Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Ali Gilbert’s Return to the Limelight

If you’re an avid viewer of British music-themed reality TV shows then you might remember one called ‘Starstruck’, a short lived mash-up of ‘The X Factor’ with ‘Stars in Their Eyes’. 

For one brief moment, Tamworth singer songwriter Ali Gilbert was thrust into the limelight, having being selected for his home-grown talent and then forced to pretend to be someone else for the delectation of the viewing audience. 

He doesn’t reflect too well on the whole experience, suggesting that the promise of fame is alluring but the way that performers are pushed into popular stereotypes robs them of the very uniqueness that put them on the producers’ radar in the first place. It seems that the only sustainable route to success in the music industry is the tried and tested path of writing songs, believing in the material, getting out there, building a fan base and, most of all, finding the energy to power years of hard work and persistence. What the public might see as an overnight success is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

A year later, he’s recording new material and is back on the road in the first of a number of solo shows, supported by a small yet strong band that suits Gilbert’s range of volume and pace and which, for some songs, is bursting at the seams of Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge.

The evening boasted an outstanding line-up of local talent; the ethereal, eerie, soulful Naomi Dawes, the obliquely emotional acoustic punk of Cyrus and the pointed social commentary concealed beneath wry humour of Emma Howett, each of them well worth a listen in their own right.

The night opened with a steadily growing audience, ending with the room fairly well packed as Gilbert launched into his set with a song written about and for his children - ‘Louder’ - one of many glimpses into his personal life.

The theme of personal connections continued throughout the set. It’s hard to find the line between personal and observed experience in Gilbert’s music, with songs dedicated to his wife and family blended with songs about heartbreak and betrayal. ‘Lost’ is a powerful and revealing call to action regarding men’s mental health, a reminder to reach out, to talk to someone. Good advice for anyone struggling with the everyday challenges of life, delivered by someone with personal experience of losing friends to their own demons.

With thirteen songs in the set, only two were covers, chosen for personal connections. ‘With Every Heartbeat’ by Robyn, a song that got him through tough times in the past and ‘Sorry’ by Justin Bieber, a sly nod to his TV appearance.

Another of Gilbert’s popular social media hits is ‘Neon Paradise’, a song inspired by a dream which again blurs the line between real and unreal experience. It’s a catchy composition which had the audience jumping along to a kind of music homecoming as the video was filmed in Birmingham city centre.

Gilbert has attracted quite a social media following, notably with fans performing their own versions of his songs such as ‘Runaway’ and ‘Run By the River’ which closed the set. With no encore, anyone wanting more from Ali Gilbert can wait for the release of his upcoming EP and the announcement of dates in London, Manchester and Liverpool.

Peter Freeth



Images: Peter Freeth

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