Will Varley | Scala | 10 March 2016
“Are you all in the right place?” Will Varley asks as he’s greeted by a capacity Scala audience cheering, clapping, and shouting his name.
Self-deprecation aside, he’s visibly moved by the welcome. And although he’s obviously thrilled to have sold out the iconic London venue, he wastes no time making it his own, immediately creating a warmth and intimacy that’s only possible with the “one man and a guitar” format.
But sustaining that atmosphere can be tricky. With nowhere to hide, it’s all down to the performer’s charm and their songs. Varley has both covered. Over the course of two hours he tells personal stories about childhood memories and following his dreams, mocks a dated Leona Lewis reference in the rousing ‘These Are The Days’, encourages the crowd to sing along to the “la la la’s” of ‘As For My Soul’, takes the piss out of the Tories, repeats his disbelief at the number of assembled fans (“This is the most ridiculous gig I’ve ever done”), and, after taking a poll, leads a rowdy, occasionally ad-libbed rendition of a ditty about a talking cat.
So, when he blanks on the words to ‘Weddings and Wars’, a powerful commentary on human nature, everybody immediately chimes in to help. When he performs the devastating ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, about the immigrant who plummeted to his death while stowed away on a plane, the hushed audience appear as distressed as he seems up on the stage. And when he offers up the new ‘February Song’, with the caveat that lyrics may be forgotten, it’s greeted with enthusiasm rather than a rush to the bar.
By the time duo Molly’s Lips join him on guitar and bass, the self-described “folksinger, film maker and Jesus lookalike” could, if he chose, draw applause simply by smiling or taking a swig of beer. Instead he’s saved his biggest crowd pleasers for last. ‘Advert Soundtrack’, with its stadium-sized chorus, prompts an equally massive singalong, the hauntingly biting ‘We Don’t Believe You’ gets more backing singers than ever before, and, lovingly dedicated to long-time supporters like Frank Turner and Beans on Toast, the joyous ‘Seize The Night’ perfectly conveys its message of living life to the full – which is exactly what Will Varley’s doing tonight.