“I am so pleased to be here on Halloween! And this place is called The Haunt which makes me so happy… and you sold it out!” beams Freya Ridings as she looks out over the packed venue. Fans are shoved in every nook and cranny, craning to catch a glimpse of the latest darling graduate of the BRIT school, who has been extremely attention-grabbing following the release of her debut single, ‘Blackout’, in spring last year. Just 24 years old and immaculately, radiantly beautiful – tonight sporting a festive cobweb painted on her left cheek – she seems genuinely touched by the electric reaction she gets. Of course, there is still the murmur of some people at the back who prefer to come to a gig to rabbit on to anyone who will listen, but with an emphatic “sssssshhhhhh” coming from the more fervent listeners amongst us, the majority of the room falls silent in appropriate reverence.
Spending the majority of her time in front of her piano, what is refreshing is the lack of gimmick to show off Ridings’ talent, a sweet and wholesome girl-next-door air to her understated yet commanding presence. There are easy comparisons to Birdy, dear old Florence, Lucy Rose or London Grammar’s Hannah Reid for her distinctive, slightly melancholy vocal versatility and indeed she does fit neatly into the box of whimsical female songstresses. However, when someone shouts that her Radio One Live Lounge was amazing – while this sort of exposure has obviously done her a massive favour – it is clear from the mix of music lovers here that she possesses a timeless style that appeals to more than just the millennials.
Simplistic lyrics denote that her experience is still developing, though, at the same time displaying a maturity beyond her years. From opening track ‘Love Is Fire’ to when she dedicates ‘You Mean the World to Me’ to her mum, she has a natural rapport with the crowd, later asking them to put their phone lights on so she can see them in a twinkling display of affection. Ridings seems to love being close to her audience and there is plenty of opportunity, whether she be creating an otherworldly experience for them in the atmospheric recent single ‘Ultraviolet’, or getting them to join in on the upbeat ‘Holy Water’, adeptly accompanied by her band, who also flex their musical muscles with their stripped back version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Maps’.
Finally, the rapturous applause that both greets and follows ‘Lost Without You’ – her top 10 single of 2017 – makes it pretty obvious that this is the last time we will see Ridings in such an intimate setting. Completing a perfectly groomed yet heartfelt performance, people hug each other, the bassist plays the cello as tears are wiped away and a truly soulful English rose sits, quietly confident, hands clutched to her heart in appreciation, breathing in the connection she has now before she is propelled further into public consciousness next year. For just one hour this evening, she is ours. Heavenly.