The Hospital Club in Covent Garden was the venue for one of the most anticipated shows in the Barclaycard Mercury Prize Session mini-tour, with a litany of super-fans and industry bigwigs lining the intimate studio deep within the club's basement readying themselves to see the faces of alt-pop, old and new.
In a supporting slot surely to be one of his last, twenty-two year old Chichester lad Tom Odell approached the stage to a baying mob. A star in the making there is no doubt: Odell looks like one of the Hansons but smashes his digits into the piano like a demon Jools Holland, emoting every phrase like its his last and most important until his face threatens to burst... It's clearly a show of physical exertion for the young man, who gets a little out of breath amid a short set.
While the subject matter of the songs are painful, with Odell's stock in trade appearing to be the un-love song (“Having your heart broken makes for good songs” he recently told The Observer), the man seems pretty chipper. His, too, is the face of an angel, with teeth that barely look out of braces. “Take your shirt off!” screams one over-excited female fan. “Am I being heckled?” came Odell's reply, delivered with a flash of the grin which – if you'd believe the red tops – has won over a certain Ms. Swift.
With his debut LP “Long Way Down” not due until this June, Odell stomps through his EP of hits (“Another Love” - brilliant, magnetic; “Can't Pretend” - painful and some of his best writing) with a cracking cover of “Oh! Darling” by The Beatles thrown in for good measure. While Chris Martin comparisons are lazy and unfounded, the similarity to fellow blonde purveyor of melodrama, the late Jeff Buckley, have more substance. More than just physical attributes shared, there is both a noticeable resemblance in voice and phrasing, with the subject matter also baring some undeniable relation. Quite whether Odell can live up to his billing as one to watch is yet to be seen, but his is probably a chance better than most.
The headline act, swaggering onto the stage in black drainpipes and Mod-ish boating blazer, Johnny Marr – hitting fifty in October – has been crafting crafty indie-pop anthems since he joined up with the vegan ex-singer of Wythenshaw punk outfit The Nosebleeds; a certain Steven Morrissey. Having created scores of perfect pop with the divisive dandy as part of everyone's favourite band The Smiths in the early-eighties, you'd forgive Marr for wanting to take things a little easy after that. But no, the guitarist was a hired gun - Léon the Professional wielding a Rickenbacker 330 – performing as a sessionist with everyone from Pet Shop Boys and Oasis to Billy Bragg and Beck.
Rifling through riffs with typically consummate ease, Marr's voice is pleasant but unspectacular – often baring a passing resemblance to Kasabian's Tom Meighan, a weakness only highlighted by having to follow a performer like Odell – but then, we all could have guessed that and it's his guitar that's the star. The songs played from Marr's first solo LP “The Messenger” are all muscularly constructed: managing to recall the work of his jangly heyday whilst still fitting amongst the larger framework of modern indie music. Standouts like “Generate! Generate!” and the Krautrock of “I Want The Heartbeat” buzz with an extra intensity live and the album's title track was met with rapturous applause as the mixed crowd chanting along with the chorus amid the wall of sound erected. As Marr reaches the solo section, the moment the crowd were all waiting for, his finger slips a fret and the sound wobbles. “Oh God, I fucked that up!” laughs Marr and the crowd cheer because they don't give a fuck: it's a great song and it's more akin to a DJ's wheel-up than merely attempting to recreate the magic.
As the show edges towards it's conclusion comes “This one's for you” and the opening vibrato of “How Soon Is Now?” breaks and the crowd go ecstatic. The song - a relatively oddity in the Smiths' discography: far deeper, far darker than the indie-pop by which they're still known – still resonates and gives goosebumps. One of the greatest songs of all time and while Marr is no Morrissey on the mic, he does it justice: his under-singing emphasising the melancholia of the lyrics.
The night ends quickly after that. “We'd like to stay longer... But they're kicking us out” states Marr with a hint of genuine sadness (remember this is still a day at the office for him) and while everyone boos they're all satisfied. They got a glimpse at a talent with tremendous promise and a chance to see a true legend of British music in full flow: not bad for a night out in the West End.