At 9.15 Lola Young emerges through the smoke on the stage at Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds, to a rapturous welcome from the 300-strong crowd. There’s excitement among them to see the powerful singer-songwriter, as a few people tell me, hot on the heels of IWD 2022. No-one is here by accident – they know what Lola can deliver, and they want to be a part of it.
Despite the power and the rawness of her work though, it’s the nervousness of a 21 year old on her first major tour that comes through first. It’s clear that Young is excited, she talks too fast, trips over her words, as she asks us “do I look like a morning person?” She tells us how she’s travelled from Glasgow (the first night of the tour), getting up at 7am, with mascara running down her face. A seamless segue into the opener – Ruin My Make Up.
The nerves are on show when she chats, but as soon as Lola strikes the first chord, she is in her element. As with many of her songs, they’re born out of messy relationships – but there’s a strength and defiance that the crowd latches on to, singing along in the chorus.
In the same way, the audience join in with the second song – 3rd of Jan – following Lola’s instructions to “Sing the f*** along!”
Young moves effortlessly from guitar to keys throughout the set, and standing alone on stage (the band will join for the London show), she shows why she’s worth the acclaim that got her a BRITS Rising Star nomination (an award which propelled Adele, Sam Fender and now Holly Humberstone to the upper echelons of the music world), and a 5th place on the BBC’s Sound of 2022 list.
There’s depth to her lyrics, vulnerability in her vocals and an uncompromising honesty in her chat between songs. She doesn’t shy away from the challenges she’s faced – from her own mental health to vocal chord surgery – and it’s clear that this resonates with large portions of the crowd. It is this level of openness that helps her connect so intimately with the audience.
The stand out songs were Pill or a Lullaby and Blue a song that Lola assumed people wouldn’t know, but was proven wrong as the chorus was sung right back to her. Both came from the 2021 EP After Midnight, and it seems that landed even more strongly that she realised, charting the different emotions across the course of one night – confidence and strength, to anxiety in the space of a few hours. Blue in particular, is a story of conflicted emotions, and feels incredibly soulful, which brought to mind Grace Carter/Jorja Smith sensibilities.
There are more upbeat moments. Lola jokes that she has written one positive song – Limelight – personal again, but about the things in her life that make her who she is and are the source of her power. And there’s a beautiful cover of the Whitney classic Dance with Somebody, bringing with it a full-on, 100% singalong.
At one point, Lola talked about not liking comparisons (something which has inevitably been part of her narrative as a graduate of the Brit School in London), but truly, it’s hard not to. The buzz and the conversation I heard a few times post-show was of having just seen “the new Adele”.
The show closes out with the critically acclaimed FAKE – premiered on the James Corden show, Lola tells us, dropping a big name out there. It won’t be long though, before people are doing the same to her, telling the story of when they spent an evening in such a small venue with Lola Young.
Ruin My Make Up
3rd of Jan
Pill or A Lullaby (4am till sunrise)
None for You
Dance With Somebody