Holly Humberstone – Sleepy Pop for Dreamy Teens
For most established musicians undertaking a UK tour, Birmingham’s O2 Institute is a self-evident pinpoint on the tour poster. Having boasted legendary acts such as Duran Duran, the venue itself is a pillar of live music in the West Midlands, familiar with icons and revered by breakthrough bands. Enter stage Holly Humberstone, a self-made indie sweetheart on a seemingly unstoppable rise to stardom. Supported by a handful of dreamy EPs, Holly’s sincere style of songwriting is attracting attentive crowds up and down the country. On the evening of November 26th, the ‘Sleep Tight’ tour took residence at the O2 Institute, the third stop of ten sold out nights.
Caressed by the fuzzy glow of indigo stage lights, Holly Humberstone’s silhouette is pierced by the shape of an electric guitar slung across her left shoulder. Accompanied on this tour by three multi-instrumentalists, the backing band breaks out into the opening number, the title track from Holly’s sophomore EP. ‘The Walls Are Way Too Thin’ is an interpolation of hazy guitar chords atop a glitchy synth lead, which despite being the first song of the show, sounds like it should be playing above the end credits of a 2000’s rom-com.
In a similar vein, Holly is dressed stylishly according to Y2K fashion trends, looking as if she herself could play the lead role in the aforementioned screenplay. Following tracks ‘Vanilla’ and ‘Overkill’ are plucked from Holly’s earliest body of work, 2020’s ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’. The sugar sweet chorus of ‘Vanilla’ invites a singalong from Holly’s adoring front row fans, who make a noticeable effort to emulate her hushed and soothing tones. Despite having only been in the public domain for two years, these songs in particular exacerbate the feeling of instant classics in their live iterations.
Turning to more recent material, Holly performs a solo rendition of ‘London Is Lonely’, a tender ballad that tugs on heartstrings around the room. Branded as somewhat of a generational mouthpiece for her young fans, Holly’s discography rarely shies away from sensitive subjects . “Teenage affection is often confusing” admits Holly during an ethereal acoustic cut entitled ‘Friendly Fire’. Elsewhere, she tackles the sobering topic of substance abuse during ‘Falling Asleep At The Wheel’, hitting close to home time and time again with her adolescent admirers.
Between songs, Holly indulges in lingering moments of intimacy with the audience, retelling childhood stories and offering insight into her own lyrics. Ahead of ‘Haunted House’, Holly shares that the song is indebted to memories from her family home in Nottingham. Stripped back to the bare bones structure of Holly’s sleepy vocals married beautifully with full-bodied piano chords, ‘Haunted House’ evokes all the emotions captured between four walls and a roof. At the budding age of 22, Holly Humberstone has already attracted the attention of multiple industry figureheads, including collaborative works with Sam Fender and Matty Healy of The 1975.
Released in April this year and co-written by Healy, ‘Sleep Tight’ incorporates sprightly electronica with laidback acoustic guitar, Holly seamlessly shifting between keys and a six string. After a brief break, the full band returns for their encore offering. Saved deservedly for the last spot on the setlist, breakthrough single ‘Scarlett’ is savoured by Holly and her fans alike. With the outro of the track still in full swing, she flashes hearts to the crowd, formed between her index and her thumb. The love in the air is oh so apparent as Holly adheres to her curtain call and vanishes off stage. Before breaking her mid-twenties, Holly Humberstone has already achieved what some artists strive for throughout an entire lifetime career. The ‘Sleep Tight’ tour will undoubtedly fulfil Holly’s most heartfelt dreams, whilst all the while fuelling her fantasies for the future.
Review: George Wainwright
Photographs: Ian Dunn