By Francesca Mudannayake
There’s a certain kind of silence that precedes an answer to the question ‘SO! Who are you going to the gig with?’. Especially when the answer is, ‘No one, mother. Just myself.’ In true Sri Lankan style, my mother launches into a full blown rant about the dangers of London and travelling alone. I’m fully aware of the potential harm that may come to her prodigal child, but I also have to bear the brunt of societal awkwardness by going to a gig without any friends. Oh the shame! In my opinion it just makes more sense, from a logistics standpoint – I couldn’t find anyone who shared my love for the up and coming RnB singer, Mabel – and from an enjoyment standpoint – I don’t have to worry if the other person is having fun.
So here’s an account of how my evening turned out:
7.55pm –Doors open at 8pm. I’m so on it. The Moth Club is a recently refurbished members’ club for military veterans which operates as a watering hole for oldies by day and a gig venue by night. The bar area is an interesting mix of millennial hipsters and over 65s who are more than disgruntled by the appearance of said youths. Without anyone to talk to, and in true millennial style, I pull out my phone and type out texts that will be sent to no one.
8.30pm – Arriving early means I can launch myself straight to the front to get optimum viewing (or crotch-in-your-face viewing as I learn later). Clara Amfo, radio presenter at BBC1, opens with a DJ set that consists mainly of RnB hits from old school Kanye to current songs by Solange and Drake and feels frankly unnecessary. I have an awkward time bobbing about, talking to the main photographer, and attempting to rap to Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo- Wop (That Thing)’ with a random guy.
9.30pm –Mabel strides onstage accompanied by two backing singers and her pianist/MIDI- person and the awkwardness quickly dissipates. The meteoric rise of Mabel is something that is as fantastic as it is intriguing. Mabel arrived seemingly out of nowhere with her first single ‘Know Me Better’ which dropped in August 2015. Despite never having gigged before, the single was enough to catapult her onto BBCs Sound of 2016 list. What followed were deals with Calvin Klein and Tate Modern and a steady stream of singles. She is Destiny’s Child but with a 2016 update. The 90s influence is clearly there with her outfit that night paying tribute to Aaliyah’s style – translucent white pants and jacket, a black bra, and Chanel sneakers. The effect is dazzling combined with her dance moves and caramel vocals.
She starts off with my personal favourite, ‘Talk About Forever’, thought it doesn’t live up to expectations as the backing singers’ harmonies stuck out awkwardly in the mix. The sound mixing didn’t work too well either as Mabel’s vocals were sometimes overpowered. While the lack of a band provided an impersonal approach to the music, the shortcomings were more than made up for by Mabel’s energy and tenacity to tap into the crowd’s emotions.
Her cover of Bryson Tiller’s ‘Don’t’ went down particularly well. It’s perfectly clear that her own tunes, which she co-produced and co-wrote, have a pop sensibility that underlie all of the melodies. Even for unreleased songs such as ‘Sweetest Thing’ and ‘Come Over’ the whole crowd gets hooked onto the chorus and by the end of it we were all singing along. She ended her 30-minute set with her latest single ‘Thinking of You’ which sounded magnificent live. It was a short gig and felt very much like a warm-up to something else, but Mabel oozes with talent so it will be interesting to watch how her career develops.
10pm – With the gig over I stumbled back to the station reflecting on the night. Did I have a good time? Yes. Did I get catcalled by a stranger? Yes. Will I go alone to a gig again? Most definitely. Once the music starts, the entire crowd and you are focused on listening to quality music and having a good time. There’s a certain kind of magic to experiencing something like that all by yourself.
This article was published in our October 2016 issue.