Paul Smith @ Picture House Social

What self-respecting, Millennial, indie fan hasn’t thrown themselves around a dancefloor to the absolute anthem, that is Maximo Park’s Apply Some Pressure?

I’ve been taking a trip down memory lane lately, and realised that all the music I enjoyed growing up conjured up a cathartic mix of pleasure and pain. My love affair with emo-indie started with bands such as Coldplay and Snow Patrol, and by second year of Uni, Maximo Park’s Our Earthly Pleasures had become the soundtrack to the dramatic ups and downs of that time.

Paul Smith’s poetic and observationally fuelled lyrics and Geordie vocals have always distinguished him from other indie singers of the early noughties, but it’s the way he expressed them with such anxiety – especially during a fun frenzy of guitars – that made Maximo Park the perfect companion on the dancefloor.

However, when artists mature and move on, they have a tendency to mellow. And over 10 years on, with four solo albums (as well as the six Maximo Park albums), I wondered if Paul’s music would have that same spark, but the opportunity to see an indie legend perform in a venue as intimate as the Picture House Social’s backroom was irresistible to the 21-year-old fangirl in me.

I wasn’t the only one about to have a nostalgic night. My friend couldn’t believe her luck when the support happened to be her musical hero growing up – Kathryn Williams. Though Kathryn’s style is more folk than indie, she has an emotional range to rival Paul’s.

Her vocals were pure and angelic as she stunned the old ballroom with her acapella opening, but with edgier lyrics and darker guitars on tracks such as Mirrors, she wasn’t about to let the crowd pigeon-hole her sound. Layering loops of ‘boop-boop-be-doop’ vocals provided the jazzy backdrop to the final and most impressive song, Little Black Numbers.

There were no airs or graces as Paul took to the stage with his band, The New Intimations. Casually tuning up and chatting to the crowd, his indie status hadn’t gone to his head. Though we’d plunged into winter, he’d opted for a trademark (panama) hat and short-sleeved, patterned shirt. Launching into The Private Eye, the first track on his new album, he instantly switched into the professional showman I’d seen on a much bigger stage with Maximo Park back in the day.

Paul’s tangents injected humour between slower, more serious songs such as Lake Burley Griffin, while Beauty Contest lent itself to gorgeous vocal harmonies with his female keyboardist and guitarist. It was a track from Contradictions that gave Paul the chance to rock out. This got the biggest cheer from the crowd, and even the bassist I’d been nicknaming The Grumpy Lumberjack, owing to his wool hat and checked shirt, cracked a smile.

The band bowed out, before Paul returned alone for the encore. Though Paul’s poetic descriptions of cities and existential angst still resonated through his solo songs, I held out some hope that he’d play just one Maximo song. And to everyone’s delight, he finished with a stripped-down mash-up of Monument and Apply Some Pressure – a more mellow, grown-up, but no less passionate, version – much like the grown-up Millennials who were singing along in the crowd.

In association with, the local box office.

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