The crowd at tonight’s gig, which kicks off Lianne La Havas’ European tour, is probably very pleased that she’s been through a bad relationship.
They don’t actually wish her any malice, in fact, they seem entranced by her honeyed vocals, her warm, wide smile, her expressive, pretty face and her easy banter, but some of her best songs come from experiences with her ex, as she admits, “As much as I dislike him, he’s been a huge inspiration in my song-writing”.
"Age", the single from her Lost & Found EP, won La Havas an immediate following when she played on Later with Jools Holland. It’s about the ex-boyfriend, who treats her badly, and an older man, who is kinder. "Age" is a joyful ditty and she performs it with sagacious humour, singing, “Is it such a problem if he’s old / as long as he does whatever he’s told?” There’s a 1930s jazz vibe to it. Her voice is strong and silken and the music is stripped down so the only accompaniment is ‘Connie’, her guitar.
Tonight, La Havas also performs tracks from her forthcoming album, to be released in May and from her EP, Forget, out in February. Au Cinema is jazzy and lilting; Gone is a ballad about falling for the wrong guy. As she wails “Love’s not blind it’s just deaf and it’s dumb,” she brings out the full self-hatred in the words.
Her sound is hard to pin down. She counts Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Charlene Soraia, Erykah Badu and India Arie among her influences. Her vocals are strong, but light and capable of ethereal heights, like Ella Fitzgerald, Goapele and Sia melded together. In short, she’s a mish mash, but a soulful one.
Trite lyrics become poetic, universal sentiments when she sings them. In the title track of her EP Lost and Found she sings, “You broke me and taught me to truly hate myself” and the words drip with emotion. Her mournful yearning in a cover of Jill Scott’s He Loves Me adds an extra dimension that wasn’t there in the original.
La Havas takes a photo of the room, filled to capacity, and gushes with thanks after each song. She seems overwhelmed by the strength of the crowd’s affection, perhaps because, unlike her ex-boyfriend, we like her just as she is. We just hope she can retain enough angst for the next album.