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(Credit: Lindsay Melbourne)

Music

Five things we learned from the War Child charity concert

As soon as I caught wind of the War Child charity concert at Bristol’s O2 Academy, I knew it would be an occasion I wouldn’t want to miss out on. As if IDLES headlining the event wasn’t enough, Bristol trip-hop pioneers Portishead were on the bill to play their first live set together since 2015.

Tickets for the War Child benefit concert were made available through a £10 donation prize draw, with the winners selected at random. All proceeds were subsequently donated to War Child UK, which is working tenaciously across Ukraine to help those in need as families continue to flee the Russian invasion.

Lucky enough to get tickets to this once-in-a-lifetime event, I set off for the west of the country on the afternoon of Monday, May 2nd, heading to the O2 Academy in time to catch a blinding performance by Katy J Pearson.

Throughout the evening, we had the chance to see exciting up-and-comers like Billy Nomates and Wilderman, a jaw-dropping rarity, namely Portishead, and, of course, Bristol’s punk royalty, IDLES. To top it all off, we won one of the raffle prizes and now have two tickets to one of Bristol’s exciting festivals later this summer; quite the evening by all accounts.

The concert was an unmitigated success and, below, we uncover five things we learned from the concert.

Five things we learned from the War Child charity concert:

Portishead have still got it

Despite being crushingly brief, Portishead managed to pack some of their greatest tracks into their 30-minute set. After the charity raffle, it was announced that Portishead would take to the stage at 9pm. By five minutes to the hour, the main arena was packed to the rafters as all 1,600 attendees stretched and strained to get a good view of the trip-hop trio as they entered the stage.

The applause dimmed as frontwoman Beth Gibbons took to the microphone with her vulnerable yet domineering presence silencing the crowd in their anticipation. They kicked off the set with ‘Mysterons’ from their seminal debut album, Dummy. Immediately I was shocked by the faultless sound of Gibbons’ vocals, which appear to have aged not one day since the release of Dummy back in 1994.

Later, Portishead played ‘Wandering Star’ and then dipped into their 2008 comeback album, Third, to play ‘Magic Doors’ and the brooding acoustic number ‘The Rip’, which Adrian Utley played perfectly. The set was closed with the emotive Dummy hit ‘Roads’, which holds the eerily fitting lyrics: “We’ve got a war to fight”.

Portishead’s Adrian Utley likes to rock out with the punks

As Joe Talbot and the band took to the stage, the audience began to move to the riotous sound that can only come from IDLES. After recovering from the mosh-pit reaction to the first few songs of the set, I saw Adrian Utley, the Portishead guitarist, lurking to the right of the stage.

Much to my surprise and delight, Utley grabbed his guitar and came forwards to join IDLES in time for the disarming and gentle introduction to ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ from CRAWLER. The track rolled forth with growing intensity as Utley added waves of rhythm guitar. By the end, the pulsing track had morphed into its heavier outro, with Utley thrashing out chords and Talbot screaming the refrain: “Damage!”

Billy Nomates has lots of mates

After watching the rising talent of Bristol-based act Wilderman upstairs on the small stage, the bustle seemed to flow back down towards the main stage where Billy Nomates was to be performing shortly. I had heard a couple of her tracks in the past but didn’t know exactly what we were in store for.

After a few anticipatory moments, Billy bounced onto the stage clad in dungarees and an infectious smile. The first few kicks of the bass seemed to remobilise the crowd as Billy began darting back and forth on the stage. She kicked off proceedings with her 2021 hit ‘Emergency Telephone’ before reaching back to her eponymous 2020 album for some apparent fan favourites. Her vocals and stage presence throughout the short set had the crowd jumping. One die-hard fan of Billy’s was even flailing all four limbs at the front while screaming the words back at her – the name Nomates certainly didn’t seem fitting.

Nobody can get people going like IDLES

After Portishead finished their set, a short interval preceded IDLES’ emphatic entry to the stage. The Bristol post-punk legends revived the energy that Billy Nomates had induced in the audience with a belting ‘MTT 420 RR’ from their 2021 album CRAWLER. Frontman Joe Talbot came out brandishing all of his usual charisma and then some, pounding his chest and yelling his lyrics like military orders. In the middle of the set, he addressed the focal point of the evening and gave a touching speech about the immorality of Putin’s actions in Russia while urging everyone to help protect the vulnerable people of Ukraine like we would our own families.

As the set stormed onwards from hit to hit, the crowd seemed to mimic Talbot’s domineering animation. Wanting to experience the full force of Idles, I had entered the lower pit where all of the youngsters and seasoned mosh-conjurers were. I can quite honestly say I haven’t been to a gig of that rip-roaring magnitude in quite some time, and while it was a little like being beaten up to music and made getting good photos a struggle, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

No city is too small to make a positive impact on the world

The evening drew in swathes of music lovers for one of the most important causes of our time. Through the entry ticket prize draw, raffle and merchandise sales, the event raised a whopping £90,000 for War Child UK. The money is now being put to good use, offering aid to those who need it most in the war-torn regions of Ukraine.

The concert called mainly upon Bristol-based artists and music lovers to unite for an external cause. The gravity of the cause drew in some of Bristol’s finest acts who contributed to the success of the event, whether it was through performance or through the merchandise designed and donated by Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja. The concert’s success proves that through the generosity of music lovers and musicians alike, any small city can pull together to make a positive impact on the world.