There was a distinct end of term feel to Laura Mvula’s appearance at Festival On The Close tonight. This event was the last of the inaugural running of the festival, and the last of our coverage this year. But it was also the real end of term. Rugby School has finished another year and the students in the crowd were ready to live it up before leaving to do whatever it is these young people do in the long vac these days.
It was clear from the onset that this was going to be a different event than previously. The music was loud, the PA distorted and the people finding their seats were greeted by the MC for Laura Mvula, MC Zani. Beatboxing is a skill and MC Zani (as in zany) is a proven master having won beatboxer of the year several years ago. Testament to his abilities is the fact that until he appeared it was impossible to tell that the thumping beat was not that of a kick drum. I can hear the haters already but if you don’t believe how incredibly realistic these guys can be then check out MC Zani on YouTube.
Support for Laura Mvula came from Passport to Stockholm. Another contributor to the music workshops this week, lead singer Barny had already endeared himself to a good portion of the crowd. A good few were word perfect with every song too, so they have certainly made an impact. For me I just kept thinking of one word — Bastille. Beats, repetitive vocals and woah oh oh ohs are the stock in trade of these bands, and let’s face it, it’s what makes them popular.
They suffered from a prolonged bout of dodgy sound, the support bands curse, but they did enough to show there should be more to them than the formulaic pop. The minimalist drum kit on its own was entertaining, and of course they had the kids going wild. A high point for the locals was the introduction of “one of your compatriots” Oona Lowther on ‘cello for “Chemistry”, lit by a host of phone lights from the audience.
All that was just the appetiser for the main event – an event that was accompanied by an element of panic as the sedate 450 Performance area was subject to a hormonal outpouring of epic proportions as the kids rushed to the front, knocking seats and people out of the way, as Laura Mvula took to the stage. Call it an end of year release if you like but they had the security and road crew scurrying to secure the PA and to make sure the crowd as a whole could still see the show.
Laura Mvula is an enigma. On the face of it she can be regarded as Radio 2 fodder but there is something much more radical about her, and about her performance. The logo around her belt read “Forget The Rules” and the young people, off the leash for the night, followed her instructions.
It’s hard to pin down her style. R&B, soul, funk, and a touch of avant-garde can all be heard in her tunes. Often her vocal is the counterpoint to the keyboard or guitar melodies and as a result she is entirely distinctive. However the impressive thing about her is how she is, how she comes across on stage, and how she interacts with her audience. If this is someone who famously claimed that she suffers from stage fright then I wonder what she would be like otherwise!
Laura Mvula provided a fantastic, joyful end to a great festival. The whole week seemed to fly by and the contributions from all ages, many styles and the people of Rugby made for a resounding success. This is planned as an annual event. If so then, like lots of other people, Brumlive will be there.
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge