Tom Chaplin delights the capital with songs old and new.
The ex-Keane frontman confronted his recent demons during an emotional performance at The London Palladium.
It’s a cliché that bleak emotional turmoil can be a stimulating force for creativity. You have to reach rock-bottom to climb your way back into the light. If ever the cliché held good, it does so in the case of Tom Chaplin. Since he last performed with Keane, Chaplin has made recurrent trips in and out of rehab and in early 2015 his cocaine habit came close to costing him his life. His first solo album ‘The Wave’, released in October last year to unanimously rave reviews, gives poignant insight to his life at the bottom and on his road to redemption. Chaplin has been touring the album through the spring and I was lucky enough to see him at his headline show in the capital in the sumptuous environment of the London Palladium.
The Palladium has close to 2300 seats and only a very few of them were unoccupied when Chaplin hit the stage at around a quarter to nine. Cutting a dashing figure with a greying quiff and Sunday’s shave he looked quite removed from the cherubic chubby schoolboy look you remember from the days of Keane. He opened with ‘Still Waiting’, a cut from the new record that sums it up: grand strings, expansive backing vocals, anthemic chorus. His reception from the audience was as warm as it was loud and Chaplin seemed genuinely moved by it.
He followed with ‘Hardened Heart’: “Hurting everyone I know, Bringing everybody down so low, Stuck along a road of sadness, With nowhere to go”. These lyrics don’t leave a lot to the imagination about the horrors of serial drug addiction. At the close, he invited everybody to stand up and then played the Keane classic ‘Bend And Break’. The audience didn’t need asking twice.
The sound in the Palladium was absolutely stunning. The volume was contained to non-ear ringing levels which no doubt helped and we were surrounded by more velour than I’ve ever seen in one place before which no doubt helped some more. If only all venues could deliver sound like this.
‘Solid Gold’ – (dedicated to his wife Natalie and described as “An apology to my wife”) was sung as a duet with Cherie Jones aka ‘Jones’. It’s another song about seeing light out of despair, of rediscovering his relationship. It was extremely moving.
There were shouts of “We love you Tom” between songs – it seemed as though the audience was being taken on this journey with him and at times it was on the edge of being overwhelming. Matt Hales, who produced and was a major collaborator on the record came on to play piano for the ballad ‘Worthless Words’ – a song about the fateful night Chaplin thought he was going to die and how the thoughts of his daughter brought him back from the very edge: “Three days later I’m fighting for breath, Death sees me look out over the edge, A soft sweet whisper says, “Careful where you tread”, I hear it for a moment.” I want to shake his hand and give him a hug.
Whilst much of the material focussed on the bleak, we also got the redemption. ‘Better Way’ – the ultimate redemption song was a joyous romp that had me smiling from ear to ear. ‘Bedshaped’, another classic song from ‘Hopes and Fears’ that helped make Keane, came and went and by the time ‘Quicksand’, another from the new record arrived, it was clear nobody was going to be sitting down again. Chaplin was by now completely lost in the performance, lapping up the adulation.
The main set closed with ‘Crystal Ball’, from Keane’s ‘Under The Iron Sea’. There was rapturous applause followed by six, yes six, encores. Tom explained that on the tour they made a habit of paying a cover relevant to the city they’re in. We got ‘Waterloo Sunset’. It’s Leicester tonight. I wonder what they’re going to get. Kasabian perhaps? That left a trio of Keane’s: ‘Everybody’s Changing’, ‘The Lovers Are Losing’ and a highly anthemic ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ containing predictably enthusiastic audience vocal support.
“We’ve reached the last song”, said Tom. Everyone booed. “That’s what you want for the last song – everyone to be booing”. The final song was ‘See It So Clear’ – fittingly a song about making peace with the past and looking to the future. Australian vocalist Ainslie Wills (who performed an excellent support set) plus Jones and Matt Hales came back to sing backing vocals. It was a stunning close.
Watching this show, I couldn’t help but think about the number of bright flames that for various reasons have been taken far too young and I couldn’t have known then that within twelve hours, tragically Chris Cornell would join the list. Watching an ebullient Tom Chaplin in recovery performing these songs was incredibly life affirming. This gig was for all of the others.