He’s been putting in the hard graft playing solo shows around the UK, secret gigs in corners of London and supporting the likes of Laura Marling and Willy Mason on tour. But now Nick Mulvey is a star in his own right.
Taking to the stage of London’s Village Underground for this sold-out gig – moved from two nights previous so he could appear on Later… With Jools Holland – Mulvey looks visibly overwhelmed. Tonight is one of the first with his handpicked band of drums, keys, bass – both guitar and double bass – and a backing singer.
Thanks to some unstoppable PR – a lot of it off his own back, which led to live sessions on both BBC 6 Music and Radio 1 – his adoring crowd is age- and style-diverse, excited and singing at the top of their lungs, especially the youngsters. They can be a noisy, sometimes slightly annoying gang, but there is no doubt that everyone in his brick-walled room loves this man’s music.
He kicks off with ‘April’, a brooding double bass introducing his intricate style of guitar playing, singing about east London to this local, partisan crowd. Even a mention of Shacklewell Lane gets a cheer later in the night. It very much feels like he’s arrived.
‘Juramidam’ shows off his amazing band, which comes in at full force after the first verse, leaving a little space for Mulvey to exhibit the hand-fluttering playing that is the cornerstone of his music. The reverb on his guitar makes it percussive, its groove only enhanced when the drums kick in. The response from his audience is loud and amazing, leaving the frontman slightly in awe of what he’s achieved. Bless.
The night showcases almost all of Mulvey’s debut album, ‘First Mind’ (review). Even though it was released just two weeks ago, some of his crowd seems to know it word for word.
‘Ailsa Craig’ brings the West African influences Mulvey bases much of his guitar rhythms on to life, as well as another great marriage between his playing and his drummer, while ‘Meet Me There’ gets one of the biggest cheers of the night – it is the song with the most radio play, after all.
But it’s ‘Venus’ that really marks Mulvey as a great live performer. He stands at the edge of the stage, demonstrating once again that amazing skill he has to make one guitar sound like a whole troop. Heads bob while the band builds euphorically behind him. The sound is soothing, almost trance like. It’s utterly brilliant.
‘Cucurucu’ is another highlight. It starts gently and intimately before a bouncing bass introduces the rest of the band. It’s a happy, bubbling track that gets everyone moving. But the folkies and ravers are truly united on ‘Nitrous’. It features the most intricate playing of the night, gets the whole crowd singing and ends with a funky beat and a mass sing-along to 1990s classic, ‘You’re Not Alone’. It’s almost Mulvey’s trademark party trick. Everyone is dancing, and everyone is loving it.
He brings it down with an emotional ‘Fever To The Form’ – a song he admits is “special” to him – followed by his album’s title track and a heart-stopping rendition of ‘House Of Saint Give Me’.
There’s a great mix tonight of Mulvey as a solo talent and as part of a band. The ability of the guys behind him is immense, although it slightly distracts from the wonder that is Mulvey simply alone with guitar. It’s a different kind of show, but still a brilliant one.
He promotes more shows on his busy schedule, including a brunch-time on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage. Don’t be surprised if he’s playing dinner next year.
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Words: Gemma Hampson (Twitter)