Laura Mvula @ Glee Club, Birmingham – Thursday 9th May 2013


So, I have an unashamed crush on The Glee Club, Birmingham. I have told them as much. Before I started writing reviews for this here website, The Glee was the only place in Birmingham City Centre I was inclined to go to see live music. The Glee just have the perfect combination: intimate venues, great bar selection, sound-guys-who-know-what-they-are-doing, and they have CHAIRS! You can watch the shows SITTING DOWN! You can even order dinner sometimes! Maybe I’m getting old, but when you’ve had such comfortable and well catered gigging experiences (with insanely wonderful musicians: Ben Howard, the venerable Fink, Iain Archer and Foy Vance to name but a few) it does tend ruin your tolerance for some of the larger, more frequently attended venues in town.


Consequently I jumped at the chance to review Laura Mvula at The Glee. Despite how grumpy I was at the disappearance of the chairs in the venue, (my feet did severely pay for the 3 hours of standing that followed. That’ll teach me not to read the gig deets), the general experience was extraordinary. I had followed Mvula’s career with interest – from composition undergrad to choir-master to unassuming pop star – not least because we are geographically more or less from the same back yard. Thus far Mvula seems set to give Soul & Jazz the biggest kick up the rear since the arrival Amy Winehouse on the music scene in 2003, so my curiosity re. the content of this live show was high.

The jostling audience were clearly pumped to be there, creating a bubbling hum throughout the room that didn’t lull once until the support act appeared. Although, he failed to captivate everyone’s attention, Ady Suleiman’s set was pretty solid. Suleiman’s and his accompaniment produced half an hour of gritty Nottingham soul with a clean blend of Latin and Lionel Richie influences. There was no doubt that the boy had style (forgiving the little-too-casual Addidas getup, don’t you know it’s The Glee Club, bro?) but his breathing technique seemed a little lacking and caused the dropping of an occasional flat. By song number five Suleiman was dabbling with reggae rhythms and a welcome change from the romantic subject matter appeared in ‘State of Mind’, a song of social/ religious/ political commentary! Heavens, how refreshing! We could all use a little less channeling Justin Timberlake and a little more Scroobius Pip, if you ask me.


After some delay, and an announcement from the drummer, Mrs Mvula appeared to rapturous applause and launched straight into ‘Morning Dew’ with her seven piece band – which, with a harpist and a string section, felt more like a small orchestra. All seven appeared to be mic-ed up for vocals; a broad volume of backing vocals compensating for the lack of electronic/ distortion vocal effects created on the record. The overall effect was much warmer than the slightly sterile feel of the recording. Having opened her set, Mvula gladly greeted the home-town audience and gracefully admitted to feeling “overwhelmed” by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd.

The band moved into ‘Let Me Fall’, which Mvula sheepishly confessed was not on her album ‘Sing To The Moon’ due to her own disorganisation. It’s a genuine shame, because the track was spell-binding: boasting catchy double-bass lines and choir-like blasts of ambience provided by the band. The slightly odd, clipped ending was a sign of things to come. Being a qualified Conservatoire composer, Mvula is not afraid to play with her musical arrangements: there are no formulas here, although the glockenspiel effect runs the risk of becoming a slightly tedious trademark at times.

LM-104 LM-108

However, ‘Flying Without You’ offered some surprise trumpet action, and as Mvula stepped away from the keys to take up the mic for the title track ‘Sing To The Moon’, it became apparent that she was in her element, her face serenely beautiful as she delivered as flawless a vocal performance as I have ever heard. Some genial banter ensued with the familiar audience during ‘Anybody Out There?’. The exploding drums and pulsating strings rolled on slightly muted into ‘She’, and Mvula began to reveal more vulnerability and power in her vocal control than the earlier half of the set had yielded. As a performer her brilliant mix of poise, humour and honesty we exemplary. Although I confess that the next two tracks fairly passed me by, the popular ‘Green Garden’ rejuvenated everyone and Mvula seemed to suddenly exude energy causing the entire sound to really take off.

Despite the failure to initially launch the penultimate song of the night ‘That’s Alright’ (technical issues), an unflustered Mvula handles the heckling with a broad smile and family jokes directed at her brother the bassist, as well as poking a little fun at her own penchant for six-part harmonies. The big-swing-band-beats started up again and the song smashed into our craniums on the second attempt: with every choral wall of sound punctuating the choruses. The audience was clearly thrilled and despite the claim “We don’t do encores!”, Mvula and her other brother on the cello pulled out a slightly edgy, stripped back version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Human Nature’.


Thus the set came to a sensitive and satisfactory end and the crowd shuffled down the stairs and into the night. Although the size of Mvula’s band might have been looked on as a little gratuitous, but the quality of the set persuaded me that Mvula wishes more than anything to create high quality live sound for her shows – with a meticulous attitude closer to a symphonic conductor than a front woman. The effect is practically cinematic. Go see her.

Review by Jenny Bulcraig

Photographs by Steve Gerrard

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