As has been mentioned before several times on this here blog, there are certain popstars or books or TV shows for which it is impossible for me to try and form any coherent stream of thought on other than that of a giddy, excitable fanboy, whilst showing all the love and loyalty of a particularly excitable Labrador puppy. Much like in fact, the man you see above. Olly Murs’ third arena tour in five years came to its end with a sold out, week long run at The O2 this week, and yours truly was there for two nights of it that were both as amazing as each other. Reasons of which we’ll attempt to go into as we progress.
It has been two very long years since we last saw Olly live – in the same place, in fact – and that was undoubtedly one of the best shows of his we’d seen at the O2 so the ‘Never Been Better Tour’, even on name alone had a lot to live up to. His main support act on the night, and throughout this tour has been the wonderfully talented Ella Eyre, a feisty London teen with big hair and an even bigger voice and personality, having already topped the charts as guest vocalist on the Rudimental hit ‘Waiting All Night’ and now launching her own solo career.
She warmed up the crowd good and proper and unleashed a kind of raw, soulful pop feel evocative of early Sugababes (i.e. before the headache inducing personnel changes) on tracks like ‘Comeback’, ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ and forthcoming single ‘Together’. Much like Loveable Rogues on the last tour, she seemed born ready for a tour all of her own, which was unfortunately more than could be said for London’s special guests Bright Sparks – a male/female duo whose servicable indie pop of ‘Sugar’ and a sort-of-OK cover of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite weren’t bad but were delivered with a twee and rather annoying enthusiasm that called to mind both X Factor brother/sister duo Same Difference and Chris and Alison, the overly affectionate, TMI-o’clock friends of Gary Preston from ‘Miranda’.
A teasing blast of Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ seconds before Olly came on stage led swiftly into a heart pounding intro, a frenzied series of shots on a triangular LED screen of him in a ‘Mad Men’ type suit looking in fighting spirit to the tune of the ‘Pulp Fiction’ theme, as he then leapt up out of nowhere (i.e. the end of the stage) to ask the excited mass, ‘London…DID YOU MISS ME?’
And thus the show began with the Prince-esque opening gambit from his current album, all cheeky sidewinks, funky sax breaks and booty shaking dance moves to put Justin Timberlake to shame. Zips through the old and new in the set – including ‘Why Do I Love You?’ from the current album, as well as ‘Right Place Right Time’ and ‘Hand on Heart’ from the last one set up the undisputable feel good atmosphere of his show nicely.
Possibly in light of some incredibly snotty reviews that both The Telegraph and The Times gave of the tour that weekend just gone, the album’s title track began the second section of the show after a quick costume change, and – quite literally with the impressive fire columns – saw Olly come out all guns blazing in his anthem that acted as a literal ‘f-you’ to his critics and detractors, I could really feel the passion and strength coming through in his vocals and energy on that number.
Current single ‘Seasons’ saw Olly engage the crowd in some hysterical call response interaction with that song’s ‘Oooh, oooh’ hookline (kinda one of those things you had to be there to fully appreciate its brilliance, but you will once the DVD of this show is out), before he slowed down the tempo for the first time that evening (but not before engaging in a bit of friendly banter with the audience regarding setlist decisions – ‘I’ll come round to your house tonight ladies, and me and Mr Grey will sort you out’), leading nicely into a brilliant, stripped back piano medley of his early hits ‘Please Don’t Let Me Go’, ‘Thinking of Me’ and ‘Busy’.
One of the key aspects of Olly’s live show has always been his 10 piece band, a dynamic, lively bunch who really bounce off his energy and enthusiasm to deliver the best show possible. Only Donavan Hepburn (now on permanent loan to Gary Barlow and Take That) and Marco Bernardis of his brass section from the last two tours were otherwise indisposed, but old favourites such as his original two B/V’s John Allen and Darren Ellison – most commonly referred to among #MursArmy as John and Darren – and his lead MD Sean Barry were joined by two new female B/V’s Katie and Louise and a new drummer who, Olly confessed, made all other names obselete. Yep, even those of the crowd when he asked if they had a cool name. Dexter Ricardo Hercules anyone?
Another quick break in the show before the third section saw a short film piece where Olly talked about how he’d become addicted to watching tributes to him that his fans had been uploading on YouTube whilst he’d been away on his 8 month break recording the ‘Never Been Better’ album last year. It ranged from the hilariously bizarre (a Portuguese guy singing a ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks Intros round’ quality version of ‘Troublemaker’) through to the supercute – namely his little nephew, 3 year old Louie, singing ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ with unabandoned glee before declaring ‘Love you Uncle Olly’ to camera. Cue an entire arena going ‘Awww’.
This of course, then led into ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ itself, which finally saw the non standing sides of the arena get up and party. It was also the third section (on both dates) which saw Olly’s support act Ella Eyre return to the stage, this time, for a folksy, more upbeat version of this current album’s biggest hit ‘Up’, which she took the Demi Lovato parts on and, to put it quite simply, slayed. Quite why a studio version featuring Ella’s vocals hasn’t been produced yet is anyone’s guess.
A whizz over to the B-stage via a suspended bridge was then made via ‘Dance with Me Tonight’ which again, had everybody on their feet. It’s fair to say that this is now a career song for Olly because everyone, no matter what age or gender they were, was up singing and dancing along to every word of that song. Once on the B-stage, he delivered beautiful renditions of his Paul Weller collaboration ‘Let Me In’ and then an emotional, stripped back version of ‘Dear Darlin’ accompanied by phone lights swaying aloft from all 15,000 seats.
The latter was a particularly poignant moment of the show, as in his pre-song speech to the crowd, he opened up about how it had gained a new level of meaning for him with his close friend’s loss of their mum to a battle with cancer (it had been played at her funeral) and the recent loss of his own nan some seven weeks prior to the tour starting. Again, it was sung from the soul as he fought back the tears, and everyone was really rooting for him on that number. The atmosphere wasn’t sombre for too long though.
Quite literally strutting, shaking and shuffling back to the main stage – a sure sign that his intense training regime for this tour had given him more energy and thus more stamina with his moves than ever before – the party atmosphere went off as a funked up medley of ‘Le Freak’, ‘Good Times’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ came next and it really DID feel like Saturday night. It was also on the second show we saw that his mentor and idol, Robbie Williams, quite literally spring up from nowhere to join him for a cheeky blast of ‘Troublemaker’.
Not that it’s a new criticism levied at him by his detractors, but with the news that Olly is returning to ‘The X Factor’ this year as its co-host alongside his TV wife Caroline Flack, much has been made of whether or not he can balance two careers in the world of entertainment, as if he’s somehow not allowed to do that. After returning for his encore, Olly immediately shot such disputes down. ‘The music will never stop. There’s gonna be a new album at the end of this year, and more tours coming, and I appreciate each and every one of your support here tonight London and I can’t wait to be on your TV screens every Saturday and Sunday, you are the best fans – BEST!’
And as he bowed out with a confetti strewn finale of ‘Wrapped Up’, it confirmed one thing about Olly that we’ve known to be true ever since the beginning – as a man of this many trades, and even with his new job on his old stamping ground where it all began for this Essex geez done good, this won’t be the last time he packs out a tour of this size. Olly is the uncomplicated, feel good man of the people in pop, knows his audience, knows his strengths, and knows exactly what he’s doing. And as for this tour? Absolutely, 100% the best he’s delivered to date.