CHADDERTON Swimming Baths held its first event in over eight years on Monday 1 September.
The death knell committing the historic art-deco build to a dusty grave was silenced by the beautiful baritone of upcoming soul-sensation, Kwabs, performing as part of Nokia Lumia Live’s free series of gigs in unexpected and reimagined locations.
It was hard not to fully submerge yourself in the brilliance of it all.
A former home-from-home for former Olympic swimming champion, Henry Taylor, the baths had been rendered derelict and closed to the public since 2006. On this rare evening its emptied pool became a stage, its stands filled with spectators and its rafters prepped for acoustic sweet spots.
The night was as special as it was a surreal out-of-town musical experience.
A small, cultivated audience had been bundled into coaches to make the trip to Middleton Road, Oldham – an area as vacant as the baths - to hear Kwabs attempt to engulf the seven-foot-deep drained pool with vocals that have gained him widespread critical acclaim.
Inside, the baths were cleaned and dressed up with mood-lighting and, in a similar vein to the transformation of Manchester's Edwardian Victoria Baths, felt entirely comfortable as a legitimate gig venue.
While the free gig felt impossibly cool and ‘need to know’, it managed not to feel pretentious and retained a serious music hat - even if the purpose was to promote a Nokia and Microsoft's music app.
Supported by North London songstress, Sinead Harnett, there was a hushed intimacy about the performances, the crowd quietly gripped and collected in mutual awe.
Ghanian-born Kwabs soared effortlessly through songs from his first EP, Wrong Or Right. Stand-outs included a slowed down version of emotional synth-ballad Last Stand, confirming his uprise as a British soul king. Those who had not been acquainted with the artist before were left firm and loyal followers by the end of his beautifully poignant encore.
It was hard not to submerge yourself in the brilliance of it all.
It was also easy to understand how, despite being at an early stage in his solo career, Kwabs is already gathering support from a legion of fans and other artists, including: Jessie Ware, India Arie, Joss Stone and Plan B – who Kwabs supported on tour in summer 2012.
As Christophe Abric of La Blogothèque said before the show:
"In 2014, it doesn't matter if you like R'n'B, electro music, rap or soul; the Internet freed everyone from genres. Kwabs is one of these artists for whom music is a big field of experiment.
"He isn't a rapper, a soul man, or an R'n'B singer - he is all of them at the same time, floating from one genre to another with his deep soulful voice and his incredible sense of rhythm. He will, without question, easily bring us into his world for our first Manchester Lumia Live Session."
And he did.
As for Chadderton Baths, one of several important civic buildings in Oldham, Confidential hopes the pool will host performances of a similar calibre in future.
The acoustics alone make it a giant step up from merely singing in the shower.
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