Sampha + PAULi — Albert Hall, Manchester
summertime, and festival season is in full effect. Whilst the big boys such as Glastonbury, Parklife, Wireless and Leeds Fest, will, and please, don’t excuse this pun, bask in it, take centre stage. It’s important to note that all throughout the country there are more low-key intimate festivals for you to spend your unpredictable British summer.
The Manchester International Festival is just one of them, launched in June 2007, taking place every 2 years; the festival sees 18 days of music and everything that comes with it played at various hot spots throughout the city of Manchester from the likes of New Order amongst others.
One of the others was the man with a voice that made angels weep, Sampha. Fresh off the release of his outstanding debut album ‘Process’ and currently making his rounds through the festival circuits, after appearing at Parklife, Glastonbury and now back in Manchester at the gorgeous Albert Hall.
The mood was loud and vibrant the crowd was mixed, as ever in this beautiful city, a blend of wide eyed, relieved, trendy students celebrating the end of exams and assignments and even trendier older folk looking to enjoy a night of expressive soul.
The opening act, Pauli bounced on to the staged, almost unrecognized with his casual getup, until he began fiddling with his Launchpad that heralded an explosion of offbeat drum patterns and loops that he manipulated with on the fly.
There was a disconnect as he launched into his set however, the 28 year old certainly wasn’t lacking in all the fundamentals for a “good” show, to say he was energetic would be an understatement, his personality shone through, he hopped, skipped and skanked through his set, if you vibed with him, he’d point at you, wink or give you a shout out, very endearing, but ultimately, if the person having the most fun is the performer, it doesn’t bode well. There’s a fine line that artists have to walk when being experimental, especially a relatively unknown one, it’s a tight rope, one way too left and you lose the support net that is a burgeoning fan base that you’re gunning for, his set was disjointed at best, it felt like watching an extremely gifted hyperactive child, left to his devices, some things came off, his song Believe really hits the spot of feel good R’n’B and was one of the few moments were he was able to muster collective participation from the audience. Unfortunately, everything else just left you bemused, unsure what to do with him, not helped by the incredibly short time spent with him, with only 3 songs being played. Guidance is needed, and a more consistent sound or style is too, one that hopefully, will get him the devoted following that his brimming personality deserves.
Pauli was fighting himself to be heard, Sampha is too, but for different reasons, Paulli through his instrumentation, Sampha through self-therapy. The hall had filled to the brim by the time it was Sampha’s turn to take stage, the more bodies that piled in, the warmer the air got, the less space there was to be found, leave for a toilet break at your own peril, your eagle height vantage spot giving you a direct view of the stage will most definitely be nabbed by enthusiastic concert goers with pints in hand and not a semblance of care about your loss, it was time.
I thought I knew what to expect for my first ever live Sampha gig, mellowed out melodrama, was what I expected to feel, expected to feel the desperation for connection that was packed into his music, that made you want to reach out and touch him, he was definitely close enough to do so now. That’s what we got for the most part, his opening rendition of Plastic was, well, melting. His voiced pierced through the atmosphere with beautiful serenity, people sat, stood and swayed at attention to his otherworldly voice. The slow songs were as expected, melodic, ethereal, leaving you in a literal trance. The Up tempo songs however? They were elevated, backed up by his amazing 3 man support act, including opener Pauli on the drums, songs like Blood on Me and Kora’s Song were taken to whole ‘nother level, each song reimagined, to inject some urgency into the crowd and a real party atmosphere took over the place. Sampha’s music usually leaves you emotionally overwhelmed, but he and Pauli made sure that wouldn't be the case that night, it was a night of joy, a time to remenisce and dance our demons away, and boy did we.