"This song is very special to me," says Emeli Sandé. It’s something you’ll hear her say a lot tonight. The night, of course, is also special, and it goes without saying how special we, the fans who have made all this possible, are.
For the most part, the queenly presence of Sandé and her wonderfully bright and brave voice serve to make this feel true. The fact that this is the first of three sold-out nights suggests that there are plenty of people out there who like to feel special to Emeli.
Her high-drama stuff is made for Olympically grand stages, and once we’re past a momentum-losing reggae take on "Where I Sleep", she steps up with her rendition of "Read All About It", the song written for Professor Green about his father’s suicide, building up slowly to a huge climax of cataclysmically crashing drums. When she begins the performance of "Breaking The Law", it seems that she’s impossibly overegged it, until she reaches into her emotion-basket with that enormous voice and pulls-out a double-yolker.
Other songs, though, muffle their impact in a generalised sort of schmaltz. "River", from her huge-selling debut Our Version Of Events, strays into the maudlin (“I’ll do all the running for you”), as does "Suitcase", her very own "Big Yellow Taxi" which begins stripped-back performance but is soon ruined by naff soft-rock drums.
New song "This Much Is True", written for her husband, connects truer with more sense of lived experience. "Half Of It", too, recorded by Rihanna as "Half Of Me", takes its inspiration from skewed television coverage of the 2011 riots but broadens out into a powerful song about feeling misinterpreted, underestimated. It seems to be a theme Sandé warms to readily; the comparatively raw "Clown" (accompanied by off-key but impassioned howls from the rapturously sardined crowd) relates her experiences trying to get a break as a singer-songwriter, suffering the slings and arrows of the indifferent, heartless music industry.
If Sandé stayed a little closer to those sorts of feelings rather than indulging the cheap uplift of the likes of the self-helpy "Wonder" and the icky sentiment of "Beneath Your Beautiful", she could be a great singer as well as a hugely popular one; the finale of the exuberant "Next To Me" is undeniable. Special is something you can’t force, and with pipes and songwriting skill like hers, Sandé doesn’t need to.