Words: ROBIN MUMFORD
There aren’t many things better than being welcomed into someone else’s home with the cherished offer of ‘tea, coffee, how do you like it?’, especially when the weather outside forces you to scuttle in search for warmth. In the case of my grandparent’s house, without fail, you’d be greeted by a marmalade glow that shepherd's you to a kindled fireplace and a biscuit tin always bound to be full to the brim with the grandkid’s favourite delicacies.
‘Come in, come in, make yourself at home, let me take your coat’
Now, Sunday night in Nottingham didn’t quite pan out that way. See, it was probably the most curious welcome I’ve ever had into someone’s home. My expectations became a lot more abstract upon walking beneath a neon-lit Broadway-looking entrance.
‘Here’s your wristband, go straight on in, up the stairs and on the left’
Was this some sort of joke, perhaps even a social experiment? Maybe they were just testing me to see how far I’d make it before turning around and leaving. Was I their guinea pig? Anyways, I headed on up where the woman sat behind a desk told me to, past two big jet-black doors likened to ones you’d see in a jailhouse and into an arena of thousands of people sipping away at their booze and singing along to songs I remember hearing on angsty American teenage movies.
‘Yeah, I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby. Listen to Iron Maiden, baby!’
Even just jotting those words down made me wind my neck in a little. Alright, alright, I’ve had Wheatus stuck in my mind like a broken record in the past, but that wasn’t by choice. I felt out of place, this wasn’t the warm welcome at my grandparent’s house, this was more similar to what I’d call a rude awakening. To make things even worse, I could sense that my apprehension stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the only guy in the immediate periphery. I must've been easy to detect amongst the crowd.
‘Her boyfriend’s a dick. And he brings a gun to school. And he’d simply kick my ass if he knew…’
This is finally the point where I started to quiz myself over whose house this really was. After all, I had just finished watching as much of the England game as possible and threw myself into the hospitality of a place I soon learnt was named ‘Rock City’. If anything, I wasn’t ready for a surprise, I was stepping into the deep end innocently.
But as Nottingham woke up from its evening nap, so did the house I was in. When the clock struck nine, the first sign of a cordial embrace that I expected from a new surrounding hit my ears.
I asked the question again, ‘Am I really in someone’s house?’.
While there were far too many people inside to claim it was a traditional suburban house nestled away in Nottinghamshire, the truth was, it was Holly’s house, and at Holly’s, we do things differently.
As soon as I heard the transition between darkness and light that her single ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’ brings, I felt like I was back in 2020 when I first discovered the luminescent talents of Holly Humberstone. Hearing her emotion-evoking vocals through her smile that flickered across her face like a hologram, suddenly I didn’t feel like the centre of attention. The sore thumb as it were. Instead, it was all about the first musician I ever gave a five-star review for her debut EP ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’.
No longer the alien in the crowd, I was just like everyone else, a fangirl almost. Playing songs that I had been listening to for years, along with her new material that will make up her upcoming 2023 EP, I knew the words off by heart, and so did everybody around me. Before Sunday, I was so acclimated to jumping around to post-punk bands. With Holly, I could enjoy the music at my own pace, taking in every moment as it reached my ears.
And if her dainty blend of dulcet melodies and honeyed vocals wasn’t enough to make you feel at home, you can rest assured that her natural means of being a down to earth figure would. Between almost every song, someone different in the crowd would publicise their love towards Holly. In typical Holly fashion, after taking a moment’s pause to smirk and hibernate in the shell of her true shy self, she would respond, ‘I love you too’.
This, along with her winsome dialogue between songs about her affiliation with Nottingham, how she grew up in Grantham, and the ins and outs of her creative process for each track made for an unforgettable night in Rock City, Holly’s home.
From the earworm hue that assembles much of the make-up of ‘Vanilla’ to the sombre undertones of ‘London is Lonely’, every track was performed in a way that leaves you wanting more. Like lingering over each sip of the tea that you were offered at the start of your visit to a family member’s house to escape from the sharp cold winter of the outside, you do your best to find new ways of staying a little while longer.
In this case, when the lights went out at the end of the show, the crowd awoke to the echoing rendition of ‘one more song’ being roared towards the stage. The plea for more was palpable, Holly had that effect on us. ‘I’m bored, I’m ignored, I’m being out of my mind’ were the words sung by Holly in her opening track of the night. But by the end, she knew she was adored, for her music and herself.
Fret not, Holly and her glimmering smile made one last appearance to the backdrop of a thousand other people delighted to see a familiar face. The energy in Rock City was recharged to help Holly and her band through the shimmering guitars and dreampop temperaments of ‘Scarlett’.
Arguably her most popular track, Scarlett is a lyrical ‘fuck you’ to a guy that broke Holly’s best friend’s heart, written while they were breaking up. Her collection of songs is a line of vulnerable diary entries that burst into life when performed live. Teaching many life lessons through her discography, Sunday night taught me that my predictions of her blooming, abrupt rise in success back in 2020 were correct.
For me, it was confirmation that Holly Humberstone is one of the best in the industry at the moment. While her production quality is as good as a hackneyed popstar, her drive to succeed and ability to tell a story is quite simply unmatched. She made Rock City hers, and I never wanted the performance to end. If I ever get a chance to be welcomed into Holly’s house again, I will take up the offer in a heartbeat.