After the hottest July in living memory, the closing weekend of Harrogate International Festival brought an incredible headline act to the palace of gold, the Royal Hall. Before Ivor Novello winning Laura Mvula took her place on the stage, the evening was kicked off in mellow style by Pocklington’s Fin Henderson. He soon had the audience mesmerised, particularly with his incredibly accomplished piano playing, and I hope big things lie ahead. It certainly feels like his CD album could fit nicely between Tom Odell, George Ezra and Tom Walker on the shelf…or to be more realistic, on your streaming app of choice. I know…I’m a luddite.
After a short break in a balmy Royal Hall, the lights dimmed and Laura Mvula arrived to rapturous applause. In her only solo UK gig of the year, she treated us to many personal anecdotes and snippets from her life between tracks from both acclaimed albums Sing Me To The Moon and The Dreaming Room. We learned she almost didn’t make it because of Northern Rail, she’s moving house on Sunday and this gig is a great tonic away from packing boxes, and that it was only her second outing for a new keytar, which is yet to be named. Nina, her trusty first one, blew up during a gig recently. A couple of audience members shouted out name suggestions, but it remains to be seen if Fred is chosen. I loved the chatty bits between songs. You really felt like Laura was loving every moment of the gig.
I bought Sing To The Moon when it was released back in 2013, and played it on repeat for weeks. Alas, I didn’t get round to buying the follow-up album The Dreaming Room, but immediately rectified this oversight after getting home from the gig. It astounds me that Sony dropped her via E-mail, but I think the decision could actually be the making of her. With Nile Rodgers and the late Prince amongst her fans, I felt like we were watching someone with the gravitas and talent of Amy Winehouse or Paloma Faith (both former Harrogate International Festivals artists). Sing Me To The Moon, Kiss My Feet, Father Father, Overcome and Is There Anybody Out There are good introductory tracks for my money, for the newbie to Mvula’s talents. With no tie to a major label and no production line requirements for new material, she’s now a free spirit. Her songs are poetic, personal, and hard to fit into a box / category…the latter of which I think is a really good thing!
The band were polished and professional, plus Laura thanked her new sound manager (all too often, I’ve seen stars be horrid behind the scenes to technical people…no names mentioned for fear of a lawsuit!). By the closing couple of numbers, the assembled crowd rose to their feet in an ovation of warmth and happiness. I’ve not seen such passion from a Harrogate audience since watching the mighty Billy Ocean a few years ago!
This is a star who’s been hitting the gym hard over the last year and has admitted in previous interviews battling with personal demons under the veneer of the spotlight. I for one can’t wait to see what she has lined up next. A five star, sparkling, magical performance, which I feel very lucky to have seen live in Harrogate.
Review by Alex Cann