There is a definite frisson when the figure sat at the upright piano raises a bottle of Irish whiskey to his lips, though perhaps we should have been warned when the Chichester-raised singer/songwriter and band entered to the strains of The Faces’ ‘Stay With Me’.
With boyish looks and unkempt mop of blond hair, Tom Odell makes an ideal pin-up, though his manner suggests a wilder romanticism than his more plaintive ballads suggest.
True, he has attracted a mainly female fanbase, mostly in couples tonight, for his first headline tour, yet his occasional references to drinking - “You probably think my judgement’s impaired” among them - suggest why his record company is keen to position the 22-year-old as a late-running replacement for the late, hugely talented, Jeff Buckley. Signed to Lily Rose Cooper’s (nee Allen’s) label ITNO, Odell is the first male recipient of the Brits Critics Choice award, following the likes of Adele, Florence and The Machine and Emeli Sandé.
After a brief cameo at the Brits and tabloid links to Taylor Swift, he now finds himself in an expectant Camden venue – “You’re very close,” he notes, wonderingly. Odell might have meant it as a warning as he mops his brow with a towel. He is an energetic performer, bouncing off his piano stool even during more measured moments, though it is the more passionate numbers that work best. There is the desperate yearning on forthcoming debut single ‘Hold Me’ and ‘Another Love’ with its frustrated admission of male inadequacy, also alluded to earlier in the gentler ‘Can’t Pretend’.
His playing may start as lyrically as Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, but Odell is soon pummelling the keys and beating time on the lid. Enunciating crisply, Odell’s soft croon regularly apes Chris Martin, even with the edge of a rough vibrato, while at full pelt his unrestrained catharsis brings to mind The Waterboys. He may be a heart-on-sleeve writer, but Odell is developing some swagger as a performer, evincing precocious confidence with an unhurried cover of ‘Honky Tonk Women’. Even then, much of the audience remain rapt for his hushed whispers of heartache, though his direct lyrics lack enough poetic heft to truly enchant. He ends with a tirade against one girl’s cruelty and at the line “all the girls scream” flicks up his arm and many do, before he throws his towel into the crowd. Blondes really do have more fun.