James Blunt + Ward Thomas, 14 February 2020 @ Arena Birmingham

Birmingham offered 5000 people the chance for a special date this Valentine’s Day: James Blunt. The 45 year old singer-songwriter would probably be one of the first artists that comes to mind when you think of the perfect concert on the day of love. He brought his self-deprecating charm to kick off the Once Upon A Mind World Tour.

The arena was mostly full when Ward Thomas came on stage with their soft country music. They announced that it was their first time on an arena tour but I felt that this was going to happen sooner or later. I saw them live for the first time last year when they headlined at the O2 Institute. Their performance tonight was more dynamic, plus they were also helped by having additional artists in the background. The foot stamping and the incredibly loud people bouncing up and down the whole night last year evolved into a more intimate performance where the warm harmonies had everyone silent for most of their set, probably too afraid to break the magic. 

The Hampshire twin sisters Catherine (guitar) and Lizzy (piano) delighted the audience with their passionate and perfect harmonies, one of the highlights definitely being “Cartwheel”, a breakup song which is probably not the best way to illustrate Valentine’s Day but it couldn’t be missed from their set.

“Hold Space” is their brand new song which was received with open arms. The twins explained that it describes wanting to help someone close who’s going through a rough time but you can’t do anything else other than holding space for them.  Their Fleetwood Mac vibes are obvious and they embraced them by playing “Landslide”, announcing that it’s one of their favourite songs of all times. Further into their set, the audience became more courageous, starting to sing along and sway on the mystic rhythms.

Their 30 minutes set came to an end with “One More Goodbye”, before which Catherine added that hopefully they will see us again soon.

James Blunt finally came up on stage after a short break and kicked off with the passionate “How It Feels To Be Alive”, his silhouette contrasted by the very bright white screens behind him. Cheers were coming from all over the arena and they didn’t stop until the end of the night!

As he shows on social media all the time, he is not just that famous artist whose hits are always played on the radio or in shopping centres. He is witty, charming and his self-deprecating jokes had everyone giggling and laughing hard.  During his third song, “Wise Men”, he added after the chorus question “Where are you now?”  we are in Birmingham, of course!

James soon mentioned mentioned the celebratory love day: “Thank you for spending Valentine’s Day listening to my miserable songs! I thought that if I went on a date with 5000 of my closest friends I have more chances to get laid but if not I can also watch, I don’t mind. Also my wife says hi!”

The former British Army captain announced that Elton John advised him to always play the hits – ”If I didn’t play ‘You’re beautiful‘ you’d ask for your money back so I’ll play it 22 times just to be sure.” He revealed that he loves singing it because it makes everyone smile — and he can also just point at the audience and say “not you!”


After the uplifting “Champions”, the time came for another beloved hit, “Goodbye My Lover”, played at the piano, which the singer dedicated it to all the couples in the room.  The touching and melancholic “I Told you” — with the official lyrics video in the background — had everyone feeling sentimental. The song written for his children who are growing up too quickly is a reminder to live every moment to its fullest.

James admitted how he always wanted to be part of a band but no one wanted to be in a band with him — until now. The Ward Thomas twins came back on stage to join Blunt for another song from his most recent album, “Halfway”, a version which they also recorded again together.

Sharing a bit more about the tour, Blunt said that after UK, they will hit Europe, then North America — “probably only the best part of it though so only New York”, then Australia and China. He confessed that they always play in China and ironically said that he likes it because of all the rules, like not being allowed to tell the audience to stand up — but he can gesture. As that is not a rule here, he urged everyone to stand up, joking about the fans liking the seats because they are feeling old. 

Before playing “Postcards”, Blunt disclosed that he had family there in the room so he asked everyone who is “vaguely related” to him to make a noise. After receiving a big “Woooo” from many parts of the venue he questioned the honesty of some crowd members. Armed with the ukulele, the singer began the song like a ballad but soon it turned into radio-friendly pop with a bouncy chorus, Blunt waving frantically on stage.

Usually when you make a mistake on stage you can’t go back, you have to keep going like nothing happened, but when James Blunt started “The Greatest” with “Too much to say/ Too much to lose” he stopped and asked the rest of his band to start again.  For “Same Mistake”, Blunt invited the fans to switch on the torches on their phones as he wants us “to be stars”. After the groovy and uplifting “OK” (Robin Schulz cover), “Monsters” changed the mood into a farewell for his dad Charles when he was very ill. 

With the main act finished, James Blunt didn’t leave the stage on a downbeat note, as he laughed about the last time he came to Birmingham when he said Nottingham, but he was thankful that everyone was so forgiving.

Blunt came back for a three-song encore and started with the lonely “Cold”, which he wrote for his wife for when he is on tour. He went back to the piano for “1973”, his voice contrasting with the rainbow effects on the big screens. For the last song we went back to 2013 for another all-time classic — “Bonfire Heart”.

Set list:

  1. How It Feels to Be Alive
  2. Smoke Signals
  3. Wise Men
  4. High
  5. The Truth
  6. Champions
  7. Goodbye My Lover
  8. I Told You
  9. 5 Miles
  10. Halfway (with Ward Thomas)
  11. Postcards
  12. The Greatest
  13. You’re Beautiful
  14. I Really Want You
  15. Same Mistake
  16. Stay the Night
  17. OK (Robin Schulz cover)
  18. Monsters


  1. Cold
  2. 1973
  3. Bonfire Heart

Reviewer and Photographer: Andra Tudoran

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