Live Review: Josh Kelley (The Borderline, London)

Ciara Headlines, Live Review

I really like London’s The Borderline as a venue – it’s got a cool vibe to it with its small stage and red velvet background. Venues don’t really get more intimate than this, and I think for that reason, it was the ideal place for Josh Kelley’s concert.

Upon walking into the venue, I got first of a number of pleasant surprises upon seeing who would be the opening act for the gig – Liverpudlian country singer Laura Oakes, whom I’d been hearing a lot about over recent months as ‘one to watch’. As the room began to fill up, Laura and her band took to the stage with a bang launching wholeheartedly into her set. It was clear to see that Laura was enjoying herself as she swayed along to the music, and certainly looked the part in a sparkly gold top and cowboy boots. I was pleased how far she’d come since the release of her first EP, Laura Oakes, last June, clearly having worked hard to keep moving up in the country music industry. She treated us with a variety of songs from her self-titled EP such as the slow ballad Whatever You Want and feisty Don’t Let It Hit Ya, as well as first listens from her upcoming EP, including the pump-up jam Better in Blue Jeans, and making for a very enjoyable opener.

A little while later, I got another surprise when Josh Kelley walked on stage by himself with just a guitar, with the first thought running through my head being ‘where’s his band?’ I don’t think I’d ever been to a gig like this before, but as anyone who’s read a review by me knows, my favourite parts of concerts are often when the band takes a rest and we’re treated to a moment of focus just on the singer themselves, and here we were with an entire gig of just that! I was thrilled. It didn’t feel like anything was missing either – Josh is a very accomplished musician (he plays all of the instruments on his records) with many of the songs he played beginning with complicated guitar intros, and highlighting that nothing more than him and a guitar was needed for a great gig.

Josh started off with his ‘soundcheck song’ One Foot In The Grave to warm up the crowd before playing a new song he’d written for his wife entitled Love You Like Me. I liked the heartfelt nature of this song, with lyrics like ‘Everyone loves you, but nobody loves you like me’ showing a very personal side of his life that fans of himself and his wife might otherwise not think about. Following these first too songs, the rest of the gig was almost entirely improvised, with Josh asking the crowd what they wanted to hear next with no planned set-list. This meant we had songs ranging from a mash-up of the blues-influenced Masterpiece and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to his 2003 pop hit Amazing, and even some spontaneous rapping when he felt like it. It was very much a night of doing what he and the crowd wanted, and I think we all appreciated him for doing so, and this was just one of the ways that his likable personality shined through during the set.

As well as songs from his earlier pop-rock days, there was of course some country music to reflect the direction Josh’s musical style has moved in the last few years, including his latest single It’s Your Move written about a blow-out fight with his wife and not knowing which direction the relationship will go; and Only God Can Stop Her Now about a man looking after his pill-addicted wife. Josh’s songs deal with incredibly real subjects, as country should, and songs like Almost Honest and Home To Me were played with a lot of pure feeling, making it clear that they’d come from real experiences as opposed to being written just to sell records. This was particularly obvious in the two songs he wrote for his daughters, Naleigh Moon and Cowboy Love Song, both of which he played soft and slow as if he were singing directly to his children, and sharing these intimate moments with the lucky crowd at The Borderline.

However, in spite of the deep nature of many of his songs, Josh took time between songs to share personal anecdotes and jokes that made it feel very much as if he actually wanted to be there as much as we in the audience did. For instance, he introduced his 2011 hit Georgia Clay by saying ‘country singers like to write songs about how much they love trucks, but I’m not about that. Instead, I decided to write a song from the perspective of a truck,’ and it was little moments like this that made the concert more memorable than most.

After a fantastic hour and forty-five minutes, the gig drew to a close with Gone Like That and Call It What It Is, both of which I enjoyed even better in their acoustic versions than studio versions. Josh Kelley, if you’re reading this, I beg of you to release an acoustic album because I’d love for everyone to experience your music the way those at The Borderline did! I’ll be honest, I like a lot of concerts, but I really liked this one. There were just so many things right with it, from the anecdotes and jokes to the request taking to the simplicity of man and guitar. Kudos to you, Josh.

Want to see more reviews and interviews like this? Be sure to follow @CiarasCountry and @nashoverhere on Twitter to keep up to date with all things country music! 

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30th January, 1980


Augusta, GA


About the Author



Hi! I'm Ciara, long time country music fan, host of 'Ciara's Country' on Purple Radio, and blogger on a mission to bring country music to a wider audience in the UK by proving it's not all about trucks and banjos! I love all kinds of contemporary country, from big Nashville names to the latest UK artists – I'll listen to just about anything. You can normally find me reviewing and interviewing artists at any country music gigs I can find in London or scouring social media looking to find the next big thing!