Fuelled on pure talent

With just two E.P.s to his name, it’s pleasant to see that Michael Kiwanuka has already captured enough hearts to sell out the charming Bush Hall. The period venue is filled to the brim with a subdued but eager mix of folks; from businessman straight from the office to the art school crowd – the Londoner’s brand of retro soul obviously appealing to all walks of life.

Before the main event, however, we have a brief but captivating set from Scottish songwriter Rachel Sermanni. Showcasing material from her ‘Bothy Sessions’, the young folkie soon grabbed the attention of everyone present with her assured vocals and furious delivery – switching between tender tales of love and waltzing, to classic songs of heartbreak with ease. Interspersed with quirky banter, the overall package is a sure winner – keep your eye on this one.

With the humidity in the room rising, Michael and his band take the stage and burst into ‘I’m Getting Ready’. Kiwanuka’s vocals match and, more often than not, surpass his recorded material. His soulful tones filling the intimate venue, finely accompanied by gentle flute, chilled drumming and light bass work. It’s an extraordinary thing to witness live with no ‘retro’ tag doing the performance justice – this is closer to actually heading back in time some forty years and seeing soul in it’s heyday.

So effective is the music that many couples in the audience are drawn closer, with numbers such as ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ causing a gentle sway in many female hips. It’s a refreshingly laid-back experience, devoid of showy displays and lights, and simply fuelled on pure talent.

Beloved debut single ‘Tell Me A Tale’ proves a sure winner, with an excitable audience member screaming: “BRING ME THE FLUTE, BABY!” The textured sound and backing vocals manage to re-create the studio version with ease, as the interweaving flute bringing images of Will Ferrel’s ‘Aqualung’ sketch from ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’.

With a rogue phone causing the PA to buzz, a heckler asks if “Bill Withers was on the line?” mocking the singer’s similar vocal leanings. Michael, sharp as knife, replying: “If it’s only Bill I’ll ring back later.” A few more original songs are performed before Kiwanuka finishes, rather ironically, with a cover of Withers’ ‘I Don’t Know’.

With the set over, the songwriter thanks all for attending and explains how surprised he is that tonight’s show had managed to sell out. From the response he received, he shouldn’t be with the few hundred present eating out of the palm of his hand from the very first note. With the merchandise stall drained dry on exit, I recommend all those unfamiliar with this up-and-coming star to follow suit and invest in some of his music.

Words by Sam Walker-Smart
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