LAURA MVULA and JESSIE WARE: power voices of 2013

Crammed into the somewhat fragrant Ritz in central Manchester on a windswept Thursday night, the crowds are at maximum excitement levels even before the room fills up. Given the sell-out line-up this evening however, you could hardly blame them.

LAURA MVULA is up first, tonight flanked by a flurry of musicians, including a cellist and a harp player. Her presence follows the very recent release of her debut LP “Sing to the Moon” which has been attracting a lot of attention throughout the music press. Her slot this evening, if similarly languid, offers a soul-enriched counterpoint to the more electronic strains employed by the headliner.

Mvula’s hype has been considerable and, to her credit, she justifies that buzz to this crowd. Her live voice is a powerful one and, just as in recorded form, has the ability to strike you unexpectedly. The eclectic backing band is also on form, and the songs are on the whole performed tightly. The crowd isn’t as engaged as Laura perhaps deserves, however. Even with her status as a support act, there is still a distinct feeling that the music is mere background noise to many of the eager Ware fans.

At 9pm sharp, and in contrast to the raucous screams and shouts from the fired up crowd, JESSIE WARE strolls unassumingly on stage. The impression given by her in her interviews is one of almost defiant normality, and that’s something that is evident tonight. Her on-stage persona is as you’d imagine she’d be off-stage – she breaks for chats with the audience between songs, at one point chuckling at a couple trying to take photos of themselves. It’s a very unusual but immensely welcome atmosphere created, and one that sheds a different light on the gig, making it a celebration of kinds.

Ware has seen herself become something of an unlikely star since her appearance on SBTRKT’s “Nervous.” I say unlikely, but only in the sense that she doesn’t seem to have felt herself destined for success. Once you hear her voice, you struggle to think how she could ever be anything but a huge sensation. The vocal performance is massively impressive, with a greatly intelligent use of tone and volume throughout. Some of the best moments come from the moments of reticence and restraint that give way to the power that bubbles up in the songs.

The audience laps up Jessie Ware’s smartly produced and cleverly constructed songs for the duration of the hour-long gig. As a singer, she’s incredible, and with the polished sounds found on her album “Devotion,” you could be forgiven for thinking that her live show would be as managed and controlled. However, her humble nature and breezy approach to this whole singing game is infinitely more pleasurable, and judging by the jubilant reactions from the customers, extremely successful.