“From the theatre of dreams to another theatre of dreams,” proclaims Eric Cantona, during one of his first ever gigs as a musician.
Having sold out two nights in just 12 minutes, the Manchester United great appears in darkness on the balcony with arms outstretched, Christ-like, receiving a level of applause rarely heard for a debut. As he makes his way to the stage, a fan darts towards him, and a flash of panic sets in the security team’s eyes, while a chorus of cameras snaps away as though it’s a red carpet event.
In a long black coat, sunglasses, hat and red tracksuit bottoms, the ex-footballer who decided to write songs during lockdown, stands at the microphone and lets out a raspy, deep yet whispery vocal that recalls late period Leonard Cohen. He is backed by a cello that is often plucked like a double bass, subtle jazz grooves overlap with looping neoclassical piano. Tracks such as The Friends We Lost, dedicated to departed loved ones, are genuinely stirring and poignant, with spirited and deeply emotive cello playing, as Cantona gently purrs away.
The atmosphere is less terrace pandemonium and more reverent silence. He has only only released four songs via the I’ll Make My Own Heaven EP, so the audience patiently imbibes new material that Cantona has decided to record during these live shows to release as his debut album next year.
During one new track, over a subtly fizzing electronic beat, Cantona sings about being a lizard drinking sex on the beach cocktails in a bar, before a burst of cello explodes over hissing electronics and wild stabs of piano, resulting in a pleasingly deranged and humorous piece of experimental avant-rock.
Cantona’s vocal range is limited to the lower registers and when a song calls for a more punchy or dynamic delivery – as they often do – he’s unwilling, or perhaps unable, to get there and so leans more heavily into his sandpaper whisper. Which can result in things feeling a little one-note and repetitive, especially as the evening stretches to an overly long 90 minutes.
As Cantona leaves the stage, the respectful audience can hold it in no longer. They rocket to their feet and ignite with a football chant in unison. And so Cantona ends the evening exactly as he started: head arched back and arms outstretched, soaking up a rapturous applause from a crowd that borders on religious adulation.