“Lay back and enjoy the ride…”
York singer/songwriter Chris Helme is, of course, best remembered as the front man of Britpop heroes the Seahorses. The story goes that a friend of a friend of Stone Roses guitarist John Squire heard Helme busking in York and passed word to Squire who promptly hired him for his new project the Seahorses. The band enjoyed critical and commercial success with their sole album Do It Yourself before disbanding. Since then, Helme has continued to tour across the country and has released a number of solo albums. On a chilly, autumnal night, Helme picked liberally from his back catalogue and threw in a few carefully chosen covers as well.
When you have a song called ‘Hello’, you are pretty much legally obliged to open your set with it. Helme’s voice sounded impeccable as he delivered a stripped back, acoustic version of the closing song from Do It Yourself. In the absence of a backing band, the York troubadour played acoustically all night and this added a new dimension to already familiar tracks. ‘Lorali’ features a beautiful, finger picked intro and it was clear by this point that there is so much more to Chris Helme then a handful of tracks from the 90s.
Having said that, his performance of the Seahorses single ‘You Can Talk To Me’ was one of the highlights of the evening with the crowd in good voice throughout. Helme has a relaxed and engaging on stage presence that gave the evening a feeling of intimacy as he chatted to the audience and introduced each song with a story. A cover of The Faces ‘Ooh La La’ was as welcome as it was unexpected and it sat nicely alongside ‘Pleased’ and ‘Summer Girl’ from Helme’s 2012 album The Rookery. The great thing about Helme as a live performer is that his voice is so strong that his songs actually sound better live than they do on record. This also means that any cover he performs always has his own unique spin on it. The Grateful Dead are not a band you would normally associate with a Britpop act but Helme’s cover of the Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’ is sinister and bluesy and perfect for a little venue like The Leopard.
Helme barely bothered to soundcheck before the gig, something that other bands should take immediate note of, and he didn’t bother with going off stage only to return for an encore. Helme is a no frills performer and the gig was all the better for it. The evening is closed out with a stunning performance of the Seahorses two biggest hits. ‘Love is the Law’ is perhaps the bands best known song and it is soaring and wonderful here. ‘Blinded by the Sun’ has always been my favourite of theirs however, and Helme absolutely did it justice with a heartfelt and enthusiastic rendition that had the crowd going wild.
I have seen pretty much every band or singer associated with Britpop, as these were the songs that I grew up with in my formative years. Chris Helme at the Leopard is as good a show as I have seen anywhere. A truly epic evening.