Harry Styles at the Manchester O2 Apollo

Posted on 3 November 2017
By Emily Bashforth
  • Share:

Harry Styles rose to fame as a member of one of the biggest bands of all time – One Direction, who were formed on The X Factor back in 2010.

After an incredible five years dominating the music industry and with 212 awards, 20 million worldwide album sales and four world tours under their belt, Harry, and his bandmates Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan, embarked on a hiatus at the end of 2015. They are currently pursuing solo careers.

Styles signed a recording deal with Columbia Records back in June 2016 then released his self-titled debut solo album in May, which shot to the number one spot in over 80 countries. He embarked on his first headlining concert tour, Harry Styles: Live on Tour, in September 2017, which will continue through to July 2018. The tour’s second leg was added due to high demand and small venues were expanded to arenas.

Styles played a sold out show at Manchester’s O2 Apollo to 3,500 allegiant fans, some of whom had been queuing for days with the hope of securing a spot on the front row.

Styles’ support act, American electronic pop band MUNA, took to the stage at 8pm before a thin, pink, floral curtain was put up to obscure the stage. This was when the crowd knew, the main event was coming.

At 9pm, a spotlight revealed a silhouette of a guitar-holding Harry Styles, standing behind the makeshift curtain and basking in excitement radiating from the audience. As the curtain fell, the venue erupted into ear-splitting screams which quickly turned into singing as fans belted out Styles’ opening track, Ever Since New York.

He wore a black and red, custom made Gucci suit but don’t let this fool you into thinking fame has gone to his head. Styles isn’t pretentious and he doesn’t aim to be superior. He introduces himself by saying, “Hi, my name is Harry,” as if this is the first time anyone has heard his name, and it would be impossible to count the amount of times the words “Thank you” or “I love you” escaped his lips.

Despite Styles occasionally playing guitar during the show, a talented four-piece band also accompanied him on stage. With Sarah Jones on drums, Clare Uchima on keyboard, Adam Pendergast on bass and Mitch Rowland on lead guitar, together, the five are a force to be reckoned with. The band were also decked out in head-to-toe in Gucci.

Jones in particular captivated the room with her drumming and received rapturous applause from the crowd. She was elevated on a raised platform just behind the main man and it was empowering to see a woman hold such a dominant position in a band like that. With most Styles fans being young women, I can imagine that having Jones and Uchima on stage and giving women in music a chance to shine, empowered them too.

This wasn’t a childish pop concert filled with screeching teenage girls who only want to marry the artist. It was clear that every audience member had a genuine love for music and felt no shame in expressing it. To be in a room full of such strong females who have an undeniably thick skin after the press have ridiculed them for being 1D fans for years, was awe-inspiring.

Styles performed all ten tracks on his album, along with covers. His rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain was especially enrapturing. Styles is a long-time fan of Fleetwood Mac. He previously told Rolling Stone that his dad introduced him to the band and other classic rock groups like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd at an early age. “I couldn’t really get it,” he recalled. “but I just remember being like – this is really f*cking cool.”

Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart was part of the set list at his home gig too, a song he wrote for U.S pop sensation Ariana Grande but he put his own spin on. He acknowledged that performing this song in Manchester felt special, after recent events, and fans held up signs of the Manchester bee as he sang. This was surely a stunning view from where he was standing.

His set also included familiar One Direction songs Stockholm Syndrome and a rocked-up version of the band’s biggest single, What Makes You Beautiful, causing the crowd to lose all inhibitions and explode with joy as it became clear that Styles doesn’t plan on distancing himself from his 1D roots any time soon.

A fan favourite was rock anthem Kiwi, which has just hit radios as the third single. Styles took this song as a chance to lose his inhibitions as he truly rocked out, punching the air, dancing and even spraying fans with water. He rocked out so much that he fell and knocked over a light. He performed the song a second time without warning after enthusiastic “KIWI! KIWI!” chants from fans.

The show closed with Sign of the Times, the debut number one single, which showcased his remarkable vocal range. Naturally, fans knew every lyric and sang loudly enough to make anyone’s ears reach tinnitus-inducing levels. The David Bowie sounding ballad filled the venue and helped end the concert on an uplifting note.

Styles’ stage presence is infatuating. His ability to control a stage and work a crowd isn’t something which can be described with words but rather something which just must be experienced and felt. Despite being a mere 23 years of age, it wouldn’t be a crime to say he’s one of the greatest performers of this generation. He just has a way about him, meaning he can wrap an entire audience around his little finger. He exudes beauty and charisma. If his talent and aura could be bottled and sold, it would be flying off the shelves.

His solo show at the O2 Apollo was fully him. Not that he wasn’t himself whilst in a boyband, but now, he’s in the spotlight, telling his own stories through his lyrics, wearing what he likes and expressing the most authentic version of himself.

As the lights went off and Styles walked off stage, (not before blowing uncountable kisses to fans) he returned to being the enigma we know him, or rather don’t know him, as. He goes back to just being Harry and living the life no one, really, has a clue about. He’s a mystery, really, something missing in a social media obsessed society. But his fans don’t care. They know enough about him to be besotted with him because what he does put out into the world is kindness and positivity.

Despite the venue being fit to burst, there was a real sense of togetherness in the Apollo. “We’re all in this together,” Styles said.
It was intimate, and everyone was equal, Styles made sure of that by interacting with the crowd whenever possible. He made jokes about football teams and spoke about the school he attended after seeing a girl wearing its uniform. He even took the time to ask where people are from, joking with one girl, “You’re from Harrogate? Oh I thought you said Africa!”

The atmosphere was warm, not just because thousands of sweaty bodies were squashed together in the standing zone, but because everyone there felt safe. Styles even praised fans for attending, saying “it takes a lot of courage to come to shows these days.”

His adoring fanbase know Styles as an advocate for peace and, especially, LGBTQ+ rights. At all his shows thus far, he has waved pride flags around the stage and his Manchester show was no different. During multiple songs, he grabbed one from the crowd and paraded it around with glee. Countless attendees arrived at the venue with rainbow flags draped over their shoulders and holding mini pride flags to hold in the air. Styles has created something extraordinary, a space where everyone, as he put it, can “feel free to be whoever you are in this room,” himself included, as he takes to the stage, away from the headlines, the paparazzi and prying journalists.

Styles’ shows are far more than concerts. They are home, built by him and loved by his fans. They are spaces free of prejudice and filled with acceptance, understanding and support. They are for the shy, the anxious, the queer, the confused and everything else inbetween. For that hour and a bit, it’s as if skin colours, sexualities, religions, genders or ages don’t exist. Instead, everyone is one and united by music. In a way, his concert felt like a vacuum because an environment that safe and joyful just doesn’t exist in the real world.

Harry Styles concerts are spaces where he encourages everyone to “do whatever makes them happiest” because he doesn’t just care about the money people are paying for his shows, he truly cares about them as people.

As a powerful male in the music industry with an army of young fans who experience discrimination daily simply for being young women who like pop music, Styles using his platform for good is refreshing. Those who attend his shows certainly get their money’s worth, and then some. Not only do they get to bare witness to a spectacular set by one of the most exciting stars of the moment, they get a reminder that they matter.

After his tour ends in Summer, Styles plans on getting back in the studio in July, he told Nick Grimshaw in a recent TV special, Harry Styles at the BBC.