Michael Stafford, better known by his stage name Maverick Sabre, is in the middle of his set when a fight breaks out.
He's just finished performing "No One", which has drawn comparisons with Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" for its smoky, gravelly tones and sentiments of confused, yearning love, and takes a sip of tea. "Nice cuppa tea, rock n roll and all dat" he remarks. Then the fight begins, security close in, but Stafford stops them, "bring 'em up, get 'em up" he raps until the offenders are hauled on stage. "Shake each other's hands, we won't have no fighting in here." They shake, hug and leave, dazed.
Not many successful artists performing to a sell-out gig, whose first album (Lonely Are the Brave) peaked at number two in the UK albums chart, would take time to sort out a kerfuffle, but Stafford is part of a new wave of artists who are on a much more equal footing with their fan base than in the past. Fans tweet him and he tweets back, he invites them to party with him via Facebook and he even live-streamed this gig through his website, for free. Most of all, he seems like a genuinely decent bloke. In plain black T-shirt, jeans and brown loafers, with dance moves like Mr Soft in the Trebor mints adverts from the 80s and a tatty towel to wipe his face when he gets sweaty, he’s the antithesis of a typical posing, bling-encrusted rapper.
Stafford’s singing voice sounds Jamaican, but he says that’s just his County Wexford (Irish) accent coming through. Either way, there’s a definite reggae flavour to his summery single "I Need" and also on "Cold Game", which references Bob Marley among its lyrics about hardship and betrayal. There's soul too, in "I Used to Have it All" a beautiful, soaring tune which shone a spotlight on the singer after he performed it on Later... with Jools Holland in April 2011. It's melancholy but catchy and has the crowd swaying and singing with him. This refreshing connection with the fans is making him increasingly popular. As he performs "They Found him a Gun", the hip-hop bonus track from his album, the band leaves the stage to Stafford's confident, gritty voice and his acoustic guitar. "It's just you and me now" he says, as though each one of the 3000-plus fans is standing on stage, alone with him.
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