Before we move onto the headline act, we’ll need to take a little bit of time to talk about the support. Because Bedouine was quite stunning. Alone on a stage that would later hold a band of eight or nine, Bedouine not only commanded the space but also brought a silence into the crowd that is rare for opening performers. A beautiful voice, superb lyrics, and a humility that helped the crowd to connect – Bedouine had it all. A highlight of her set was the lovely “Solitary Daughter”, but each song she performed was involving, interesting, and original. And she has that natural knack of the performer whose shows are more than just music, laughing and joking with those watching her and getting them onside before a single note was even sung. One to watch out for, for sure.
When Michael Kiwanuka came onto the stage, it did initially seem as though he might not quite live up to the standards of his successor. There was a slightly chaotic feel to the performance and it felt like the many musicians on the stage were struggling to mesh together, each playing to a slightly different rhythm. And for the first few songs the sound, which had seemed crystal clear for Bedouine, was muddled and a little low. Luckily, though, by the time we got to “Black Man in a White World”, the engineers (and the band) seemed to have sorted things out.
And thank God they had. Because “Black Man in a White World” is an incredibly rapturous song which becomes all the more amazing in a live setting. Fittingly, in front of a very white audience, Kiwanuka came as close as he ever comes to a political protest song without being explicit about the meaning. On the album, it is a three-minute masterpiece. Live it is longer, more poignant, and somehow even better. Kiwanuka came into his own during this performance and the quality did not let up for the rest of the evening. Other highlights included the slower, but equally captivating, “Home Again” and stand out single “Rule the World”. Both were clearly crowd favourites and probably for similar reasons. These are two of the more emotional songs in Kiwanuka’s armoury, and both allow the audience to settle back and sing along. Which they did. It is difficult not to when watching such an infectiously enjoyable act.
Kiwanuka may have emerged on his own for the encore of “Cold Little Heart” and “Love and Hate”, which were another two highlights in a set that was full of them, but to fully recognise how good this performance was equal credit will have to be given to his band. A hugely talented group of musicians and backing singers managed to turn a slow start, and a set of songs that could be seen as quite sombre, into a performance that felt like a party. Smiles on their faces and an inarguable chemistry, this superb songwriter and singer will know how lucky he is to be backed by such a band. Alongside them, Kiwanuka is one of the most exciting musicians in the country at the moment. His live shows are a testament to why.