Shows in the capital tend to carry a reserved atmosphere in comparison to the rest of the UK. This comes as no surprise when you consider the vast amounts of disposable income present in London, which leads to hordes of gig goers with no emotional investment in the performer’s back catalogue. Laura Mvula’s Electric Brixton gig perfectly exemplified this. However, the Birmingham-born songstress still managed to gently warm up the reluctant crowd from the Baltic conditions outside whilst simultaneously making the keytar look respectable.
The last time she performed in London at Somerset House her manager informed her mid-set that the show had sold out. This lead to a sudden outpouring of emotion from the frontwoman; a poignant moment for those in attendance. Whilst this gig didn’t sell its entire allocation, the room felt full to the brim in anticipation of the neo-soul multi-instrumentalist. In today’s convoluted musical landscape, Mvula is one of those rare artists that brings fresh ideas and a completely original sound. Borrowing from a variety of genres and with an instantly recognisable voice and style, it’s a testament to her overall sonic and aesthetic output that she doesn’t fall into any particular musical scene; evident in the vast range of demographics and ages in the audience.
After being pipped to the 2013 Mercury Prize by James Blake with her debut album Sing to the Moon, she’s further enhanced her reputation with recent LP The Dreaming Room. The set borrowed equally from both of these records and as the five-piece band initiated proceedings, Mvula’s voice rang out from the PA, only she was nowhere to be seen on stage. Three minutes later she appeared just in time for the opening notes of ‘Overcome’ to rapturous applause. A great deal has been made of her training in classical composition and that has allowed her to amalgamate elements from a variety of areas such as jazz, soul and funk and turn them into genuine pieces of work that feel completely natural.
However, her voice is what binds together the tracks and focal points came from the likes of ‘Bread’- a stripped back number in which she managed to compel an extended outro singalong of “Lay the breadcrumb down” out of the hesitant Tuesday evening audience. Her crowd interaction in between songs was another highlight and a major contrast from the intense musicianship. Choosing to go off on elongated stories about television appearances, flirtations with UK royalty and anecdotes about her family, she has a fall back option in after dinner speaking if the music career fails to work out.
Ending with a stupendous cover of the Nina Simone classic ‘See Line Women’ and recent single ‘Phenomenal Women’, the fact she chose to leave out the soon-to-be John Lewis Christmas single ‘Ready or Not’ exhibits her single mindedness. She appears forthright and decisive with how she wants her career to pan out. And whilst she’s won’t become a conveyor belt of hit singles, she’s managed to carve a niche out for herself with alluring, melancholic productions that resonate deep. She’ll be around for a long time.