“I’m back with a bang” spits Wiley on his newest track “Been a While”, and he certainly was not lying. Kicking off in Dublin, his show in Birmingham is the third stop on his UK and Irish tour.
Hailed as the Godfather of Grime, Wiley has ruled the scene for a good few years, and reaffirmed his dominance by dropping his hot eleventh studio album “The Godfather” in January 2017.
It won major widespread critical acclaim and dented the upper reaches of the UK album chart. His show at Camden Roundhouse in Feb last year (2107) went viral, with various members of BBK and current Grime supertstar Stormzy surprising the crowd with storming guest spots.
Late last year, he released his hugely anticipated autobiography Eskiboy and ended the year with the surprise news that he had been an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List – Wiley likening it to “receiving the school grade I wanted and didn’t get”.
Coinciding with his final date on this tour at Brixton’s O2 Academy, his newest album, “Godfather II”, is due to hit stores and streaming services on 2nd March. So, with all the noise surrounding him lately, I was incredibly surprised when I arrived at the venue expecting a long queue, and the electric buzz of excitement in the air. Instead, just 20 people and a ticket tout declaring that his tickets were cheaper than the box office, suggesting that the show had not sold out.
Once inside however, the 1000 capacity downstairs of the main hall began to fill up and was 90% full by the time the main man hit the stage. The balconies and upstairs areas were closed. Primarily young fans of between 18 and 25. At the bar, an older guy remarked that “these kids don’t know the real Wiley”.
A DJ came on stage to hype up the crowd. It took a while for the audience to get going, but once the DJ dropped grime favourites such as Stormzy’s “Know Me From” and Solo 45’s “Feed Em’ To The Lions”, the vibe heated up.
Hands up in the air, bodies jumping and eventually mosh pits sprung up. He asks the crowd if they were more ‘old grime’ or ‘new grime’, which took me back to the comment I overheard at the bar. I began to realise that perhaps a split in audience taste and knowledge existed, and possibly a split in expectation too, maybe.
The DJ dropped a few old grime hits to a stale reaction. Quickly, he reverted back to newer stuff, with JME’s “Man Don’t Care”, which received the desired reaction. It appeared that ‘new grime’ certainly was favourable.
Just before nine, the crowd are introduced to support act Ms Banks, complete with her striking bubble-gum pink hair flowing out from her baseball cap. I kind of recognised her… It took me a while; but I realised she was featured on Tinie Tempah’s track “Been the Man” on his “Junk Food” grime album. Great cut.
Set against the backdrop of red and fuchsia lighting, just Ms Banks and the DJ on stage, the 45 minute set was enjoyable. Her song “Day Ones” showed off her impressive vocal skills. But it was the final two tracks of the set, “Omg” and “Bangs” which demonstrated a real talent for grime. She showed so much energy, jumping with the crowd, running across the stage multiple times. A huge mosh pit developed and the crowd from that point had fallen for her.
After Ms Banks spot, Mr DJ split the crowd in half, and began to explain the premise of a game. But, during the setup, Wiley, sporting a backpack, blue jeans, black tee shirt and baseball cap, wandered onstage unannounced. DJ visibly surprised. There was no big welcome, no big build up. It was extremely underwhelming and looked a little disorganised. He obviously wanted to get on with it and earn his fee…
Having said that, Wiley’s stage presence for the remainder of the gig was astounding. His first three songs “Been a While”, “I Call the Shots” and “Back with a Banger”, confirmed why he has been bestowed with the title of the Godfather of Grime.
His flow was impeccable. Despite the speed, it was easy to understand every single word. There was no reliance on a backing track of other vocals, as is so common nowadays and his energy was second to none. As he got more animated, the crowd reciprocated, feeding off his energy and vice versa.
In between songs, on a sparse, blacked-out stage with no backdrop or fancy production gimmicks, minimal lighting and just Mr DJ for company for the beats, Wiley chatted to the fans. He spoke about Connor McGregor. How he is a Tottenham FC supporter, and he told a story as to why he has changed his ‘phone number and had to delete WhatsApp. Creating a connection with the crowd, important in a venue as intimate as that one.
Interspersed throughout were his more mainstream tracks including “Heatwave”, “Wearing My Rolex” and “Can You Hear Me?” which were all equally well received by the crowd. Creating a party vibe, everyone knew the lyrics perfectly, a testament to his popularity over the years – almost as if his songs have become ingrained. However, the real show stopper was the performance of his 2016 single “Can’t Go Wrong”. The beat and his rapping joined flawlessly, the crowd went wild during this one. Great sound quality tonight.
There did not appear to be a set list, and every now and then, Wiley would chat to the DJ and seemingly tell him which track was next, calling it as he went and perhaps meaning it is a different set each night. At one point he sipped water, silhouetted against the bright white lights as the crowd continued to go mad for it. Testament to how effortless it is for him to get a crowd pumped.
At 10.30pm, he declares this song will be his last. He remarked that for this one he will simply play the song and vibe with the crowd. The track began (not a memorable one), and the stage drenched in bright light. Wiley disappears, and in fact did not return, after an hour’s set.
People were visibly confused and became bored. The crowd began to thin as people left midway through the song and suddenly, it came to an abrupt end. The end of the gig too. An extremely unsatisfactory and frankly awkward ending to an otherwise hugely enjoyable show.
Afterwards, I realised he hadn’t performed any unreleased songs from his new album, which is strange as it is due to be released next week. Yet, despite feeling a little deflated at the end, I left knowing that next Friday at bang on 9am, I will be listening to “Godfather II” through my headphones.
Wiley’s personality and faultless flow tonight reiterated why his career continues to progress to new heights, further establishing him as a real legend…
Words: Ryan Houston
Photos: Ali Yaqub