Words by Matthew Osborne / Pic from Dawbell
As I push through the double doors leading to the Institute’s modestly sized main theatre, I’m instantly struck by the noise.
Those of you who regularly attend gigs will find nothing unusual about being able to hear sound at such an event, but the prominent noise tonight is the chatter of voices, accompanied by (somewhere far off on the periphery of my hearing) the quiet murmur of a couple of artistes trying to be heard.
Peter & Kerry, a band named after its members, Peter and Kerry, look more than a little dismayed as they try to gain enough of the audience’s attention with their fragile music. Each time they receive a round of applause from those members of the audience who are trying to listen (and I imagine that these people are the ones pressed up against the rails in front of the stage) a self-satisfied smile of small personal triumph twitches across singer Kerry’s lips.
It is a shame that these two rather nice folkies aren’t being given anything close to polite respect, as they sound okay from what I can make out above the din. Kerry has a strong voice and Peter’s guitar… well, he looks like he’s into it, whether we can hear him or not.
The noise in the room suggests one of two things: either people have lost all respect for live artistes trying to forge a humble career, or there is simply a lot of excitement about the homecoming show we’re all gathered to see.
I’m leaning towards the latter, as when Laura Mvula launches into album opener, “Like the Morning Dew”, it would be possible to hear a pin drop – were a full band not playing. The audience is muted.
Mvula, looking every inch a stunning princess with glittering eye makeup and a silky shawl draped elegantly from her closely cropped head, sighs after the first song; shaking her head tells the room she is glad to be home, before regaling us with stories from her globe-trotting tour.
The second song in is a treat, and musically an exercise in control and release. Described my Mvula as ‘the only song my husband likes’, this number didn’t make the album because she ‘didn’t get [her] act together in time’. How do we know this? Because she tells us; in between songs Mvula laughs, jokes and seems completely at home with her audience.
“Flying Without You”, for example, is about a boy she loved at fifteen who didn’t love her back. Mvula then jokes that he might be in the room, before launching into a bombastic and joyful number she describes as a ‘venting song’.
‘All my songs are venting songs’, she adds, a confession that might come as a surprise as her music, played so excellently by her band, is often a happy fanfare fused with infectious rhythms. The exceptions are the more somber “Father Father” and “Is There Anybody Out There”, the latter Mvula manages to meld into a cover of Bob Marley’s “One Love” – instigating swaying, singing and shoulder hugging amongst the crowd.
But whatever the subject matter or mood, Mvula’s most frequent facial expression is a huge beaming smile which lights up the room more effectively than the Institute’s gazillion watt bulbs. For a woman that complains of feeling down because of a bad review, she apparently hasn’t let it affect her. Or maybe she has. Perhaps Mvula’s response to negative press is to come out in front of a crowd she considers friends and neighbours and put on a fantastic show.
Musically, Mvula’s band – comprised of close family and friends, are tight, exciting and just as involved or involving as their leader. The album tracks, with their unique and inspired arrangements, are recreated in all their glorious detail.
This has most impact on the stunning title track, “Sing to the Moon” which never fails to tease my skin into gooseflesh. “Green Garden” and “That’s Alright” are turned into even livelier numbers tonight, with the audience encouraged to dance and clap in time with the band who have all by this point caught Mvula’s infectious smile.
Laura Mvula is an enthralling musician and entertainer whose confidence is growing. And if she can come back from being knocked by a bad review as strongly as this, haterzbetta watch wotdeymessin, or some such youth speak.
Birmingham has a true star and talent to be proud of again.
For more on Laura Mvula, visit http://www.lauramvula.com
For more on Peter & Kerry, visit http://peterandkerry.co.uk/
For more further listings at the Institute, visit http://mamacolive.com/theinstitute/listings/