We are big fans of Champs here at Backseat Mafia and loved their recent album ‘VAMALA’ which we reviewed here, one of a multitude of rave reviews for the Isle of Wight duo’s album of exquisitely crafted and gorgeously harmonised pop-folk songs. It really is an album of sheer beauty and if you haven’t yet added it to your collection then you’re really missing out on something special. We also caught up with the Champion brothers for a Q+A here where we discussed their musical and cultural influences and what it was like growing up on an island. We also talked about their amazing harmonies.

Talking of those harmonies, I had the pleasure of hearing them live when I saw Champs at the Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds on 8th April. They were in town with label mates Balthazar (worth checking out btw), supporting them on their current tour. Champs are obviously touring to promote ‘VAMALA’ but it was nice to see a mix of songs in their set rom the latest release and debut album ‘Down Like Gold’, another fabulous album.

The venue wasn’t exactly full which was a real shame as Champs are a band that deserve to be heard, not just because of their artistic craft, but because they actually sound really different from most other bands today. I joked with Dave (the Champion brother with the shorter hair and a really nice guy) after their set that I assumed that their amazing vocals were partly down to clever studio trickery but actually that’s not the case and they just sound that good!

And boy did they sound good. They did eight songs in total and due to the fact that it wasn’t the full band (the two brothers were joined by a bassist who also added some harmonies) the set comprised of some of their gentler tunes.

The set kicked off with stunning ballad ‘Forever Be Upstanding at the Door’ with it’s lovely folksy sound combined with haunting choral voices, followed by title track from the new album ‘VAMALA’. VAMALA is a word used by Isle of Wight fishermen for a certain type of dangerous storm that comes in suddenly off the sea but in the title track is transplanted as the name of the female lead in the song and is a worthy title track.

The venue listened in hushed silence to each song, mesmerised by Champs’ vocal dexterity, almost not wanting to clap at the end of each number in case it broke the spell. It felt like a very intimate do, almost like Champs were giving a private performance to each individual.

They then did a couple of numbers from first album ‘Down Like Gold’ including the title track and the fabulous ‘My Spirit is Broken’ and then the plaintive ‘Sweet Marie’. It is quite something that Champs can do a set of songs after only two albums that deliver the kind of quality some bands never accumulate over many years and albums worth of output, and that even without lots of their other stellar tracks on show. Impressive to say the least.

They then did the straight ahead folk of ‘Roll Me Out’ with floaty backing vocals (sounding like the sea that the song is describing) reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Only Living Boy in New York’. It’s all about Michael Champion’s love of surfing.

The penultimate track was ‘Down (Alone On The Avenue)’ before the set closer and their first single ‘Savannah’ rounded off the night. Like all of the tracks, their is an undeniable melancholy to Champs’ songs, but this is tempered with an equally warm and, in many cases, euphoric tone. Like we said in our review of ‘VAMALA’, listening to Champs is like sitting on a window ledge on a rainy day watching the world outside pass by whilst drinking some hot soup as the open fire heats your face.

Champs delivered an intimiate performance of first rate songs that better known artists would kill to be able to write. If you haven’t seen these boys live, then make sure you do next time they come to your town and you too can bask in the warm glow of Champs.

Setlist:

  1. Forever Be Upstanding At The Door
  2. Vamala
  3. Down Like Gold
  4. My Spirit is Broken
  5. Sweet Marie
  6. Roll Me Out
  7. Down (Alone On The Avenue)
  8. Savannah

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