Review: Will Varley at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

The English singer-songwriter played his biggest ever headline show in London earlier this month.

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Will Varley has long paid his dues as a singer-songwriter and his recent album, Spirit of Minnie, proves just how much he’s earned his place in the spotlight, and his place on the bigger stages of this country. His songs about love, hope and protest are not only relatable, they are beautifully crafted pieces of art. At O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire those songs shine bright with support from Sean McGowan and Ida Mae.

Story-telling folklore seems to be a forgotten art, only kept alive by the likes of icons Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg. But thankfully we have young songwriters like Will Varley who are willing and, more importantly, able to take on those tales and traditions and bring them back to life and present them to a younger audience. And that is what Will has done on this very evening. He has taken the biggest stage he’s headlined and owned it like a boss.

His latest record Spirit of Minnie marks the first time he’s recorded with a full band, so on the night they join him for the majority of the show, though we are also treated to just Will and his guitar. And what a treat it is – take all your political anger, your love and your humour, add a whole lot of folk tunes and Will’s distinctive vocals, and you have goosebumps, loud cheers and an amazing show.

Will Varley - Seven Days (Official Video)


Not one to shy away from political commentary, Varley gets the crowd riled up as he talks about President Trump’s recent State Of The Union Address. “Here’s a song about a man who tried to enter the UK illegally in a plane with just £1 in his pocket and a mobile phone, in the undercarriage of a plane,” he says as he introduces The Man Who Fell To Earth which presents socio-political criticism on the UK’s refugee and general immigration policy. And it resonates well with his audience. As far as protest songs go, Will writes some of the best including his Brexit hit We Don’t Believe You.

But it’s not all protest and outcry, there’s love in the room tonight for Will and his music. As he shares the news of having recently gotten married and his wife being pregnant, loud cheers and whistles erupt in collective congratulation. “This song is for Lucy,” Varley notes just before kicking off Until The Grass Gets Greener.

And then we even get to vote what song is up next: will it be Talking Cat Blues or I Got This Email? After a head to head race for the crown, I Got This Email takes the lead, because after all who can’t relate to a track about those spam email offering to make you rich – what if they’re actually real?!

With an epic encore of songs like King For A King and Seize The Night, his XtraMile family, in the shape of Frank Turner, Sean McGowan and Beans on Toast, join Will on stage to celebrate his phenomenal biggest ever headline show near his old stomping ground.

Five albums, travelling the UK (and the world), playing his songs – all his travels and experiences have shaped a songwriter who tells his tales so that we find ourselves within them, so that we stop and actually listen to the music we are playing on our 21st century devices.

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