Award winning singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka took to Bristol’s SWX for the release of his new album, Kiwanuka. His last two projects were certified gold, so we went along for the LP launch to see if three really is a charm.
Every fan in attendance had picked up a CD from Rough Trade along with their ticket. Bundling physical sales with performance fees is a proven method of making money in music, as well as increasing your chances of reaching that number one spot. As a result, Kiwanuka managed to hit second place in the UK charts and is receiving endless critical and commercial success. CDs and ciders in our hands, we waited.
There were no support acts for this “intimate” gig, so many fans had been waiting for hours before Mr Kiwanuka finally smiled onto stage. Emily Holligan and Simone Daley Richards sat on stools ready to start their backing vocals, as well as a bassist and the man himself. Steam from his mug and the stage’s smoke both rose together. Then the opening chords of his recent single ‘You Ain’t The Problem‘ rang through the room. The acoustic version swapped cymbals for shakers, but the song’s message was as bold as ever. This was followed by ‘Hero‘, another encouraging track from the new album.
Humble and charming, Michael Kiwanuka introduced ‘Tell Me A Tale‘ with a tale of his own. He gave an anecdote about being in record shops growing up and wanting to have multiple albums next to his name. He commented on the fact that he’d always wanted to be able to say: “Here’s a song from my first album.” Cue the classic track from two albums back.
Next came a mesmerising rendition of ‘Light‘, (the new album’s closing song), and ‘Rule The World‘ from 2016’s Love & Hate. The vocalists earned cheers for every note they hit, but it was Kiwanuka’s own talents that captivated the crowd most. So, for ‘Solid Ground‘ he was alone on stage, exchanging his Gibson for a keyboard as the others retired off stage. Raw and heartfelt, the song’s emotion resonated with the stunned audience.
‘Rest‘ from his debut album then followed, before he thanked everyone for coming out and supporting the release. Then came ‘Cold Little Heart‘, to many woops and smartphone cameras. It’s the theme tune for HBO’s Big Little Lies, and perhaps one of the singer’s most iconic songs. He closed the set with a rousing performance of ‘Love & Hate‘, leaving everyone singing the song on loop. However, time appeared to come sooner than anticipated, with the soul star leaving before the hour was up. No amount of “One more song” chants could get him back, and the lights came up, confirming the no-encore-news.
There is no doubting Michael Kiwanuka’s ability to write and perform phenomenal music; every song seemed to be sung from his core. If only the show had more.
Written by: James Wijesinghe