Kezia Gill @Sunderland The Fire Station, June 24 2023

How to capture the warm feel of an intimate house party in front of 450 fans?

Ask Kezia Gill.

Even if you weren’t family or friends — and there were plenty of both packing out The Fire Station — this felt more like a relaxed get together than a headline show.

The sofa, the slippers and the slow slide towards the slightly tipsy had all the hallmarks of a low-key social in the living room.

But it was all a carefully planned mirage.

Gill has long since graduated from jamming a few covers surrounded by pals.

And it’s a measure of just how far she’s come that the phoenix-like revival of the ‘one night only’ Pour Me A Strong One show ultimately doubled up as a warm-up for next month’s Hyde Park date with The Boss.

No pressure there, then.

Well, there won’t be if Gill’s fans get behind her like they did in Sunderland.

Right from the start the booming holler of ‘go on lass’ set the wholly supportive tone: it seemed as if every single paying customer was willing Gill to play the gig of her life.

And, on this evidence, perhaps she just did.

Admittedly nervous — apparently due the fact that she didn’t want to disappoint — Gill chose the first half of a two hour-plus set to gloriously reprise her popular lockdown livestreams.

It looked like the majority of the fabled ‘Friday Night Crew’ (FNC) had rocked up on Wearside, swapping their laptop screens for the North East’s snazziest new arts venue.

And despite the cultish sense of devotion, sporadic in-jokes and heartfelt recollections of pandemic-era hilarity, even the odd ‘outsider’ felt warmly welcomed.

In fact, those who missed out on Gill’s legendary livestreams headed for their interval refreshment suffering from a serious case of FOMO — it turns out you had to be there.

After the first half of a truly absorbing performance, you really wished you were.

The lighter moments of that opening segment were reminiscent of Victoria Wood at her storytelling best.

In fact, it’s easy to imagine Gill taking a Tim Minchin-style show on the road such is her natural ability for setting humorous narrative to earworm melodies.

She turned sole singer to wax lyrical about a bloke who sells fish from a van…and of course he was there, just a few rows from the front. Why wouldn’t he be?

The prawn star even sang along: how the FNC loved that!

It was a toss-up between Gill’s impression of Dolly Parton singing Meat Loaf or the reboot of her original keyboard demo — replete with clunky electric guitar pre-set — for laugh out loud moment of the night.

But there’s a serious side to a multi-talented singer songwriter who was somehow turned away from X Factor and The Voice before finding her voice.

Tributes to her late father and her proud mother (The Bridge In Derry sparkled) were typically touching.

And when podcast buddy and fellow rising star Jade Helliwell emerged for a couple of beautifully nuanced numbers, a passionate performance reached peak emotion.

The duo’s achingly affecting version of How Long Have You Known proved to be a tear-jerking highlight (cue fresh clamour for a single release).

Ditto an equally on-point cover of Cam’s Diane. Gill and Helliwell’s vocals dovetail so delightfully that a full album of collaborations wouldn’t go amiss. Just saying.

As the amped up second half to a truly special show reached its raucous denouement the FNC could barely contain its collective excitement — dancing, waving and even more whooping and hollering clearly delighting a giddy Gill.

With new album Misfit dropping on July 14, just a week after that main stage appearance with Springsteen and The Chicks, and a UK headline tour set for October this really could be Kezia’s year.

Easy Come East Go? Not now. Things have suddenly got serious, slippers or not.

Main image by Dickon Clark

Live image by Dan Schofield