The chill wind of a November evening was left outside a sold-out Islington Assembly Hall tonight, when 800 people filled the Grade II listed building to see and hear The Wandering Hearts. One of the UK’s hottest rising star music acts playing their biggest headline gig to-date.
Warmed up by the charming vocals of the brace of support artists, Fiona Bevan, an English rose best known for co-writing the One Direction hit “Little Things” with Ed Sheeran and American singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly; the anticipation was palpable as the crowd waited for the headliners.
Amidst a hail of strobe lighting and a pounding bass drum, the band took to the stage, prompting a huge cheer from the audience. The usual four-piece augmented by bass and drums for this tour. A giant backdrop with their name emblazoned on it left us in no doubt who we had come to see.
They opened with “Biting Through the Wires”, a lively number which had everyone dancing, then launched straight into the gentler former single “I Wish I Could”, with vocalist Francesca “Chess” Whiffin playing mandolin to a double-bass accompaniment.
The crowd’s excitement was more than justified: since the release of their stunning critically acclaimed debut album, “Wild Silence” in February this year, The Wandering Hearts have enjoyed a busy and successful summer.
Their profile has been boosted on both sides of the pond; with trips to Nashville and Memphis to perform shows and co-write new material. They appeared at the legendary Grand Ole Opry twice and played at Gracelands.
They recently played several shows at Americanafest in Nashville, and returned to the UK to perform at a string of festivals including BST Hyde Park with Eric Clapton, BBC Biggest Weekend, Latitude and Standon Calling.
Tonight in Islington, we were treated to a variety of musical delights, some old and some new. Vocalist and acoustic guitarist A. J. Dean introduced a new gem, “‘Til the Day I Die”, which will feature on the Deluxe version of “Wild Silence” due for release on 25th January next year.
He described how he wrote the song when he was feeling particularly nostalgic, thinking about how first-time experiences can be defining when you are young and in love. The lush vocal harmonies of Dean, Whiffin, Tara Wilcox and Tim Prottey-Jones beautifully delivered the wistful sentiment of the lyric.
With Prottey-Jones and Whiffin being former West End musical theatre performers, and Wilcox having run her own singing school, the group’s vocals really are something quite marvellous.
A magic moment during their set which demonstrated beyond doubt just how special their four voices are together, and how skillful they are at what they do, happened during “Burning Bridges”.
As the lights softened to a golden glow and a chandelier descended from the ceiling, the four-piece abandoned their instruments and huddled around one microphone. The intimacy that was created by their seamless harmonies, rhythmic control and Dean’s beautiful falsetto was simply stunning. Four people seemingly singing with one voice.
The pace soon picked back up, with the band finishing the gig with the title track of their debut album. As they left the stage, the crowd made it known they would dearly like some more!
The applause and cheering really was thundering, and duly brought back a broadly smiling four-some to dish up more tasty musical morsels. Beginning with a lilting ‘duet’ between the female drummer, using brushes, and the double-bass player. Augmenting the four-piece stars. “I bet you didn’t know this is what drum and bass sounds like”, jokes Dean.
The faultless encore concluded with “Devil”, an upbeat, rousing former single which had every single person in the room singing, stomping and clapping, even the 200 on the balcony were on their feet and letting their hair down – on a school night too!
With most of this 14-date headline tour sold out, tonight’s home turf gig for the uber-talented guys and girls was a big moment for them, and another jewel in their crown as they follow in the footsteps of The Shires and Ward Thomas, as British country-folk-Americana superstars in the making.
- The UK tour continues to Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Glasgow. Then Dublin and Switzerland on December 7th & 13th.
Words: Helen Walpole
Photos: Alex Asprey