Ryan McMullan at The Sugarmill

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September 26th || Bethan Shuff

You’ll usually find The Sugarmill’s sticky floor packed with sweaty students with beers flying left, right and centre, but Friday night was a different story. Around 50-60 people gathered on the lower floor greeted with a gorgeously lit stage with little glowing lamps on, patiently awaiting the first act.

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First on the bill was our local lad Jay Johnson. Travis Is A Tourist has been the touring support act for Ryan McMullan, but Jay contacted Ryan to ask if he could be on the bill and he was welcomed with open arms. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. I’ve only ever seen Jay perform at festivals and larger events, so to see him at The Sugarmill was a totally different experience with a creative light show, sound techs and a more intimate atmosphere. His loop pedal plays a key part in his set, as he creates an ensemble of mini Jay’s during his tracks like Jigsaw Piece and his EP’s title track Summer Morning. His soulful voice and upbeat tracks elicited roars from the crowd, who were so impressed by the way one man seemed to fill an entire stage with sound and personality. For his final track, Jay created a beat and tune on his guitar before ditching it and picking up the microphone to perform Bones. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jay without a guitar in his hand, and for some musicians, a guitar is like a safety blanket, but this proved Jay’s confidence as he walked about the stage and could be more free and expressive.

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Next on the bill was the touring main support, Stephen Macartney; a warm soul with a charming Irish accent. His honesty and openness had the crowd non-stop giggling throughout the set as he told little anecdotes between songs. ‘This one’s about a girl who is a little bit amazing but I never told her that I thought she was a little bit amazing.’ He went on to tell us how he once introduced the track in front of her at a gig and she walked out. His National guitar created warm country vibes, complimenting stunningly effortless vocals. The laughing doesn’t even stop for the music, ‘this next verse makes me sound like I’m a stalker, I can assure you I’m not’. A lot of his tracks are based on subjects surrounding mental health and love; his pessimistic attitude and light-hearted humour makes him an incredibly loveable character. He decided against playing us a track called Everybody Kills Someone, and instead played the single from his forthcoming EP. After the set, he began to walk off with a beer in each hand with the crowd begging for just one more track – ever known the support act be demanded to do an encore? A modest Stephen came back onto the stage grinning from ear to ear, genuinely stunned at how much we’d enjoyed his company. I’d love to see Stephen return to Stoke.

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Fresh off Ed Sheeran’s Divide tour, Ryan McMullan takes to The Sugarmill as the headliner. He stood upon his little vintage rug, surrounded by these little glowing lights and bravely sung the opening track acapella. His versatility shone through as he effortlessly moved between instruments, playing a song or two on his acoustic guitar, followed by a track on keys. His voice projected around the room without the need for a microphone, with an atmosphere so silent you would have easily heard a pin drop (or a punters conversation). Mid-track, a noisy few were shushed by not only Ryan, but the audience, who were mesmerised by his playing. He mixed into his set, a gorgeous cover of the iconic track Maniac as well as playing a cover of Kings of Leon Use Somebody, getting the audience to sing along. The highlight of the set was an original track called You Don’t Dance, as well as Oh, Susannah, a single released earlier this year. He invited Travis and Stephen onto the stage to sing it with him, and it was lovely to involve Travis in the set seeing as he didn’t have his own slot. He has a very Ben Howard-esque voice and the three of them suited so well together, arms around each other like brothers. Ryan McMullan certainly showed the crowd why he’d been chosen to open Ed Sheeran’s EU tour, we were certainly a lucky few who got to witness the lovely little Sugarmill gig.