Review by Amy McGill with Photos by Anna Poole

“Has everyone got the Monday night blues?” beams Luke Sital-Singh as he greets his audience, “Because you’ve come to the right place.” Tonight, the Bristol-based folk singer-songwriter celebrates a homecoming gig in the semi-intimate space of Rough Trade, where a large local crowd of devotees wait with bated breath. His words certainly set the tone as the whole night unfurls with a showcase of solemn, lovelorn music.

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But first up is opening act Violetta Zironi, an Italian singer who fits the ‘blues’ template perfectly. With yearning vocals and a plaintively picked electric guitar, she serenades the audience with an impressive set of mournful and introspective lullabies. Standout track ‘Heavenly Angels’ – a haunting paean to religious paintings – sees Zironi unleash soaring melodies with oodles of soul. It’s a sound befitting of Jeff Buckley at his most intimate: surely greatness awaits.

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And so it is without further ado that the 30-year-old bespectacled Sital-Singh takes to the stage. There is no band; just a small arsenal of two guitars and a keyboard between which he switches effortlessly. The sparse folk-rock balladry and immaculate voice that bursts forward is more than enough to satisfy, both sonically and emotionally. As he launches into the soft-rock musings of ‘Still’ and the acoustic glory of ‘Innocence’, it becomes clear that were there any more embellishments then the spell that he effortlessly casts over his audience would be broken. Likewise, the sound and staging tonight are suitably understated – nothing more than some simple lighting and a small PA – but this only serves to enhance the beauty and intimacy of what we are witnessing.

This evening’s performance also offers a powerful reminder of just how far Sital-Singh has come. Rewind back to 2014, and his hotly anticipated debut album ‘The Fire Inside’ failed to set the critical world alight. As he later admitted: “It isn’t necessarily the album I wanted to make… I don’t really recognise myself in that music.” So it comes as some surprise that he delves deep into the earlier material that didn’t quite hit the spot – not on record at least.

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Yet in these live renditions, his songs take on greater urgency. The trademark sadness and fragility is unmistakable, but with it comes a rousing power that belies his recorded material. Here Sital-Singh displays incredible vocal range, charging from a vulnerable whisper to a mountainous rock-n-roll roar within the space of two notes. Pitching himself somewhere between the romantic poetics of Damien Rice (a huge influence, by all accounts) and the country-rock abandon of Ron Sexsmith, highlights such as ‘Bottled up Tight’, ‘Nearly Morning’ and ‘Fail for You’ dazzle with their extreme darkness and light.

There is a good dose of recent material too. It could be argued that Sital-Singh hit his creative stride in 2017 with the release of ‘Time is a Riddle’, a collection of songs of greater musical depth and red-raw lyricism compared with its predecessor. The ‘Weight of Love’ EP followed this year, building on his newfound maturity. So as he plays ‘Until the Night is Done’ and the titular ‘Weight of Love’, the set becomes darker and increasingly introspective.

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The show is not an entirely slick operation – there’s a forgotten lyric here, a self-deprecating comment there – but it’s hard to ignore Sital-Singh’s witty rapport with his audience. His sardonic humour between songs clearly charms, adding a personal dimension to the proceedings. Even taking a song request (the uncharacteristically upbeat ‘Greatest Lovers’), he cements his connection to pretty much everyone in the room.

As Sital-Singh draws his set to a close with the deliciously poignant ‘The Last Day’ and mortal reflections of ‘Benediction’, there is a palpable sense that this musician has shared something truly special with his audience. Despite the gloomy thematics, he has much to be jubilant about. For you can tell that this musician is exactly where he wants to be, and equally, has us exactly where he wants us.

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Setlist: Still / Innocence / Weight of Love / Dark / Bottled up Tight / 21st Century Heartbeat / Raise Well / Nearly Morning / Until the Night is Done / Fail for You / Greatest Lovers / Killing Me / Nothing Stays the Same / The Last Day / Benediction

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