Words by Ed King / Pics by Michelle Martin & Ed King
‘You’ve always had the power to go back…’
It’s here: the day in question, of reckoning, red letter. Call Me Unique is launching her Urban Gypsy II EP tonight, three years since its predecessor came off stage at The Yardbird, with a smorgasboard showcase at Mama Roux’s – the raw and raucous live music sponge in the Rainbow portfolio. And I’ve seen the running order; I kid you not there’s over ten artists joining Unique on stage, with an average of five minutes to perform and turn around. I’d make a joke, but it’s an important day.
Known for many years as the Girl-With-The-Guitar (and still on some bus routes) Call Me Unique has been frustratingly close to something for some time. Her combination of soul, rap, jazz, verse and scat, peppered with flecks of folk and bonfire laments, has been circling the thermals for a while; deserving of adulation beyond this city, whilst gaining some ground in London and Europe (based out of Budapest) Call Me Unique has sorely needed a win. Not a pat on the back, not a friend saying ‘well done’, a win. And the only way this was going to happen, to really happen, to happen in a way that would push this all forward, was the holy trinity: write, record, release.
So, no pressure then.
Walking into Mama Roux’s the first thing I notice are the numbers. Full room – check. Next are the people who make up those numbers – a regular line up of musicians and music professionals, with some healthy creative faces on the periphery to even things out. Then there’s what I can only assume are Mama Roux’s regular crowd or the throng that attend Digbeth Dining Club, with a handful trapped at two iron mesh tables by the front of the stage. I maybe address that one.
But before anyone can say ‘shall we sit upstairs’ the stage begins, with Unique and guests walking us through the EP that started ‘the Urban Gypsy Experience’ a handful of years ago. ‘Stranger’ is up first, with rappers Trademark Blud and Boy October (aka Christian Deveaux) giving some significant punch to my favourite track from Urban Gypsy I, before trading places with Kezia Soul and Simon Jnr for ‘Here’.
The eponymous track gets Lady Sanity and RTKal up on stage, always good to see, before the pinnacle performance of the first half from Jugganaut and Malik MD7 – bouncing ‘Bombs & Wars’ around the room and back again. So far this is going extremely well. Then Ed Geater and Affie Jam join Call Me Unique to perform ‘Sholow’, with Geater’s vocal leading the song in a memorable Bill Withers moment. It’s not often you see these three on stage without guitars in their hands; wouldn’t mind that happening again.
N.B. Ed Geater produced Call Me Unique’s Urban Gypsy II EP, that’s why he is on stage tonight. All the other artists are here from love, affinity, involvement or love. Life is quite simple.
Round Two is a showcase of Urban Gypsy II, the full EP getting performed with a selection of guests – kicking off, as the god of track listing intended, with the dreamlike ‘Dreamers’. A surprisingly effective cover of ‘Genie in a Bottle’ comes up next, with a mix of vox pops and ‘eerie sounds’ taking us into ‘Birds’ – the second track from the EP in question.
The rib digging ‘Only Girl in Manville’ gets a darker delivery, as the band step back to let the words speak for themselves, before the first (noticeable, at least) slip up on a running order that could have been Chrystal Maze challenge. But without missing a beat, figuratively or literally, a quick crowd search then a “come on up here girl” pulls Tina Amana up on stage for the ‘Say My Name’ cover, who I haven’t seen with Unique since the Sun at the Station gig back in March 2015. It’s a beautiful silver lining, and represents the genuine love and support that fills up this room tonight. They even share a mic. Although that was more a technical issue than some crazed close quarter duet.
Leanne Louise is our next guest of honour, as her and Unique banter back and forth with ‘Hashtag’; no egos, a shared stage and joint presence. Job done. Then a journey back to the source with ‘The Wife’, before the final two tracks from Call Me Unique’s new EP, ‘Shoulda’ and ‘Ashon’, gets their turn in the spotlight tonight. There’s a lot of personal exposure on Urban Gypsy II but perhaps these two tracks are amongst the more visceral – challenging hypocritical fists in the former and honouring a ‘son who never got to breathe’ in the latter. But I’ll sum up the end of this set, of this gig, of this obstacle course release, in one word. Strength. Even with tears streaming down your face.
Call Me Unique has a few more to add anyway, with her standard call to “support local artists” getting sandwiched with a more mature declaration of strength. There’s that word again. But oddly, perhaps, perhaps not, it was the call to “make this our home” that I walk out of the venue carrying closest. The Yardbird was an important playground for Call Me Unique and others; full of talent, ambition and garrulous endevour. It meant a lot to many. And whilst I’ve only been in Mama Roux’s a handful of times I’m old enough to see something unfolding itself here, tonight, with an honest soul at the centre. And I can all too easily be a cynic.
So go out and buy Urban Gypsy II, support your local music scene, support your local music venues. Do as she says. And someone, somewhere under the arches in Digbeth, with an address book and a diary, should start seriously clicking their heals together.
‘…there’s no place like home.’
Call Me Unique’s Urban Gypsy II EP is out now, launched at Mama Roux’s on Friday 5th May. For more on Call Me Unique, including online sales of Urban Gypsy II, visit www.callmeunique.com
For more from Mama Roux’s, including a full events programme and online ticket sales, visit www.therainbowvenues.co.uk/venues/mama-rouxs