Free Radio Live 2014 @ The LG Arena, 29th November 2014

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A plethora of pop stars playing a few songs each to a packed arena of screaming fans a few weeks before Christmas? It must be this year’s instalment of the slick mini festival that is Free Radio Live. The packed offering has become something of an institution in these parts over the past few years, something underlined by the ever-improving lineups, which features eight acts for its 2014 vintage who between them had number one singles and award nominations flowing left, right and centre.

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Once HumFree the dancing hamster and his troop of scantily-clad and very young cheerleaders – a lovely bit of objectification for a family-friendly audience – were done with their frankly cringe-worthy routine, the show got under way with one of the line-ups biggest names; Ed Sheeran, who requested to open the show so he could get home for his dad’s birthday. Armed with just his guitar, a mic and some looping pedals, Sheeran gave a surprisingly captivating five-song set. He is, of course, used to headlining rooms this size on his own, and the crowd seemed to love him. His vocal range is highly impressive and he showed it off to full effect.

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Next up were Rixton, a pop/RnB four piece featuring Jake Roche on vocals – the son of Shane Richie and Coleen Nolan – who showed himself to be a decent frontman, getting the crowd moving and displaying a decent singing voice. over the course of their three songs they showcased elements of happy pop, big ballads and commercialised RnB, as well as mentioning at every occasion that they are soon going back to America. As you would expect from one of the smaller names on a bill such as this, they were perfectly good at what they do without being even remotely spectacular or especially memorable.

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Third up was Becky Hill, one of the stars of the first series of The Voice. This was something of a home gig for the Bewdley vocalist and she was very keen to ‘big up the West Midlands’ throughout her three songs. Since finding fame on The Voice, it seems she has moved towards some slightly soulless dance pop, but every so often you get a reminder of what an amazing vocal talent she is. What her songs might lack in originality, she more than makes up for in enthusiasm – despite falling over – as she is clearly having a blast.

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Closing act one was Labrinth, who was something of a pleasant surprise. Aside from sporting an excellent wooly hat and jumper combo he showed a number of strings to his bow during his three songs. Not only can he sing very well and really get a crowd moving, he’s also pretty useful on guitar and keyboards. Very entertaining to watch and an uplifting way to lead into the interval.

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After a poignant tribute to the inspirational Stephen Sutton, the second half got underway with the seemingly endless energy of Olly Murs. He might not be the greatest singer out there, but he is a superb performer and deservedly draws some of the loudest screams of the night. Everything about his short set is fun and he is another performer who clearly loves his job and that positive energy spreads around the arena leaving everyone with a big grin on their face.

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Next up another big name; Nicole Sherzinger. The former Pussycat Doll literally sparkled in some very shiny trousers and seemed incredibly relaxed and happy to be in Birmingham. She put on a great performance, with some impressive vocals, sharp dancing and serious hairography. The crowd lapped it up and she looked like she got just as much back out of her short set herself, telling the arena they were ‘shermazing’ before taking her exit.

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Following that, more impressive hair acrobatics in the form of Ella Eyre. The MOBO winner has been something of a buzz name this year, and showed why with an energetic set that showed her ability to put on a great show, as well as underlining what a stellar voice she has. The world could well be her oyster going into 2015.

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So, how to round the night off? With the ‘world’s greatest supergroup’ of course. No, not Cream, Audioslave or Velvet Revolver, but the pop/rock mash up that is McBusted. They had the last laugh earlier this year playing a huge arena tour to great reviews, and within one song it was easy to see the appeal. These bouncing boys with guitars ooze fun, and with their synchronised dance moves and super catchy choruses there are perfect way to send the arena home happy. This short set also gave you a flavour of what a proper McBusted show might be like; with their full stage and lighting you would imagine it being an absolute riot. Handily for this six piece, they already have a new tour booked for next year and tonight’s showing will no doubt have earned a few extra ticket sales.

Review and photography – Dave Musson

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