- Michael Seary
- Jalen N’Gonda
It’s easy enough to make bold declarations that Liverpool is the country’s best incubator of new music. Justified, as well. But it’s another thing to round up all that civic pride and take it down to the Big Smoke just to prove it. That’s exactly what Liverpool International Music Festival decided to do by putting on a showcase for their LIMF Academy-backed artists who benefit from the patronage that the innovative project provides for a lucky few.
And so behind the imposing gates that bar your way to the converted horse stables of Proud Camden is an oddly contrasting scene half made up of snatches of Scouse from the performers’ mates and fans, and half industry folk (all tote bags and digital notepads), who’ve been assigned with scouting out what’s going on north of the Watford gap.
First up in LIMF’s four-pronged proof of the northern ascendance is alternative soul talent AMIQUE. It’s an obvious reference to make given current circumstances, but it’s hard to keep Prince from the mind as he bristles with tension whilst bathed in purple light. Taking us back further into the depths of 60s soul is JALEN N’GONDA, and the Maryland-raised but now Liverpool-based troubadour. Blessed with the sort of unfeasibly smooth voice that sounds like it could cure a hangover and a way of wringing warmth out of his guitar, he hypnotises his audience with Holler (When You Call My Name), which seems a worthy modern addition to the classic soul lineage of unrequited love. With artists like Leon Bridges and Gregory Porter bringing some of Otis Redding’s spirit back into contemporary pop music, N’Gonda and his two-piece band leave the stage seeming a real prospect: notes are made and deposited in tote bags.
While Scouse producer MICHAEL SEARY and band hook up a rig that might put NASA’s mission control centre to shame, SUEDE BROWN oils the transition from soul by slipping in some futuristic beats from the likes of Mura Masa. Seary has got an infectious enthusiasm about him, metronomically bobbing around his laptop while flanked by a full band for his massive and melodic dance tunes. His collaboration with Luke Cusato, Can’t Say It Back, is an obvious highlight, but Seary seems at his best when joined by an MC on stage for what almost sounds like a Scouse version of The Streets with breakbeats; something which turns out to be a very good thing.
If the previous acts are all strong examples of the creativity in Liverpool right now, it’s XAMVOLO who’s the real star here, a complete knock-out blow of hazy charm and charisma. Dressed head to toe in black, right down to the roll neck, scarf and coat, it’s not a surprise when he stops to consider how hot it is towards the end of his set. The heat and wheezes of a smoke machine provide the right frame for his woozy RnB vibes, the jazzy landscape on which his distinctive voice stretches out on. He doesn’t mess around with anything other than excellent, but it’s the blissful wanderings of Sapphires that confirm him as a slightly unhinged and single minded talent; not just one of Liverpool’s best, but one of the UK’s, too. Which, after all, was sort of the whole point of the night.