Words by Ed King / Pics by Katie Foulkes
“I think its Jelly Beans,” explains Unique – offering an acute example of her very real (albeit unusual) phobia. “Me and the bottom floor of Selfridges,” a pause and look of reflected consternation, “…no.”
I decide to Google ‘fear of sweets’ later, it’s too nice an afternoon.
We’re sitting in Moseley, enjoying both the bohemian sun and thin air of evening aggression the south Birmingham suburb accommodates so well; counting down the minutes and drinks until Unique’s set at Freestyle – The Bull’s Head’s regular Friday knees up.
Sharing the bill tonight are the Suffolk singer/songwriter Yoji (a last minute change from Phe Phe) and local soulstress Keziasoul. But it’s Unique who’s grabbed Birmingham Review by the short and painfuls, having first found her whilst working on The Flyover Show events in Handsworth.
We make it to The Bull’s Head’s upstairs room just in time to catch the end of Yoji, belting out a cover of Prince’s How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore? I start thinking of clever segues from her size (small) to her voice (big), but decide to side step one obvious for another. Yoji can sing.
A quick change over and Unique is up next, joined on stage by her percussionist and bassist – but leaving a rhythm guitar shaped hole in the usual line up.
The trio settle in, introduce who’s on stage and who’s not, and open with a reassuringly firm-yet-soft hip hop backline and acoustic guitar/vocal delivery of Covered in Frosting.
I write various one word descriptions into my notebook, then scribble them out. In a room full of talent it’s often simply style that prevails.
I Dare You moves mournfully into more acoustic territory, with Jazz scat and gruff accusations making me wonder who this was really written for; before Unique declares “I’ll try to make you smile, if that’s OK” with a modern Jazz approach to Stranger.
Unique’s voice ranges from a low Eartha Kitt growl to the more mellifluous end of Corrine Bailey Rae. And despite the muffled acoustics from the close quarter speaker stacks (apparently affecting my ears more than others) it’s clear to hear Unique means what she sings – as only an honest and endearing artist can deliver in a small room.
Lyrics challenging the integrity of art, the place of fame, people’s purported friendship and the importance of supporting musicians (and music venues) on a truly local level, are all delivered directly and to us – the latter getting an impromptu round of applause from the Freestyle crowd.
Unique’s last track is The Wife, an infectious shoulder swaying dedication to the strength of woman – and reminiscent of Erika Badu at her best. It feels like the sound she was aiming for, or perhaps just one she gets a big kick out of performing. Regardless, it’s a solid track and a cracking set closer.
An intelligent songwriter, with soulful intent and an acoustic guitar. And even if you don’t like her candid approach and husky scat, you can’t deny the girl’s got talent. Like a cross between Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill and Ani DiFranco, Unique is too valid to ignore.
And despite my lazy journalist comparisons (something I usually avoid like an overused simile) she is one of a kind. Awesome. Creative. Original. Unique, in fact; so an appropriate moniker.
I mean, even despite her music, who the hell else is scared of a Jelly Bean?
For more on Call Me Unique, visit http://www.callmeunique.co.uk/
For more on Freestyle, visit https://www.facebook.com/freestylebirmingham
For further listings at The Bull’s Head, visit http://bullsheadmoseley.co.uk