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Live review: Hollie Cook @ Scala, London, 03/10/18


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I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the best way I can think to describe Hollie Cook is like a disco ball; glimmering and sparkly, reflecting and bouncing energy and light from its very surface, and a constant source of unadulterated joy. You can’t hate a disco ball.

Image credit: Robin Pope

In the dusty, smoke-laden confines of Scala opposite Kings Cross station, Hollie was preceded by a saxophone-wielding electro goddess. Stood in front of a luminescent pink balloon was Laura Misch (Tom Misch’s sister, not his assistant, damn it) with a saxophone, recorder, loop pedal and a couple of soundboards. Her technical abilities layering the sensual brass of the sax atop floating, synthesisers was second to none, and was only topped by her silky, Nina Simone-esque tone. Smiling through evocative verses and breathtaking crescendos, Laura became one with her instrumentals and set the bar high for the headline act.

Flickering yellow and green lights and the ticking, opening melody of ‘Postman’ exploded in a furore of pure, selfless ecstasy. Head to toe in a sparkling green and flowery co-ord and lit up by the adorable pink flamingo lights wrapped around her mic stand, Hollie was fizzing with happiness and energy. In a seamless transition, Hollie and the General Roots band took us back to her 2011 self-titled debut album with ‘Body Beat’. “It’s been too long since I’ve been home / My body beats and I’m feeling raw” she crooned atop bubbling electronic synths and a tropical-twinged bass, smiling at her adoring home crowd.

Quickly followed was ‘Shadow Kissing’, with its synonymous opening bars rolled out on the Halloween-esque keyboard. Here, in the verse breaks we were treated to an echo-y reverb spin on Hollie’s sooty tone and ethereal vocal harmonies, clearly added in as and when she felt the urge. The trust in her band is palpable and the way they each feed off one another’s energy and impulses was nothing short of spectacular.

Hello London! I’m so happy to be home...Oh god! Stop! I’m ovulating, I’m jetlagged, so everything is hypersensitive right now!” She said tenderly between rackets of applause, clearly emotional to be kicking off her UK tour in her hometown and be shown such a loving, excited reception in the city she loves. Diving straight into ‘Sugar Water’ - a track first released in 2011 then later remixed by Prince Fatty and Mungos Hi Fi - Hollie’s sweet falsetto picked us up out of the cold, Autumnal slump and straight into the warm sands of a Caribbean beach.

Image credit: Robin Pope

Mid-set, Hollie created a round circle, an AA meeting for her audience to share personal experiences, pain and desires. Tracks ‘Ghostly Fading’, ‘Turn It Around’ and ‘Survive’, taken from her latest album Vessel of Love, each individually and collectively opened the doors to her past and present. Her uplifting songs are impossible to come down from, and her darker, emotional observations leave you considering your own realities. “Without your love boy, I just don’t know how to survive” rung through me, head to toe, whilst swaying to the tropical electronics and twanging guitar riffs.

In her closing tracks, the crowd stirred something wild. Refracting and reflecting their reactions one by one, Hollie rallied her band for her epic rendition of Shanks & Bigfoot’s garage classic ‘Chocolate’. In a monster instrumental breakdown, the General Roots band shone in all their glory from start to finish, taking turns showing their prowess. ‘Chocolate’ came across even better live than the recorded single, adorning that 90s record with rickrolling reggae rhythm and a new level of danceability.

“Winter might be coming but we can still go to the bloody beach, can’t we?” Hollie shouted as the band swung her into the closing track ‘99’. Pitch-perfect harmonies and a cataclysmic dub breakdown guided the crowd through a frantic dance frenzy, and just as you thought the drummer would lift off that devilish kick drum, another thud reverberated around Scala.

In all honesty, there aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe the feeling of seeing Hollie Cook play live. She’s an artist of abundance; a glass full to the tippy top with energy, talent, light, power, strength and jubilation. In perfect synergy with her band, she genuinely loves the music she writes and plays, bopping steadily between musicians and from stage corner to corner throughout her set. And more than that, she invited the crowd into a place of intimacy, somewhere inside her, where she showed us exactly why she loves the music she creates. We were taken on a journey; like a trippy boat ride through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, except, more fun and less like a substitute teacher having a bad trip.

If I ever have a daughter, Hollie Cook is the role model I’d want her to look up to. A woman and an artist completely comfortable in her own skin, and the kind of person that gives you the hope that not everything in life is total crap.

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