Lighting up the stage in Manchester – Striking Matches

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Well I’m here again, after having one of the best nights of my life again! So as always I’m going to share it with y’all. I worked out that before last night I’d seen Striking Matches 6 times, met them 3 times and got their autograph twice, so with all that in consideration you’d think I’d go into that gig knowing what to expect however that theory hasn’t yet been correct, they blow me away with a jaw dropping performance every time! So I’m going to talk you through the gig song by song starting from the very beginning with Lucy May supporting!

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Now I’ve heard lots of great things about Lucy May and she lived up to all of that. She came on stage with her guitarist, introduced herself and him and opened the show with a catchy Country-pop original “Hooked On Your Love.” It set us up well for what was to come and though not many people there knew her songs she seemed to capture the room from the get-go. The second one she played, out of her whole set seemed to be the most up-beat pop number “Keep your hands off my man” was a really hooky number which had a few of us moving along to the beat. The next song she played I’d heard before, I believe it was the first single she ever released and was on BBC Radio 2’s playlist, it was called “Paper Heart” and she performed it beautifully. “Looking Out a Window” was another catchy number but it was this next song that really stood out for me, a very personal song called “Hole in My Heart” the emotion she must have felt when writing it she brought to the stage but maintained her composure throughout, the room was silent, listening to every word. Then she moved on to her penultimate song “Don’t wake me up” I thought the lyrics in this song were quite clever and when she finished she was full of gratitude for the crowd and for Striking Matches for having her out with them. Then she concluded her set which seemed to fly by (we were having fun) with the title track off her upcoming album “Whirlwind.” It was a fantastic finish to a flawless set. Her album will be available on Sunday 17th I believe and its definitely worth a listen! Keep your eyes on this rising star folks!

Ever the professional journalist that I am, I pulled out a malteaster bunny at this point. I was famished and we’d been queuing for Striking Matches since about 6:15! But it was worth it as at around 9pm they came on stage and I was stood right at Justin’s feet! They opened the show with “Trouble Is As Trouble Does” a fan favourite as you could tell from the cheers that erupted when they recognised the guitar riff. After the reports I’d been hearing from London about them playing with a band I was a little surprised to see them on their own but it didn’t matter as they came out stamping their feet, mimicking the drum and Justin’s guitar took quite a beating throughout the set also adding some percussion to the songs. Now I’ve seen them play this song before but they were really going for it and I knew we were in for an energetic top quality show!

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Then after thanking the crowd they went into the single off their debut album “Missing You Tonight” a song which seems so cleverly written. You have songs about breakup and you have songs about wanting someone to take you back, all cliche, but “Missing You Tonight” captures that feeling of just wanting to call that person just because they’re missing them, not wanting them back necessarily. And they really got into the song, which you can expect no less from Striking Matches who are known for putting their all into every performance.

Sarah switched from the guitar to the mandolin at this point, and “Miss Me More” gives her the chance to show she’s not just an incredibly talented guitarist but can also transfer those mad skills to the mandolin! “Play that mandolin!” Justin shouts before the instrumental and boy does she play it! She kept hold of the mandolin for the next song which at this point they talked about having some of their songs played on the show Nashville. Now I think thats where most of us first heard of the duo and since then they’ve had 8 songs featured on the show, one of which being the up-beat fiery number that Juliet sings, “Hanging on a lie.”

Sarah talked about seeing her life flash before her eyes every time they came together and rocked out in an instrumental as Justin’s capo, clipped to the end of his guitar came scarily close to Sarah’s head a few times! Justin laughed about his capo having feelings too and the crowd laughed along too. Their onstage presence and the banter between them is endearing and just another reason their fans love them. They went on to say some of their songs didn’t make the record but they want to play them anyway and so they began “When It’s Raining” a song which also features a “Striking Matches guitar masterclass” in the middle much to the crowds delight! They then moved on and asked if there were any Buddy Holly fans in the house to which there was a cheer, so Justin apologised for the next song, which the name I didn’t catch.

One of the songs off the new record that I was really hoping they’d play was “Never Gonna Love Again”. I don’t know what it is about this song that really excites me but it just does and sure enough they played it because “it’s just really fun to play!” Their guitar skills, are once again top notch (Sarah whipping out the slide once more), but their vocals really soar in this track and they had the whole crowd singing along with the chanting oohs. The chemistry between them as they take it in turns to show off their playing abilities is mesmerising. A question I usually ask in my interviews is “What are your mid-gig thoughts?” But no need to ask Justin and Sarah, their animated facial expressions tell us everything, the concentration, focus and sheer energy they put into every song shows.

Another fan favourite next, yes the song I wish to be played at my wedding (if someone will marry me!) “When The Right One Comes Along.” This was the first song we heard of Striking Matches on the TV programme Nashville and with the crowd tunefully getting behind Sarah and Justin it was an incredibly emotional point in the night for everyone there as during the whole of the outro and beyond people cheered and applauded the duo and they seemed shocked as though they weren’t expecting such a reception from the crowd but we Mancunians could not get enough of them. Then they moved on to the title track of the album, “Nothing But The Silence” a song which took them months to write apparently and one they’re very proud of. I’ve never seen them perform this one before so it was really good to see live.

The next song was their own take of a song called “Cross Road Blues” It was excellent in the way they brought their own flavour to it. And they came together and went all out with their guitar skills, Sarah bringing out the slide again! Justin’s guitar at this point had really had enough and I could see a crack in the wood from where I was standing. We’ll have to hope it wasn’t his favourite! “I Aint Leaving Without Your Love” was another song the duo had featured on Nashville, their good friend Sam Palladio’s character Gunnar along with Zoe and Avery perform it and its a really catchy number that in my eyes (or ears) has the potential to be a big hit. Then Justin introduced the next song saying that it was a very personal song for them both and they were happy it made the album, “God And You” is an incredibly well written song about only letting God and this other person in, them being the most important things in life. It was beautifully performed, a real emotional performance.

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And then the finale, “Make a Liar Out of Me”, a song which really shows off all of Justin and Sarah’s abilities, their incredible skills on their instruments, the hooky choruses and great lyrical content as well as their pitch-perfect vocals, this song really has it all and always has me in awe of their talent. It was a wonderful way to finish the main set and the crowd really loved it, well I don’t think there was any part of the night they didn’t love! Sarah stepped forward and really put her all into the final slide guitar solo. And I stood there thinking how amazing it was that two people with two guitars can captivate a crowd like they do. No big productions, fancy lights or flames, just their talent and personalities lighting up the stage.

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They went off stage just to come back on for an encore. They picked up their guitars again and with the crowd right behind them they sang a cover of Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” Perfectly suited to their vocals. We waited after they exited the stage and sure enough the pair emerged again to meet the crowd, sign autographs, take photos and just have a chat with their fans. I got my new Striking Matches t-shirt signed by them (so if anyone knows how to wash a shirt with signatures on without washing them out, do let me know!) A great night was had by all and a word of warning, Striking Matches are just getting the fire started, they are sure to be the next big thing, and not just in Country music!

Thank you!

Just Zoe x

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