By Charlie Hill
The Union Chapel is a weird old venue. Or maybe it’s just weird to see a gig while sober. Being a part-time religious institution, this high-vaulted church forbids its punters from drinking during the show. If you have to have a drink though, there is a bar built onto the side of the chapel like some kind of alcohol-related tumor. It has the decor of a school cafeteria and there’s a distinct air of Catholic guilt to the place, but there is alcohol. Most people flocked there in between the acts, more concerned with maintaining their blood alcohol level than keeping their unreserved seats. Forgoing a beer, I got myself a seat right in the middle of the second row. If this had been a church service, I’d be that keen bean Grandma that says inappropriate things about the new vicar because of her repressed homosexuality.
This was meant to be about the music.
Fatima, because that is who we were there to see, could go toe-to-toe with any soul great you could name. She has the range of Whitney Houston and the insane energy of Mariah Carey. Backed by just a jazz trio and two backing singers, she brought so much energy that the whole crowd were on their feet, awkwardly gyrating in the space between the pews. On record, her sound is much more produced, jittery with samples and glitching drums symptomatic of that Gilles Peterson Jazz-House fusion sound. Live they didn’t need any of that. The songs were loose and slow, building with thick harmony that swung like a sledgehammer. And she was playful with it – not just in her stage banter about how easy it is to blaspheme in a church and how she wasn’t sure she even believed in God and how this definitely wasn’t the place to be raising those questions – but with the songs too. She would slow things down, speed things up, throw in an extra chorus, or go off on an improvised exploration of her formidable range.
Her band were right there with her in all of it. The three of them were so tight that when the drummer dropped a beat at the start of Do Better it became a syncopated motif that was carried through the whole song. His slick grooves combined with the effortless fluttering of the bass and the crunchy synth tones got everyone moving, no matter how inappropriately white or sober they were for the music.
Then she had to go and prove she didn’t need any of them. Bringing to bear the full acoustic brilliance of that gothic architecture, Fatima melted my brain with her acapella solo Rest in Peace. Pretty sure I died and went to heaven.
Featured image: Union Chapel