Local Star Holly Humberstone Discusses Rising Fame, Overcoming Stage Fright and Her New Release

Words: Phil Taylor
Photos: Polydor Records
Friday 19 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Local star Holly Humberstone is on a high, and still rising fast. We caught up with her between tours to discuss her confessional songwriting, how she has gained confidence performing on stage, and why Nottingham is still so special to her.

Paintmybedroomblack Album Artwork

When Holly Humberstone landed back in the UK after a thirteen date headline European tour, her wish was to return to Nottingham, a place which still feels like home despite her putting down roots in London. Born in the city’s Queen’s Medical Centre, and bred on the edge of Grantham, the limited nightlife there meant Humberstone found herself caught in Nottingham’s gravity as she sought out entertainment, particularly live music.

“I had lots of happy times in Nottingham,” Humberstone tells me, smiling as she remembers, before confirming she did sometimes meet her friends by the famous ‘left lion’ in Market Square. “It was half an hour for me on the train. It was where I spent most of my teenage years going out. I feel like the Nottingham music scene just had a lot to offer.”

“I feel like it’s really nostalgic to me,” she goes on, becoming increasingly animated. “I was born there and I just feel a really strong sense of belonging… My parents work for the NHS and they’re still working in and around Nottingham, so it’s very much a special place for me. I go back as much as I can. It’s filled with memories on every corner!”

Nights out in the city have provided material for several of Humberstone’s songs, fuelling those fond memories. “I write a lot about going out there,” she confesses. “I had a show at Rescue Rooms which was like my first proper Nottingham show, and I’ve got this song called Ghost Me on my album – I’ve had so many good times in Nottingham but I had this really strong memory after the Rescue Rooms show - we went and did karaoke and we sang Angels with Rob and my friend Lauren, and I put it in the song.”

That ‘Rob’ is Rob Milton, who became her collaborator and producer after the two became friends by way of the Nottingham music scene. This story is a great example of the circularity of many of Humberstone’s experiences.

“Weirdly, I grew up loving Dog Is Dead, a Nottingham band, and now I get to work with Rob who was the frontman. I made quite a lot of the early stuff on my first EPs in Rob’s basement in Nottingham,” she tells me.

There’s a lovely spot called the Jamcafé in Hockley. That’s where I played my first ever open mic night… where I got on stage for the first time. All the staff were very supportive.

Humberstone’s close friend Lauren is name-checked more than once on her debut album Paint My Bedroom Black, and the song which is named after her references what many regard as the city’s best live music venue too: ‘And if I could rewind to every Rock City night,’ the wistful line goes.

I do write a lot about my youth and having fun and going to Rock City and stuff like that,” Humberstone explains - and when I ask her later where in Nottingham she would most like to play again, she chooses that venue without hesitation. “I went to see my first ever gig there. It was Tame Impala. I was thirteen and my older sisters took me. So it was so special going back and playing in that venue, and I hope I get to go back and play it again,” she says. There’s that circularity again.

Talk turns to Humberstone’s approach to songwriting. She is often described as ‘relatable’; her lyrics seem to come almost directly from her heart, her thoughts and her memories.

“I think what is really important that I keep doing, and the thing that is the most important to me, is lyrics and making sure that they’re really personal and true and honest,” she says. “I mean the reason that I started writing music and the reason that I still do it is that I’ve always needed a more personal and specific outlet. I don’t really journal - I find it really hard to bring up feelings that I don't really want to confront every day, to be honest. I find that the way I get the most out of writing is saving it all up – jotting little notes down as I go along… Then, when I get into the studio, I have so much to write about. And it’s just a bonus that people can connect to how I feel, I guess.”

Performing live gives Humberstone another chance to connect to people. She explains how a very special little Nottingham venue provided her first chance to sing to others.

“There’s a lovely spot called the Jamcafé in Hockley. That’s where I played my first ever open mic night… where I got on stage for the first time. All the staff were very supportive. I was really shy to share my songs, and share myself, when I was sixteen or seventeen. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, even to this day!”

Her approach to performing has evolved significantly since then, but there have been ups and downs along the way. Humberstone’s first EP came out during lockdown in early 2020, and she still had little experience of playing live other than in a solo and supporting role. Humberstone was worried about how her recorded material would work in a live setting.

“I was thinking: ‘I’ve got two EPs out and I don’t know how to play any of these songs live; I don’t know how these songs are going to translate when it’s just me and a guitar on stage!’ So it took quite a long time to build up my confidence again with touring and playing, and to kind of remember and learn how it all works,” she says.

After lockdown, Humberstone got back out on tour as a way of finding her feet again. “It was always really hard because I had nobody onstage that I could riff with. It was always a lot of responsibility on me and I never felt like I could fully enjoy myself,” she says.

But all that has changed. Since the summer of 2023, Humberstone has performed regularly with three other musicians, who have also become close friends: Lauren O’Donnell Anderson on drums, Jack Louis Rennie on guitar, and Seth Tackaberry on bass and keys.

“Getting a band has been just life-changing because I’m not touring on my own anymore… It's definitely a lot nicer experience touring with other people who have similar interests to me. We’re best friends now! It gives it a different lease of life I guess, having that band element to it. It’s given me so much,” she explains.

As she grows in confidence and skill, drawing on the support of her friends, family and fellow musicians, Humberstone is clearly eager to give plenty back to her fans. She is also not to forget how much she owes to the city that helped build and shape her. Nottingham is proud.


Holly Humberstone’s latest EP Work In Progress was released on 15 March. On Record Store Day (April 20), an exclusive purple vinyl pressing of her collaborative re-imagining of Into Your Room with MUNA will be available at Rough Trade.

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