He took the tube by storm on The X Factor in the United Kingdom in 2009, and he even though he finished as a runner-up, he’s clearly a winner to a lot of people. 29-year-old Olly Murs is now back to promoting his Right Place Right Time album here in the U.S. after a successful summer tour with Robbie Williams in Europe. Although Murs isn’t a household name here at the moment, he and his label, Syco/Columbia, are doing their best to keep his name out there as he’s transitioning between singles and eras in different countries, with a new album in the works for next summer. Nevertheless, this was his time to shine for a small radio event in central Massachusetts and what a buzz it was.
First of all, I have to give props to his two backing singers, Darren and John, who were so on point during the sound check when I was checking people in that I was blown away. Their sound reminds me a lot of an early 90’s flavor a la P.M. Dawn or Seal. They have something special, and that two-part harmony was killer. I think they’ll eventually make it on their own, but they certainly have a good opportunity at the moment.
As expected, the gals (kids, were you cutting class?) were all excited for the show, coming up one by one to ask if they could take pictures, get signatures, etc. They love their boy, what can I say? After peeking through a side curtain about a half-dozen times, there he was, Olly Murs, the troublemaker himself on stage. He thanked everybody for coming out, noted that he was still getting over a little jet lag, but was happy to be back in America to play a few shows. I believe this was his first stop following the flight. Appropriately, he began with “Troublemaker”, his biggest hit to date so far here in the States. I have to admit, I think it sounded better in acoustic setting than on the record, but he sounds vocally exactly like he does on the record. That’s a good problem, folks. Instantly impressed, I was. He’s quite the charmer and his energy filled up the small room we were in, and as you might expect, everyone was singing along. Everything just jived together.
Between songs, Murs talked about his wearing of hats, noting that the grey fedora he had on was bought at a vintage shop in New York City and it was love at first sight. A question was then asked about how he loses his English accent when he sings, and mentioned a few other musicians who experience the same thing. He then broke out onto a few bars of “Troublemaker” with his thicker speaking accent, which got a few laughs from the crowd and a “Yeah, that doesn’t feel the same, does it?” out of him. At this point, a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 10 asked him to marry her, to which he replied that there might be some “legal complications”. However, she did manage to sneak a peck out of him at the end and an autograph on her red Murs t-shirt. Lucky, lucky.
Up next was “Heart Skips A Beat”, the song that was released as his debut single here last year. It went to #1 in the U.K. a year prior in the fall of 2011 as the leadoff single from his second album. Unfortunately, it didn’t so well on this side of the pond and a remix with Chiddy Bang and two different music videos for the U.S. didn’t help the matter, but it still gave Murs a bit of radio time as he opened for boy band One Direction. This was the most interactive song of the afternoon, as Murs played off the crowd’s call-and-response “oh-oh” chants and swayed a bit around the stage. Again, solid vocal and presence, even if it wasn’t the most familiar song of the event.
At this point, Murs talked about his road to a third audition at The X Factor. Coming from the small town of Witham, he said that he wasn’t enjoying his job at a call center. So, after two failed attempts at auditions for the show in 2007 and 2008, he gave it one last go in 2009, competing in the Over 25s category rather than with the Boys as was the case the two prior times. It proved to be the right choice, as Murs came in second despite some fierce competition. Onto another tune it was, which he mentioned was inspired by his parents’ record collection with a bit of a modern twist.
As you can probably guess from that description, the last song of the afternoon was “Dance With Me Tonight”, which is finally being promoted to the hot adult contemporary format here in the States. I originally heard the remix which was serviced of “Tonight” back in June, which was then on target for an August radio date, only to be pulled until later this month. Missed opportunity? Perhaps. I always thought that the song would sound good in a medley with “Quarter To Three” by Gary “U.S.” Bonds and “Runaround Sue” by Dion, which both capture that same essence of the early 60’s swing sound. This was Murs at his best, having fun and gyrating all over the place like he was Elvis Presley. He’s got a few moves, and of course, the voice to boot. Plus, Darren and John got into the act too with some syncopated hip flips, which was cute. In fact, we were all clapping along and shaking it a bit, to be honest. How could you not? Just like “Three” or “Sue”, there’s no way you could just sit down to a jump jive an’ jam like that. Mission accomplished.
Unlike some of the other shows I’ve worked, because of the crowd, I wasn’t really able to chat it up with he or his team and, inevitably, push the fact that there was meant to be a write-up coming, which you’ve now read! So, if you’re out there, I hope I accurately captured what went on! He’s a great guy with a lot of appeal and, most importantly, he loves what he’s doing now. You have to root for him and I think he’ll be around for some time, at least in his native country. The U.S. market is so different that it’s hard to tell at this point whether Murs will have any staying power in the States in terms of the casual radio listener or retail buyer, although he has the fan base to back him up. Whatever the case, he’s making his case on this latest radio tour of his, ending with an appearance on CBS’s The Talk on September 27. So, keep talking him up until then — to the point where he’s “stuck in [your] brain.” I think this will be for me.
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