In a world where we have to stay two metres apart, sweaty concert venues have become a distant memory. 2020 has seen an array of Covid friendly concerts, from socially distanced gigs to online concerts, Niall Horan is next to take on the latter. He was due to spend the autumn touring Europe, playing his sophomore album Heartbreak Weather to thousands, so in a bid to bring back the magic of live music and raise funds for #WeNeedCrew, he is live from London’s Royal Albert Hall.
The show opened with a stripped back performance of ‘Dear Patience’, Horan began the performance, surrounded by darkness, until he moved on to the next track, ‘Heartbreak Weather’, the vibrant title track from his most recent album. He joined his band on the main stage in the centre of the iconic Royal Albert Hall for the rest of the concert. Performing in the round creates an added layer of intimacy that is lost in the world of virtual concerts. After touring stadiums across the world as a member of One Direction for five years, Horan is no stranger to performing live. It’s no wonder that on his last world tour he opted for smaller venues, allowing for a more intimate experience, something that remains prevalent in his performance, even through a computer screen.
It’s clear that this is new territory for Horan, it’s evident that the live audience are a vital part of performance for any artist. As the show continues he begins to loosen up, the shy blonde boy from Mullingar is gone, and here stands the confident solo artist, his charming charisma and stage presence shining through for the duration of the performance. Although the concert is a chance for him to showcase the songs from his most recent album that he was unable to tour, he still makes time to perform fan favourites from his debut album such as On The Loose and This Town.
Halfway through the show, he is joined on stage by Ashe, who quarantined for two weeks after travelling to the UK from California to perform her song ‘Moral of the Story’ together, which Horan featured on earlier this year. While respecting social distancing guidelines, they deliver a delicate performance of the emotional ballad.
The energy remains electric for the remainder of the show, with songs such as ‘Black and White’, which Horan coined as an upbeat wedding anthem. ‘Nice To Meet Ya’, the first single from Heartbreak Weather offers a rock-based departure from his original soulful country sound that ran throughout his debut album Flicker. Four years on from his first solo performance, its obvious he is far more confident in himself and his capabilities as a performer, he is most at home with a guitar in his arms, be it acoustic or electric.
While the atmosphere of a virtual concert is no match compared to the dynamic energy of a live gig, in these current circumstances, it makes up for the loss of live music. This virtual performance was not only about the fans at home, but it was set up in aid of touring crews or as Horan referred to them “The engine room of our industry”, who due to the pandemic have been blindsided. Hope still remains that one day we will be able to return to the music venues we know and love and life will become just a little bit more normal.
Words By Grace Nicholls