They say variety is the spice of life, if that’s true, this year’s Fresher’s Showcase was positively ablaze. The gig, held at Cheltenham’s Frog and Fiddle last week, saw five young acts from right across the sonic spectrum, showing over a hundred students what they had to offer. And if what we saw that night was what this year’s freshers are capable of, it’s safe to assume all of them have promising futures ahead.
The first performer of the night (barring DJ Wilcie, who played us in) was Joe Hawkins, an acoustic singer-songwriter from Cornwall. Joe’s songs are honest, intimate affairs in the vein of Elliott Smith or early Ed Sheeran.
The audience must have got this vibe from him too, as they stayed mostly silent for his set ‒ that is, until the end, when he covered Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and had the whole place roaring along with him.
In contrast to Joe’s more introspective feel, the next performer, Charlie Blackwood, brought us pleasing pop and plenty of audience engagement. With influences ranging from the Beach Boys to Calvin Harris and Take That, and with a charismatic stage presence that almost borders on the suggestive, Blackwood has the clean-cut pop star thing down to a T.
Still, the rough-and-ready nature of the venue did impact his set to some degree, not least when his backing track cut out for a good 30 seconds, a mishap which Blackwood handled graciously and with good humour.
— Charlie Blackwood (@CharlieBsocial) October 19, 2018
We then had Deya and Teodora, two girls from Bulgaria who write songs in a mix of Bulgarian, Spanish and English (individually, not all at the same time!). As such, most of their lyrics were lost on the primarily English-speaking crowd, but they showed a lot of talent and passion and their cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ fit perfectly in their set.
Fourth on the bill were Jellied Eels (who hadn’t yet decided on a name when they were booked to perform!).
These guys won the prize for the most ‘out there’ look of the night – beanies, Doors shirts and psychedelic print – and their music stood out just as much as their image. Opening with the best cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ that this reviewer has ever heard, they set a very high bar for themselves but rose to it, playing a unique mix of alternative rock and acoustic material.
Bringing the soul – what a night from our Freshers! pic.twitter.com/sgs38Sbmis
— Popular Music (@PopularMusicUOG) October 18, 2018
The fifth and final performance came from funk and soul covers act Funky Business. The five-piece had previously promised “a high-energy performance to get everyone up and dancing to finish the night”, and they very much delivered one.
Their covers, which included the Doobie Brothers’, ‘Long Train Runnin’ and Portugal. The Man’s ‘Feel It, Still’, went down a storm, with front-woman Sophie Livingston engaging the (by now highly enthusiastic) crowd effortlessly. It was a fitting end to a night which saw us celebrating fresh new talents and excitedly speculating over where they will go next.