KWABS kickstarted his second UK headline tour in Manchester last night (October 11) and Quays News entertainment reporter Nathan Salt was there for us…
A last minute venue change – announced on arrival – proved a masterstroke with the basement room, Club Academy, the perfect backdrop for an intimate gig which had three breathtaking vocalists on the bill.
The first was 17-year-old Leicestershire singer Mahalia who slipped beneath the radar somewhat as she assumed her position along with her guitar. The spotlight shone and then she sang. It was instantly clear why Kwabs would want her on tour because her vocal was so strong and also so delicate.
With a distinct Lily Allen/Eliza Doolittle sound to her voice she played a six song set which featured entire original music ranging from a song she wrote aged 12 about her first crush to a song that was written for anti-bullying week.
She opened with a song entitled ‘Elope’ which was written during a time where a young love asked her to elope only for her to misunderstand what the term means. It was meaningful and eloquent but her strongest track was certainly ‘Let The World See The Light’ which even had Kwabs listening from his dressing room.
It was a song she had written aged 12 during middle school and it surrounded her first crush. The song which required nothing more than her vocal and guitar had everyone hanging onto her every word. What was special about Mahalia was that every lyric was a puzzle piece in her life thus far and the stripped back production helped place emphasis on that story.
Wholly original which added to her unquestionable charm, other set songs included ‘Silly Girl’, ‘Rollercoaster’, ‘Borrowers’ and ‘Matalan’ with the latter particularly fascinating. She spoke, much like a poem, a rap, about people telling her singing wasn’t the answer and she needed a plan B. It was powerful beyond belief because it was real and sincere. The poem went on before she merged into a traditional acoustic track once again.
Mahalia was just the start for what would be a night of sheer vocal mastery…
.@MahaliaMusic is warming up next door and being one of the best things I've heard. She doesn't know I've turned down my speakers to listen.
— LOVING JAMES (@Kwabs) October 11, 2015
Next up was Zak Abel, fresh from the release of his new EP ‘One Hand On The Future’, who reminded many of Kwabs through his rhythm and passion to dance around the stage. Abel’s career continues to go from strength to strength and his seven song set showed those unaware of his talents just why Kwabs wanted to have him at every show on the tour. Speaking to Kwabs on Tuesday he spoke about how impressed he was with Abel’s powerful voice; a set of lungs that can certainly fill a room when required.
He opened with a soulful-funk track titled ‘Running From Myself’ which was a track produced by Karma Kid. Issues with the microphone saw sound disappear on a number of occasions but it failed to dampen Abel’s unrelenting enthusiasm and commitment to the moment. There is no chance he will doing anything half-heartedly; when Abel is smiling and enjoying himself how can the audience not bound along, losing their inhibitions with him?
Quite simply his voice is infectious with tracks such as ‘Alchemy’ and ‘Say Sumthin’ energised the crowd after the beauty and elegance of Mahlia beforehand. That isn’t to say that Abel didn’t strip things back himself with a switch to keyboard for his near acapella track ‘Bring Him Home’ which demonstrated a versatility that will see him go far. With hits already on his CV having provided the vocals for ‘Unmissable’ by Gorgon City, ‘Zak Abel’ is a name that will become a chart regular in the next few years that’s the level of potential he has.
He, unlike Mahalia, focused less on interacting with the audience between tracks but one man’s cry of ‘I love you Zak!’ earned a wry smile and laugh from the young vocalist. He finished his set with an original called ‘These Are The Days’ which epitomised his eclectic sound with inferences of RnB, soul and pop all of which are key influencers in his music education.
And with that it was time for the main attraction – the excitement certainly raised the temperature in the room…
Having seen Kwabs on and off stage the transition is still staggering. Off stage the humble, shy singer awaits his entrance but come setting foot on stage the vocalist transforms into a born performer with the music ruling his body, gliding across the stage very much wrapped up in the riffs and beats.
He began in the same vein as his album with ‘Love + War’ the perfect track to kickstart not just the Manchester gig but also the entire tour. Accompanied by his band, the track seamlessly made the transition from studio to live with the audience bellowing out the chorus in tandem.
A set which included not just tracks off his debut album but also a cover of Major Lazer’s ‘Lean On’. Kwabs had variety which was well received – particularly the inclusion of original tracks that didn’t make the album in the form of ‘Saved’ and ‘Wrong or Right’.
With a smoke machine working overtime all evening Kwabs often found himself a mere silhouette on stage which was fitting as it is all about the voice with Kwabs. That alone will give audience’s across the tour goosebumps.
Still freaking out over @Kwabs last night? perfection
— President Kennedy (@IzzyRascalx) October 12, 2015
I've been going to live gigs since I was 8 (Destinys Child in Earl's Court) but @Kwabs just gave me the best live vocal I've ever heard
— Billy Maher (@iamwillym) October 11, 2015
A couple in late 40s, early 50s leaned across and whispered “this is incredible’ which frankly was a spot on opinion amongst the audience. ‘Cheating On Me’ would, personally, have been that extra bit better had it been stripped back like ‘Forgiven’ but alas it remained lyrically beautiful.
Around 500 turned out to see Kwabs but how the figure was so low remains mind-boggling. Effortlessly brilliant in each and every song, the former Jazz orchestra performer is surely only inches away from deserved stardom and accolades…
By Nathan Salt