Review: James Arthur at Portsmouth Guildhall

James Arthur
James Arthur
Driftwood Festival organiser Paul Cobb  Picture: Malcolm Wells (142242-6774C)

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An X Factor winner playing at Portsmouth Guildhall? It’s practically unheard of.

Well, there was Matt Cardle, but he’d already gone off the boil by the time he came to Pompey.

However, like the aforementioned X alumni, James Arthur is more of a guildhall guy than an arena artist. He may have an army of predominantly female fans and hold the record for the fastest-selling X Factor winner’s single, but the 25-year-old is more tearaway than teen idol.

Alongside the screaming teenage ‘JArmy’ were grown men, women and children, at the Portsmouth leg of his tour.

Jazz, soul, blues, funk, grime and rap-infused pop tracks are the key to his wide appeal. They range from rousing anthems like new single Get Down, previous hit Recovery and the inevitable gig-closer Impossible; through the funky, upbeat You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Loves You, Lie Down and New Tattoo; to haunting ballads such as Suicide, Roses and Certain Things.

The latter two are performed with Emeli Sandé and Chasing Grace on his self-titled debut album, but here he sang one with each of his very capable backing singers.

The teens (nicely warmed-up by the perfect pop of Jessie J-like support act Titch) had clearly been rehearsing their sing-alongs since the album was released in November. Arthur let them perform the vocals for much of Impossible, which worked well. However, the acoustic version of Recovery (performed by just James and a pianist, as on the bonus disc of the album) would have benefitted from a quieter crowd.

It was a relaxed and impressively assured performance for a first tour. From the first arena shows on the X Factor, Arthur has proved himself a confident, heartfelt and unfaltering artist.

His only foot wrong has been some lyrics that caused controversy late last year and, in his quietly spoken addresses to the crowd, he referenced that. “They thought I was a homophobe, but I’m not. I’m a nice guy. I love everybody,” he explained.

He thanked those fans who had supported him on The X Factor and he praised gig-goers who weren’t into Simon Cowell’s show, but were “open-minded” enough not to be put off by the fact that he rose to fame that way.

It doesn’t matter where James Arthur came from, it only matters where he’s going and, judging by this show, that’s far.