13th February | Thekla
Photos: Hannah Rooke
The last time I saw Hollie Cook was at a small festival called Festibelly in 2012, a year after the release of her debut album. It was the perfect music for a sunny August day, and enough to make me look her up with great curiosity when home. Not only did I find she was the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer, Paul Cook and Culture Club backing singer, Jeni Cook – but that she was a backing singer for ska punk collective, The Slits when they reformed in 2006. And lest we forget her involvement as a backing singer for The Stone Roses reunion shows.
But tonight isn’t about The Slits, The Stone Roses or her parents – it is all about her. Cook’s second album, Twice, saw her come out of her shell, making more than just mellow tropical pop. It demonstrates her willingness to up the ante, with the tense melodrama of ‘Desdemona’ and with her soulful tribute to The Slits late lead singer Ari Up, named after the artist herself. Third album, Vessel of Love, brings a new kind of contentment, sensual and celebratory all at the same time.
As she opens her sold-out show at Thekla, with ‘Angel Fire’, the boat is full to the brim from front to back. The sultry single ushers in a carnival-lite playfulness, unfamiliar to her previous albums but welcome all the same. She sways with ease, all spectacular curly hair and effortlessly dreamy vocals. She easily pulls back into fan favourite, ‘Sugar Water’ cooing “Look at my face” and swirling her hands around as she sings to her avid followers. They surge forward, so much so that it seems like a polite mosh pit, where everyone hypnotically dances in slow motion.
She knows how to charm the audience, saying softly, “I can already tell you’re all a bit nice aren’t you?” She doesn’t shy away from her roots: ‘Milk and Honey’ and ‘Walking in the Sand’ are just two of the sun-drenched gems pulled from her eponymous debut album, released back in 2011. Despite the gap, the early cuts have aged beautifully, and Cook powers through them with much more confidence and bravado than the last time I saw her perform live. Back then, she nervously talked to the crowd, whereas she now appears fully engaged and thrives on the audience reaction giddily. This is what everyone has grown to love about her, one spectator even commenting, “Isn’t she adorable?”.
But it isn’t just her mannerisms and performance that make the evening; the evening is made by the songs. ‘Desdemona’ and ‘Tiger Balm’ are the undeniable highlights, representing her trademark reggae-pop, with a touch of classical flair through dramatic violins. She even weighs in on the possible Thekla closure, saying incredulously, “Some wallies are trying to shut it down is that true?”. She shakes her head and launches into a rendition of ’99’, all squeaky synths and shuffling, dazed dub.
What seems incredible about Cook is just how much she underestimates herself. She is overwhelmed with the response to the concert, especially the fact it sold out. Yet the freshest face of the reggae genre delivered an enchanting performance that dwarfed all the space Thekla had, something she seemed too stunned to acknowledge. It’s time to give Hollie Cook the bigger stage and bigger limelight that she truly deserves.