 7, she’s collaborated with some of the greatest in the dance-pop music scene including David Guetta, Ella Eyre, Tiësto and Sigala just to name a few. Her solo material is also incredibly strong and is a key player on the scene. Despite her debut album, which isn’t the best record of the year at all in my opinion, having very mixed reviews, with The Guardian giving it one star, savagely describing its tracks as “seemingly designed for fast-fashion adverts during Love Island with over-stuffed production that’s about as robust and long-lasting as the minidresses sold therein”, that’s not stopped her from becoming one of the biggest British female artists of the 20’s so far.
Tonight will be the third time I’ve seen Becky Hill live. The first time was seven years ago (also at Rock City) when she supported Katy B on tour and she aced it. The second was four years ago at Leeds Festival in 2017, and she was just as great. This time, I want to see that development and how she can give the sell-out Nottingham crowd exactly what they want, and way more. I want to see how she utilises her debut album, which deep-cuts, if any, she plays, and how exactly she can perform on the iconic Rock City stage solo…
Becky started her show with Heaven On My Mind, a perfect opening to the gig. Goosebumps were standing, the euphoria was lifting and Becky’s vocals lit up the room, despite issues with her microphone. Despite an assistant stage manager joining her on stage to fix her mic pack on her sparkling glitter dress, which she later stated was way too tight, explicitly stating “If anyone sees my clitoris, please let me know and I’ll change my outfit” she gave out this gorgeous high note, denoting that she’s one of the best vocalists out there in the entire world music scene. She then performed Afterglow, her debut single where she was previously an uncredited vocalist, which was of course a crowd favourite. The execution of the track wasn’t perfect, however, which I think the reason behind this was because she said on stage that she didn’t attend her soundcheck because she was “lazy.” This didn’t sit right with me, because being a musician isn’t just about performing in front of a crowd and recording in the studio, it’s about executing your show, making it perfect every single night. You do that through rehearsals, which I’m sure she did, but sound checks are also incredibly important to that, and so the lack of execution on this particular song was all on her. It’s like me being a music journalist and only adding the full stops at the end and not actually writing the article. After being in the industry for nearly ten years, I hope to god that that’s a wake-up call for her to buck her ideas up, because she’s incredibly talented and, as we’ll see later on, she CAN perform very well, so I’m afraid Becky can’t dig herself out of that hole, because not attending your own soundcheck is a real unprofessional and disappointing move.
Moving on from that mini-rant, she then performed “Through The Night”, where Hill predicted that this was everyone’s favourite off her debut album, “Only Honest On The Weekend”, and by the looks of the audience, she was wrong, as the crowd interaction during this song was the lowest throughout her set. While promoting her album, she also said that “If you haven’t (heard the album), I’m gonna show exactly why you should once you get home”, that performance wasn’t the time to say that unfortunately. It didn’t help that her vocals were slightly off by this song either, but this was completely overshadowed by her next track, “False Alarm”, where her vocals were sensational all the way through. I do, however, think that the track was misplaced in the setlist, as the vibe felt flatter than it would’ve done during the second act of the gig. She then had a section where she said hello to the crowd properly and even said “say hello, miserable fucks” to the people at the back that didn’t wave back to her, which provoked a laugh from the crowd. She went on to introduce her next song, “I Could Get Used To This”, to say that this is “the only song where I don’t slag my boyfriend off”, and told everyone in the room to hold their partner while this song was being performed, which as a nearly 23-year-old single man who was there on his own, I felt very alone during this track, where I laughed with some fellow gig-goers who were stood next to me about that very fact. The atmosphere was unfiltered, raw and just beautiful all the way through, though the songs infamous vocal loop, the most iconic part of that song, wasn’t mixed in well enough, so much so it didn’t even feel like it was there.
The next track performed in the set was the wonderful “I Got You”, the first track from Hill’s debut album, and as much as I like the song and enjoyed the performance, it felt really out of place with the rest of the set. We had so much dance music thus far and way more to come, and so it felt really unnatural, as much as I appreciate her trying something different, which does pay off later on. Having said that, a guy I was speaking to after told me that he thought this song is “the best song she’s done”, so I’m glad it impressed people. She then did a stripped-down version of “Lessons”, a deep cut from the record, where she states that this song is the “most vulnerable I’ve felt on this record, but also the most empowered”, and its lyrics are shown off expertly, as it does on the album, but I can’t help but feel that the stripped-down feel to the song felt quite awkward. The band were all together which you would think would work well, but it just felt like they just were standing there, so kudos to Becky and her team for putting this together, but this didn’t work in my opinion… (side note, Hill acknowledges her backstage team during this show, which I thought was a nice touch, as someone who used to work behind the scenes in theatre and live events, their jobs are so overlooked so I’m glad to see her doing that.)
Becky Hill then introduces her female backup singer, who she described as her “sister from another mister”, who sang Ella Eyre’s part in “Business”, a song I’m not the biggest fan of, despite loving both Hill and Eyre’s work respectively. But live, this performance was fantastic. The vocals were through the roof and the band worked well on this, it was some of the greatest live chemistry that they had at that point. After some slower songs, we then had Hill say “we have two songs for you to have a breather”, which I instantly thought, “we just had that” and wasn’t looking forward to standing around for another two songs, but I was mistaken, as these two songs were fantastic. She began by performing “Distance”, a song written with the intention of being in lockdown away from her boyfriend, but has since turned into a song about people who have died but they’re still with you, which I thought was a lovely touch. The song, despite it being particularly cheesy in my opinion, had that intimacy that “Lessons” lacked on, it was beautiful to watch Becky Hill take the spotlight, take away the lights, the dance melodies and everything else and just sing from the heart, it was really refreshing in fact. The crowd got out their phone lights and made it beautiful to watch and be in that moment. This was then followed by “Perfect People”, which has similar issues as “Distance” has on the record, but live, once again, it impressed me. Becky got out an acoustic guitar and performed the song while playing, which I have never seen her play an instrument before this point, really showcasing her musicality. Her vocals and playing were fantastic, it was amazing to see this side to Hill’s artistry that we haven’t seen before, and I want to see more of that in the future. The only thing that ruined the song for me was the fact that the band were also playing little bits through it, even though the guitar was at the heart of it, just let Becky play and let’s have a real acoustic moment here. It had the potential to wow me, but that took that away from me personally.
“Shall we get back to the party?” Becky Hill screams as the crowd emerge with the biggest cheer so far, I think they also wanted to have a dance again because it felt so long since we did. She then emerges by performing “Lose Control”, which was exhilarating to watch and be a part of. The energy came back in bucket loads and everyone loved it. The party was back, and it felt good. This was then immediately followed by Hill’s current single, “My Heart Goes (La Di Da)”, which had some even stronger energy immersed throughout. The stage, which I’ll discuss properly later, was the best it ever looked. The blue and red lighting felt incredible and was lit perfectly. It added to that party atmosphere which was fantastic. This was the strongest Hill was all night thus far, she was in her element.
After the song, Becky then apologised to the crowd as she knew her performance tonight wasn’t the strongest it could be. The audience then really cheered for her and it was beautiful to see that support being thrown at her. I appreciated the apology coming from her because tonight wasn’t the best show she could have done, as parts didn’t feel great, but it shows that she wants to improve the show, her performance and everything else, and that, as both a journalist and a music fan, is exactly what I want to see from any artist, whether they do a bad show or the best show in the world. This was the reassurance I needed, to know that Becky knew where she messed up tonight and was going to go away and fix it for future shows. That is the best thing ANY artist can do, evaluate what went wrong, work on it and move on.
But after that heartfelt apology, Hill then went into my absolute favourite song from her, “Gecko (Overdrive)”, and the performance was legendary. I genuinely wrote in my notes “WOWWWWW” because I was so impressed with what I’d seen. The development of her watching her perform that song seven years ago to the day (near enough) to now made me quite emotional watching it. It had everything, everyone was singing along, everyone was jumping, there wasn’t one still body in the room. But was she done there…? Oh no. She then did another verse of the song which had transitioned into what felt like her own remix and it felt like the song had a new lease of life. Maybe release this version when the track turns 10 years old in June 2024? Because it was seriously that good. That’s then followed by “Last Time”, another revamped version that worked very well. The nightclub aesthetic of it was amazing and that finale was transcendent, I’m honestly still mind blown by that. Those two tracks were honestly the highlight of the entire night.
She then goes into “Better Off Without You” which was an empowering performance. The crowd were screaming along with the lyrics and it felt amazing to witness. Going into her penultimate song “Wish You Well”, another of my favourite tracks of hers, I was excited, but this time, she ducked some of the high notes which I was disappointed by, and the particular remix that she used didn’t stand out too well, my head was still singing “it’s not you, it’s me” from the previous song and it still worked with that melody. It felt very samey so in that respect, I was disappointed. Then, going onto the final track of the night, “Remember”, which I thought was a weird choice to end on and thought it would’ve worked a few songs earlier, but the energy was still alive and pumping, but for a finale, it felt very anticlimactic.
If we take a look at the overall atmosphere, the stage set was incredibly inventive and utilised Becky’s sound well. The design was fantastic and there were times where the stage was the star of the show. The crowd felt intimate and passionate, ready for a good time and Becky’s beautiful sequin glitter dress was gorgeous.
Overall, Becky Hill gave a great set with great energy which gave fans exactly what they expected, and much more. However, her disappointing vocal shakes and disorganisation made the set a lot weaker than it could have been. I wanted way more of Hill’s older discography on the setlist, tracks like “Losing”, “Sunrise In The East”, “Caution To The Wind”, “Warm” and even “Piece Of Me” were nowhere to be seen, which was sad to see. Although Becky apologised for her not living up to her full potential and had some great parts to this set, it wasn’t enough to save the overall disappointment that we got. I want to see Becky again when she’s on top form because that will be amazing, it’s just a shame that tonight, really wasn’t.
Photo Copyright © Jo Forrest (Photos – Victoria Warehouse, Manchester)
BECKY HILL AUTUMN 2021 UK & IRELAND HEADLINE TOUR DATES
Sat 9 October – O2 Academy, Liverpool
Mon 11 October – Dome, Brighton
Tue 12 October – O2 Academy, Oxford
Wed 13 October – O2 Academy Brixton, London
Fri 15 October – UEA, Norwich
Sat 16 October – O2 Academy, Birmingham
Sun 17 October – Great Hall, Cardiff
Tue 19 October – O2 Academy, Bristol
Wed 20 October – O2 Academy, Bournemouth
Thu 21 October – Pavilions, Plymouth
Thu 18 November – Olympia Theatre, Dublin