Lianne La Havas @ Royal Albert Hall

Sunday, April 03, 2016 0 Comments A+ a-

A post by Lauren Purdy,
a.k.a elletothepea | instagram.com/elletothepea

14th March 2016
Royal Albert Hall, London

The first time I heard Lianne La Havas’ music was in late 2012. Spotify had recommended her debut album (which would go on to sell over 200,000 copies) through their artist radio feature. Little did I know, the following summer, she was billed to play Glastonbury festival, which would be my first time attending. That performance was the first time I heard her sing live, and I had no idea what to expect. She took to the stage in a cream pvc body-con peplum pencil skirt and a Jamaican-inspired crop top with oversized sleeves - not quite the outfit I’d imagined having only seen the artwork on the front cover of her album. She topped off the outfit with a pair of pristine (for a festival) white killer heels, propping up the pint-size songwriter (she is 5’3”!).



She was playing the West Holts stage - annoyingly my least favourite stage at the festival - it’s surrounded by food stalls and often gets trashed early on in the festival, and is a general thoroughfare for people wanting to get to a lot of the more popular stages. Nevertheless, the 23 year-old commanded the stage, and her audience better than most of her contemporaries billed that year, show-casing her deep lyrics and INCREDIBLE guitar skills. She casually chatted with the audience and expressed her gratitude for being able to perform at the festival. All in all, her performance said: "I’ve arrived, and I’m here to stay".

Fast forward three years, two albums, two tours and countless nominations of critical acclaim (one Grammy, one Mobo, one Mercury Prize, one Ivor Novello... - I could go on), and she wasn’t wrong. I’m anxiously waiting for her to take the stage following a very odd choice of support act - The Kenneths - chosen by her. I’ll say no more.

She teases us backstage by finger-picking a few notes from the intro to No Room for Doubt - one of my favourites from the first album, featuring the soothing, baritone voice of Willy Mason. She begins playing the song, slowly wandering alone onto the stage, looking like a rock-chic goddess, dressed in an all-black shimmering maxi dress, wrapped in her electric guitar and adorned with a unique eye-catching choker with clear stones which shimmer in the spotlight surrounding her and reflect all around the room.

The crowd applauses as she closes her first song and the band join her for Green and Gold - a song written about her Jamaican heritage. Au Cinema wakes up the audience on what would otherwise be just another Monday and she gets a cheer for the lyric "I danced til I wasn’t drunk anymore" (come on - we’ve all been there) in Is Your Love Big Enough? - the title track from her first album.

The tempo slows back down to the more intimate songs in her repertoire. In Wonderful, she sings about past lovers "You put the stars into my eyes". The band takes a break leaving Lianne alone with us again. She says hello and thanks us all for coming, gushing at the reality of playing such an iconic venue.

Her lyrical talent is obvious to the listener when she pulls Fairytale out of the bag - a new song written about her cousin’s daughter, and gives her a chance to show off her talent in writing complex melodies - her singing range is endlessly impressive.

She keeps our undivided attention with Ghost - probably my favourite on the new album Blood. You can hear a pin drop in the coliseum-like venue as she pours over lyrics like ‘I should have warned you what was in store, but I was so, so sure I wasn’t haunted anymore’ - the atmosphere is tangible.

The band join her back on stage for Lost and Found and Tokyo. The latter giving her a chance to express her funk/soul side - it gets the audience moving.

A twenty-three piece choir joins her on stage for Lost Control. She introduces them as the Norbury Manor Celeste Choir - the very same one the London-born songwriter used to sing in as a child. She thanks her teacher ‘Miss’ Stevens of the South-London school La Havas attended when she was known more commonly as Lianne Charlotte Barnes. She in turn introduces her band - a backing vocalist, pianist, guitarist and drummer.

Age shows off her fun, cheeky side and it seems we can relate to her dating dilemmas - her lyric "I fancy younger men" grabs a laugh from the audience.

Final Form is a tune I’ve not heard from her before. This one I’m less keen on, but maybe because I haven’t had a chance to warm to it yet. It’s different from what we’re used to hearing from her, the lyrics are a lot more visceral "I wish the cesspit would open like a bible, I wish the rotten would blossom with the tidal" and at times sounds like a war cry "I’m gonna wrestle and wrangle until my legs become unreal" - a contrasting addition to her repertoire.

Good Goodbye - another gorgeous and quiet lullaby from the new album is followed a by a swap from electric guitar to acoustic.

Grow gets the audience involved with the backing vocals 'Turn up for this love". She tears up the stage (still on acoustic!) with Never Get Enough - mixing up her style, we see the rock-chic (without the clichés) side of her with the help of a distorted mic.

Back to electric guitar now, she thanks the audience and introduces her "last" song Midnight - written whilst on holiday in Kingston, Jamaica, before bowing to a standing ovation and swaying off stage to wait for her opportunity for an encore. After what seems like minutes of clapping, wooping, and foot-stomping (from us), she reappears with the choir from Norbury Manor. She stands amongst the young girls - she’s almost impossible to single out between them in their uniform all-black outfits (but then again, I’m sat in the Circle). Together, they’re conducted by ‘Miss Stevens’ in an ensemble (no divas here) performance of Over The Rainbow, almost bringing me to tears, it’s that beautiful. The audience is still and silent, patiently appreciating the unexpected treat, until we roar with applause for the young girls, and ‘Miss’ Stevens.

Photo by Lauren Purdy, follow her @ instagram.com/elletothepea

The choir leaves her alone on the stage for a very personal rendition of I Say A Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin - a woman she says has influenced her from the get-go. She gets a little distracted trying to fit Royal Albert Hall into the lyrics, and for a brief moment forgets her place in the song before shortly recovering after an encouraging applause. Her personal style still shines through, though.

The choir joins her one last time and she closes the set with Forget - a feisty tune on the debut album she dedicates to anyone who’s ever had "a terrible ex-boyfriend". She gets a roar of laughter from the audience and an internal "I hear ya!" from me. I look around to see men in the vicinity looking guilty and awkward (ha). She graciously thanks her audience, her band, her technical team, the choir and the venue staff for a wonderful night.

I’m left feeling pretty impressed by the almost un-noticeable passing of three years, she’s still humble after all of her success, her lyrical and vocal talent has not disappointed. She has very much grown as an artist.

You can catch Lianne La Havas on the rest of her Blood tour in the UK (after a short trip to Luxembourg and Paris) on the 27th of April, at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival before she heads to the US for a mammoth seventeen dates!