With absolute certainty I can say that the eclectic mix of punters queueing outside the Forum on 14th April was amongst the most unusual I've ever seen. From women in their 20s-30s all dolled up, to more gothic, tattooed types; older beer drinking men in their 40s to young skinny men with girlfriends on a date night, it seems everyone has turned up to see Nick Helm launch his new album. The album in question, “Nick Helm Is Fucking Amazing” sees us through a rollercoaster of ego, vulnerability, affection and frustration, all the while retaining a disconcerting amount of relatable material. This is where the audience in attendance becomes less of a surprise. When you have the sense to write reflectively, speak from experience and say what we've all thought, most people ‘get it’ and want to listen. Interestingly, Helm is the first to say his act is “not for everyone” yet his material is amongst the most accessible of his generation.
Promotion for this one night gig projected the image of Helm as ‘rock-star’; bare chested, leather gloves, typical cock-rock trousers tied with a pink sash and hair blown back by the wind, whilst walking amongst the clouds. On entering the venue, 80s rock music playing, typical rock concert stage pre-set, it was safe to assume that the images emblazoned across social media in the lead up to the gig were about to manifest themselves in Helm’s beast of a stage persona leading us through a crazy ride. Anticipation cleverly built by the decision to start a conversation with the audience from off stage, Helm eventually made his entrance with the opening track of the album to rapturous applause, throwing himself around like a wild animal. It’s worth mentioning at this point the extent to which the audience and their headliner feed off each other. The combination of feisty delivery, gut wrenching vulnerability and awkward audience interactions, had everyone in the forum round his little finger in a way that is both surprising and extremely heart warming. The atmosphere was delightful throughout.
Having listened to the album before the gig, I noticed several nods to pop culture both lyrically and in musical form, and it was really interesting to see how well the audience responded to them. From the fusion of The Who into a bridge reminiscent of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ in “What The F*** Is This?” to riffs reminiscent of classic Queen tracks and double tracked vocals a la Def Leppard, the songs were cleverly structured to appeal to most tastes. We want to hear that we’re not the only people who don't want to work in an office, and that we aren't as cool as we hoped we would be. It is this understanding of human nature and societies universal worries and frustrations which make Helm’s comedy so accessible. At the Forum, the comedic impact was intensified by the use of confetti, giant inflatable genitalia and the frontman’s fearless willing to strip off and essentially make himself the most vulnerable person in the room.
The evening was extremely well shaped, taking us on a colourful journey; some songs laugh out loud funny, others more subtly amusing. The duet with fellow musical comedian Rachel Parris, “No-one’s Gonna Love You”, a pretty ditty about the flaws in a relationship, examined the way couples use each other's flaws as a way to prove their commitment, with an underlying demonstration of what is undeniably their fondness and knowledge of each other. The pair had a delightful rapport and their subtle humour gave the song pace and shape, whilst making the characters in the song endearing and believable.
Parris also served as support act at the start of the evening and her own material, including songs exploring the issues women go through in their 20s/30s, were amusing and well written. She has a terrific voice too which, to me was reminiscent of a Glinda in ‘Wicked’. In fact, she looks a little like her too!
For long standing fans, Helm was on true shambolic form; a stash of party poppers attached to his crotch to punctuate his “5 jokes”, the slant on taking a female audience member onstage for ‘Don't Fall In Love With Me’ (usually directed at a mortified gent in the front row) and his trademark boisterous delivery; half terrifying, half endearing. For fans of BBC3’s ‘Uncle’, the gig closed with a performance of one of the show’s best loved tracks, ‘No Survivors’. It was an epic rendition; audience on their feet, all singing along conducted in volume by Helm, phone lights swaying and glo-sticks waving proudly right across the stalls. In rock style T-shirt, Y-fronts and sweatbands, confetti floating down all over the stage and auditorium, Helm left the stage through his audience, only to spend a considerable amount of time signing various memorabilia and having photographs, admirable considering the high energy set he had just performed.
Helm commanded the stage throughout, demonstrating his versatility as an accomplished singer and musician, but all through the eyes of the stand-up persona for which he is famous. He is not a performer who has to rely purely on the fact that his material is funny and works, instead he has the luxury of delivering his material through, it would seem, any medium he decides upon! He has just the right combination of faux arrogance and gut wrenching vulnerability to give maximum impact to his act. Having seen him perform in smaller venues, armed with his notebooks, I have always felt that the disarray and chaos on display for his audiences must surely involve a huge amount of preparation and structure. To create carnage, one must surely begin with a rock solid foundation, and I think this is where Nick Helm excels. He does not merely get on stage, tell jokes, make intelligent points and leave. What he does, through many creative approaches; from poetry and song, to more conventional stand-up, is give his audiences is a layered, emotive character who is just trying to find his place in the world. It is the rawness of that character which tugs at the heart strings and tickles the funny bone of his fans.