Modest as ever, Obaro Ejimiwe (aka Ghostpoet), finishes the first song and proclaims, “I didn’t think anyone was going to be here.” Well we are, and Village Underground is a heaving mass. Normally bands in this venue make the place sound like what it is – a brick railway arch – but somehow Ghostpoet and his three-piece live band bring a real warmth to the room.
Perhaps he has lost his porkpie hat and big coat sponsor (Ghostpoet’s usual outfit of choice), as tonight Ejimiwe is stripped down to his shaved head and loose vest, sweating it out with the rest of us. “Hands up who is surviving London right now,” he says, bringing us closer in. It is a bit of a giveaway to the next song, but ‘Survive It’ followed by ‘Liiines’ does not disappoint.
On record the tunes have the feel that they are born from messing about with effects buttons. When played live they head off into another dimension, and that's a big part of Ghostpoet's appeal. Augmented by a fantastic, loose-limbed drummer who is refreshingly playing raw, with no headphones guiding him, and still managing to keep up with the beats flying about in all directions, the songs take on new forms. When the band plays ‘Plastic Bag Brain’, they have a tough job to imitate the album version, which features the work of legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, but they pull it off.
An important addition to the live band is Fabiana Palladino on keyboards. Palladino appears to take delight in sneaking some serious house piano and dub bass into the songs. Over the top, Ghostpoet tightly triggers off his own effects when he sings, dropping right in with the keyboards and drums. Mid-set, during ‘Sloth Trot’, Ejimiwe even tries out a guitar and he seems as surprised as the audience.
The band offers up such an array of sounds for us to enjoy and the beat poetry over the top couldn’t be more suited to it. Some singers use vocal triggers to get themselves off the hook but Ghostpoet’s use of them makes the words stronger and that’s what he pulls us back to time and time again.
Woodpecker Wooliams is welcomed to the stage to guest on new single ‘Meltdown’. She is the second of two star turns (the first being Lucy Rose who pops up on ‘Dial Tones’) and it is a joy to see how more traditional sounding voices bounce off Ghostpoet’s vocals.
It all starts making sense by the time we reach ‘Comatose’, with words like “I feel lower than I’ve ever been”. Ghostpoet has downer lyrics but his uplifting beats make the crowd go crazy, at this stage the photographers have no choice but to turn their lenses onto the audience. Ghostpoet joins in too,and despite claiming he “never ever does this” he can’t help asking for the house lights to be turned on so he too can capture the moment. He has connected us all.
Words: James Young
Photos: Carys Lavin
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