Playing your first ever headline show on the day your debut album is released could be considered slow going but it was worth the wait for a rare glimpse of Birmingham singer-composer Laura Mvula. What a pleasure to catch a musician on the cusp of greatness, self-conscious and wary of what’s to come, yet already sounding like a master of her craft.
“I wasn’t expecting this. I won’t cry — don’t do it,” she said, seemingly unaware that she easily has enough admirers to fill the Tabernacle’s small, classy space.
Then she sang, and this fragile, strikingly bald 26-year-old’s rich, resonant voice dominated the room. An unorthodox line-up of instruments including Wurlitzer organ, trumpet, her brother on cello and sister on viola, plus two harps sitting together like butterfly’s wings, made for a jazzy, guitar-free sound. Voices were the focus, swelling and flitting around her lead vocals, from a low male humming on I Don’t Know What the Weather Will Be to a massed angelic blast on Like the Morning Dew.
Is There Anybody Out There? was built on just a deep bass rhythm and a glittery sprinkling of xylophone. Father Father was even more minimal, performed alone at the keyboard, a devastating offer of forgiveness to her estranged father.
With her siblings on stage and her mother (to whom she dedicated another ballad, Diamonds) in the audience, it was a family affair. It occasionally felt like we were peeking in on a private celebration, as she thanked her manager, producer, band and husband at length as though winning an Oscar.
She still seemed not to believe in the quality of her work, describing her single, the funky, hand-clapping Green Garden, as “kinda pants”. When her album beds in and is acknowledged more widely as one of the releases of the year, there should no longer be space for doubt.