Judging by the atmosphere in the foyer of the Apex, it is easy to see what a solid fan base Matt Cardle has built for himself since winning the X-Factor in 2010. A lengthy queue at the merchandise stand, and many people arriving already wearing current and previous tour gear combined to project a friendly, supportive atmosphere. Cut to an hour later, and you see why. Cardle’s rapport with his audience is one you rarely see in this day of artists who project a mystical image, seemingly afraid to reveal anything genuine about themselves. Not so in the case of this artist. The gig portrays him as an emotional creature who is genuinely appreciative of his fans, remaining humble about his successes to date. Based on the performance he gives on this night, filled with opportunities to showcase his outstanding vocal range and deeply soulful inflection, it seems a crime that his work has yet to sit alongside likes of Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran. At a guess this is due to a combination of the over promotion of the sugar coated teen genre and, dare I say it, the curse of TV talent shows. So many have either disappeared or been driven to a bitter view of the music industry but Cardle is a figure who, despite a lack of airtime, has notched up two Top Ten albums, with a third sitting just outside.
The set began with a track from the new album; possibly the title track, “Higher Power”. Cardle’s entrance was given added drama through immaculately designed lighting which, throughout the gig, fused well with the changes in tone and general vibe of each number. Cardle is a vivacious and enigmatic frontman, backed by keyboardist Paul Bullen and drummer Tom Peters. He fills the stage with energy, involving his audience; dancing, climbing speakers, and really making the gig a shared experience. The evening focused on new songs from his upcoming fourth album, interspersed with a few from his first three albums, and a nod to his recent stint in the West End. Cardle gave quite the performance of Les Miserables’ commonly known male challenge “Bring Him Home”. In moments like this one realises this is a chap who ought to have been spotted without the aid of a TV show. The rendition was not only effortlessly note perfect, but had a certain rock tone which provided an interesting contrast to the expected classical delivery of the song. It was just one example of the extent to which Cardle invests emotionally in his performance; alongside a stunning cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can't Make You Love Me” and Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” which impresses just as much today as it did on X-Factor back in 2010.
Songs are broken up with amusing anecdotes of past relationships and Cardle’s interactions with an audience who know him well; the new material is well written and uplifting. He explains that not all the songs are as they might appear; “Hallelujah” being one example, a track seeming to be a love song which in fact refers to a darker time in Cardle’s life from which he has emerged positive, strong and determined. He assures his patient and loyal fans the album will drop ‘soon’, and that this tour is an opportunity to find the best approach and sound for each of the tracks, some of which may be discarded, with others having a definite place. Cardle has an affectionate and warm demeanour which serves to reinforce the title of the tour; Intimate and Live. At the core of his performance is the desire to relay his work in whichever form gives the greatest impact, and deliver vocally on every track. Fans are more than willing to wait for the album for this reason, but what really puts the icing on the cake at a Matt Cardle gig is the sense of community generated by the combination of his absolute determination to give his best performance every time, but with completely honesty and commitment to his fan’s enjoyment. A night extremely well spent.
The Intimate and Live Tour continues until 30th July, with some additional festival dates nationwide. He has a residency at “Crazy Coqs” Cabaret, Brasserie Zedel between September and November, and will be performing in Broadway in Concert at the Cardiff Millennium Centre on 16th November and the London Palladium on 17th November.