Emeli Sandé + Ray Blk @ o2 Academy Birmingham – 19th March 2017

Posted by Gig Junkies on Sunday Mar 19, 2017 Under Gospel, R&B/Soul, Soul

Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

Four years ago, this young lady was everywhere.  After a couple of hits with others, her debut album went stratospheric. She played at the Opening and Closing of  London 2012 Olympics, won a couple of BRITS and also performed for the President of the United States of America. As you do. And now she’s back, older, wiser, social justice campaigner, personal life challenges and new album in tow. Before the arenas cometh smaller venues – welcome tonight to the o2 Academy in Brum,  Emeli Sandé.

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Tonight’s gig is, unsurprisingly sold out. And very warm. As we take our places, support artist Rita Ekwere (aka) Ray BLK , who’s topped BBC’s Sound of 2017 list, struts her stuff on stage.

This street-smart soul singer hailing from south London, released her debut EP ‘Havisham’ in 2015, as she studied for a degree in English Literature. The EP centres around the tale of a girl who turns against men after having her heart broken, inspired by Miss Havisham’s story in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Ray BLK doesn’t rap any more – but she’s retained the genre’s forthright attitude combining smart, literate lyrics with gorgeous R&B melodies, and is more than confident on stage. Last year she self-released her debut mini album ‘Durt’, featuring the likes of Stormzy, Wretch 32 and SG Lewis.

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“You guys are such a good crowd…” as she introduces single ‘My Hood’ is a song about her home town of Catford;  written at a time when after just being robbed, she felt like she just wanted to leave. A great singer, great voice – Lady BLK will undoutably go far – look out for her in the future….

And back to the main gal of the night.  This Scottish lass first came to our attention in 2009, when she featured on Chipmunk’s ‘Diamond Ring’ followed by ‘Never Be Your Woman’ by Wiley. Her debut album, ‘Our Version of Events’ spent 10 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the charts becoming the biggest album of 2012. In the same year she performed at the opening and closing of the London 2012 Olympics.  Since then she’s has an extraordinary few years, winning prizes, playing for The President of the United States of America (Barrack Obama), being involved in a number of important social justice campaigns and in her personal life – getting married and divorced. All while recording new album ‘Long Live The Angels’. First single ‘Hurts’ release last year: “I wanted to release ‘Hurts’ first because it felt like everything I’ve avoided saying for so long. It’s a real explosion. It’s everything I wish I’d said years and years ago. I didn’t want to hold anything back anymore.

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Tonight’s venue is crammed with a mostly female audience scattered with the odd bloke in tow. There was a massive queue to get in, and hopefully tonight’s gig was not blighted in the same way her Edinburgh gig was a couple of nights ago; when 200 fans were turned away due to them unknowingly purchasing stolen tickets…..

Lights down at 8.45 pm and we’re kept in darkness and tenterhooks waiting for her to take the stage. The crowd scream and cheer as she appears, dressed in black, with signature blonde curls. A ridiculous amount of camera phones are raised in the air to capture the moment…

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Tonight’s set features, the old and the new, starting off her powerful soulful voice rises through each ballad. ‘Wonder’ gave is a Jamaican rhythm, and took us away to warm tropical beaches. ‘Free’ a rising ballad, showcasing her rising gospel voice, as did ‘Give Me Something.’

The crowd laps it up; ‘ Kung Fu’ and ‘Hurts’ gets the crowd going. ‘ Beneath Your Beautiful’ (the single with Labyrinth) gets punters in the crowd smooching, and the crowd a-singing. Fan favourite ‘Babe’ too, continued the party. This venue is notorious for its sound issues, so depending where you were, was whether you got to hear the best of her vocals tonight; I could only ponder that with such a great voice, she would have been better performing at the Symphony Hall…

Undoubtably Sandé will be across our airwaves over the summer, with that voice, and her gospel ballads.  With these warm-ups venues now under her belt, and a chance for around 3,000 fans to get up close and personal,  she’ll be back across the country in October 2017 for some arena dates – from Scotland to Brighton – tickets are on sale now.

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