It’s been a whirlwind two years for singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone. Since releasing her debut EP Falling Asleep at the Wheel in 2020, and following it up a year later with The Walls Are Way Too Thin, the Grantham-born musician has gained millions of global listeners for her intimate alt-pop.
In June, she bagged the 2022 BRIT Rising Star award. She’s also been busy touring including playing North American support slots with US pop star Olivia Rodrigo and Norwegian indie rocker Girl in Red. No surprises, then, that her debut album remains unfinished.
Last night’s sold-out show at Brixton Academy marked the soloist’s biggest headline gig to date. The scale of occasion was more than acknowledged by the 22-year-old, if not fully digested. It was an experience that she invariably told giddy fans was the “the most fun” she’s had in ages. “This has made my entire life,” Humberstone said, appearing shell-shocked by the oft-deafening levels of audience whooping. She admitted that she may “chunder” off stage afterwards from all the unfolding fan mania.
Humberstone has made a name for herself by forensically opening up her world to listeners and pairing her stories with killer pop hooks. Although she cherishes lyric-writing the most – excavated best on bare bone compositions including piano ballad Haunted House – it was the zippier, full-band numbers last night that delivered the hairs-on-end moments.
The Walls Are Way Too Thin, which hears Humberstone dwell on her difficult first year of flat-sharing in London, and The 1975-indebted emo-pop of Overkill were dazzling, backed by strips of coloured lighting that pulsed with the rhythms. Humberstone’s fragile and forceful vocals resounded well across the venue.
“I’ve been working on an album really slowly; it’s been hard to find the mental capacity to try and sit down and write,” the singer said at one point. Partly, it explains why she released Can You Afford to Lose Me? in October (a collection of her favourite tracks so far including a new song, the EP’s title track). It’s something to sate her fans while they await her debut.
Scarlett – a breezy, widescreen indie pop tune about living vicariously through a friend’s romantic relationship – was the stand out. Fans jumped in their seat stows in the circle; their screams threatened Beatlemania-level decibels. Humberstone and co. moved to play more closely together, swinging locks of hair over instruments like a well-worn troupe of musicians.
While Humberstone has declared often that she’s “awkward” and writes songs to process her emotions, very little about her stage presence at Brixton suggested such embarrassment. Her talent hasn’t been in doubt since her breakthrough – now, her confidence has ballooned. She really is having the time of her life.