Michael Kiwanuka – Rough Trade at SWX, Bristol

Thursday 7th November, 2019

I was supposed to be at a pair of keyboard festival event gigs at St George’s but you do not miss the opportunity to see and hear Michael Kiwanuka, you just don’t. Especially when it is at the, for him, small venue of SWX. His new album has just been released (buy it, it is superb) and this was a stripped back show to support that. Anyone else would have played in the Rough Trade live room, but Michael could have sold that out 5 times over, so SWX stepped in.

I saw Michael two years ago as part of 40 gigs, on his 30th birthday, and it was one of the highlights of the year; it was a special night. I was there then with Janine, who I was also with tonight. We quickly made some new friends who had travelled up from Exeter and found a spot near the front.

There was no support, just Michael, two backing vocalists and acoustic guitar/bass. When you have a voice as great at Michael that really is all you need. I don’t believe in any God, but when he sings, I can almost feel myself being converted; there has to be some higher power responsible!

There were goosebumps, there were tears, I was mesmerised and in awe of his talent. There were tracks from the new album, but also ones from his first and second too, it felt less like an album launch and more like a fan thank you show. When the opening chords of Rule The World kicked in I couldn’t help myself from gasping in delight; it is one of my absolute favs and the sort of track that worms its way inside you with its brilliance until you cannot get it out of your heart. It simply does things to me. He followed it with Solid Ground and that was it, I was a goner, the tears came and I was well and truly captured. Music is my solid ground.

By the time we were all singing along to Cold Little Heart and Love and Hate I was properly in love with this gig. I wish it had been over an hour long, I wish it could have gone on forever. This is one very special talent. One we should nurture, cherish and hold dear. Michael Kiwanuka is the 21st century soul man, an inheritor of Marvin Gaye and Al Green.

Despite the coldness of the night I had a while to wait for the next bus and so decided to wait to see if I could meet Michael and get him to sign my copy of the album. I was intending to stay maybe 20 minutes, but I got chatting to Alex and Martin and the next thing I knew it had been over an hour and by that point I was unable to feel my feet it was so cold! It was worth the wait as Michael was humble, sweet, gentle and really lovely. My album is signed twice over and I have the thrill of knowing I met an artist I really admire. Being able to give thanks for the music that means so very much to me is one of the reasons I keep writing. Thank you, Michael for taking the time to talk to us four who had braved the cold and for your music. It touches and moves me deeply. I hope I get to see you play live again one day, that voice is truly a special one to hear live.

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