Free Radio Hits Live, Arena Birmingham - review with pictures
It was a neon rave, with beaming bright rainbow colours flickering across Arena Birmingham all night.
Flashing bunny ears, sunglasses and bracelets brought the 15,000-seater venue alive - all in the name of charity Cash for Kids - as fans awaited the star-studded line-up at Free Radio Hits Live.
As families stuck in mammoth queues continued to pile into the arena, Brit Award nominee Mabel took to the stage with her pink-dyed locks and thigh-high boots. Opening with hits including Ring Ring and Don’t Call Me Up, she seemed to go down well with the crowd.
Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi was up next with his raspy vocals, as fans eagerly awaited his performance of the heart-rending number one ballad Someone You Loved.
His self-deprecating humour was quite endearing as he managed to get the crowd giggling between songs. At one point, he said: “It’s very good to be here. I have one song that’s big so I really have no place being here. It’s nice to be asked.”
Petite pop princess Zara Larsson strutted on stage next, bringing her high-pitched vocals and polished dance moves. Donning a sheer pink dress, the Swedish hit-maker turned the heat up a notch as she performed crowd-pleasers Symphony and Ruin My Life before leaping into 2019 tune Don’t Worry Bout Me.
It was the return of the raspy vocals as Brit Award winner Tom Walker arrived on stage with beautiful renditions of Angels and Walk Alone. Top 10 hits Just You and I and Leave a Light On also went down a treat with the crowd.
The 27-year-old told the crowd: “Birmingham you’re looking beautiful today, I have to say. It’s not everyday we get to do something like this, it’s a pleasure.”
Ellie Goulding, possibly one of the biggest names on the line-up, strolled onto stage with dance hit I Need Your Love before letting the crowd take over with Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack Love Me Like You Do - followed by Close to Me, Burn and Sixteen.
There's no doubt the 32-year-old has a string of catchy tunes under her belt, but her performance at times seemed slightly deflated and withdrawn, and perhaps I was expecting something a little more from the superstar, who casually wandered off stage with little more than a goodbye at the end of her set.
It was also an extra special night for two revellers who got engaged on-stage after Free Radio listener Joe contacted the station ahead of the show to surprise girlfriend Jade with the grand gesture.
Then entered little-known singer HRVY, opening the second half of the show to what can only be described as a deafening ricochet of screams. Maybe ‘little-known’ is a pretty big understatement, as I felt like the only one who didn’t have the pop star’s lyrics etched into my mind.
With his slick boyband-esque moves and his infectious smile, he managed to show the big-timers how to do it, finally awakening the dreary crowd in a way no one before him had been able to. And he seemed to be loving his time performing just as much as his army of fans, telling them: “I seriously can’t believe I’m on this stage right now. To be part of this is incredible.”
With the energy now at a new high, it only got better as former One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson was unsurprisingly met with ear-piercing roars from his female fans. Opening with 2016 hit Just Hold On, he then went on to give a very emotional performance of Two of Us. It was his first major gig since his sister sadly died, with the star often thankfully clasping his hands together and looking to the skies.
Brad Simpson then proved he felt “good to be home” as the Brummie frontman of The Vamps leaped onto stage equipment and lunged into the front-row crowd during sure-fire hits Wild Heart, Can We Dance and Missing You. The band surely didn't disappoint, bringing their contagious vivacious energy which forced fans to bounce out of their seats to the ever-so catchy lyrics.
Then finally, 2012 X Factor winner James Arthur closed the gig in the perfect way, bringing his effortlessly cool vibes and his sweet-sounding vocals. Hits Sun Comes Up and Empty Space went down a storm, but it was debut single Impossible which really got the crowd screeching at the tops of their voices.
The second half of the show was definitely much more lively and energetic than the first, but what’s for sure, the entire evening was jam-packed with hit after hit.