For Mr Michael Kiwanuka (pronounced Key-wa-noo-ka if you’re wondering) the future is looking pretty rosy right now. He’s found himself top of the BBC’s Sound Of 2012 list, opened for a lady you may have heard of named Adele and grabbed the much sought after “new artists” slot on Later With… Jools Holland. He’s been compared to Otis Redding and his favourite singer, Bill Withers, whose song, Don’t Know, he ends tonight’s set with.
Before all that though we are treated to a blissful opening set from The Staves, three sisters from Watford who sing delicate love songs with an air of Laura Marling or Joni Mitchell about them. They’ve toured the US with Mumford & Sons and even contributed vocals to Tom Jones’ recent album. Jess, Emily and Camilla each have unique voices which compliment each other perfectly and they seem to be relishing the chance to perform their songs to a packed room. Awkward, slightly nervous between-song banter just makes the audience love them more and it won’t do them any harm that they’re fairly easy on the eye.
For one song the girls huddle around a single microphone and sing acapella. The room is silenced and it’s a moment which shows their vocal talents beautifully. Ending with the fuller sound of Winter Trees, it’s safe to say they’ve accumulated a new batch of fans here tonight and I for one will be keeping an eye out for future headline dates, rumoured to be happening in the next couple of months.
For an artist with just two EP releases to his name, Michael Kiwanuka has managed to draw a huge crowd to The Glee Club. The chairs have been removed to allow more people into the room and the gig has been sold out for weeks. His BBC approval has certainly helped shift a big percentage of the tickets and there’s obviously a lot of anticipation in the venue as he casually wanders onto the cosy stage, accompanied by a full band.
Beginning with I’ll Get Along, Kiwanuka’s sound is proudly retro, his soulful vocal style occasionally encouraging comparisons of 70s-era Van Morrison. His songs could trick you into thinking they’ve been around forever. They have that timeless quality to them and Kiwanuka performs each tune with such gentle ease, it’s obvious he has a very natural talent which is sure to take him to a much more global audience.
Standouts tonight include Home Again, the title track from his forthcoming debut album, which receives the biggest response of the evening from the crowd, and the ambitious Tell Me A Tale which Kiwanuka admits he worried was “self indulgent” and “silly” but tonight sounds nothing short of spectacular. He says he wishes he’d written the Bill Withers cover but it’s not unfair to say that his own material sits comfortably alongside it.
A single encore of Lasan, a song he tells us was inspired by the Birmingham restaurant of the same name “cos it’s just the best curry I’ve ever had”, brings the evening to a fine end and within minutes Michael is back in the room to meet fans and pose for photos.
Occasionally there are gigs which feel like a little piece of history is being made. Right time, right place. A gig you’ll say “I was there” in years to come. Tonight felt very much like that kind of night. If there’s any justice in the world, Michael Kiwanuka will be following in the footsteps of his friend Adele before the year’s out. I doubt very much he’ll be playing venues this intimate again any time soon.
Review & photos – Steve Gerrard
*** Michael Kiwanuka plays Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall on May 14th 2012 ***