Saturday 25th January
Leicester singer Mahalia
By Mark Granger
Mahalia Presents, for those who were wondering, is the brainchild of Leicester singer songwriter Mahalia.
A canny way of providing regular gigs for herself while introducing artists from around the country to the Leicester scene.
The first Mahalia Presents of 2014 is a triple bill of singer songwriter goodness that kicks off with Ilkeston born Leicester adoptee Matt Henshaw who begins his set with ‘Your Eyes Are Made Of Gold‘, it’s gentle acoustic picking and Matt’s powerful soul vocals drawing the crowd in from the off.
From that point the majority of the crowd are transfixed on the man and his guitar, his songs being taken to another level by the pure passion he injects into every syllable. Matt dedicates ‘As A Matter Of Fact‘, a catchy pop inflected ditty, to his ‘missus’ who is in the crowd that night before ending on the emotional ‘It Ain’t Easy‘ safe in the knowledge that he’s leaving the stage having gained a few new fans.
Tonight’s curator Mahalia is next, accompanied by her dad James on guitar and percussionist Zizi on, well, percussion. Mahalia’s set is varied, veering between popier moments like ‘Boomerang Boy‘ and more soulful pieces such as ‘Let The World See The Light‘.
Like Matt before her, Mahalia gets the crowd on her side early on and commands a stage presence that belies her young age. As a result, the crowd is silent and attentive for the gentle acoustic pop of ‘Marry Me‘ but claps along enthusiastically during the as yet untitled ‘Clappy Song‘.
Then it’s Fiona Bevan‘s turn. Although performing regularly on the London gig scene for some years Fiona is a prolific songwriter who has been creating her own brand of folk, jazz and soul inflected pop from a young age. With a few independent releases under her belt, 2014 will see the release of her first studio album and we are treated to some cuts from it tonight including the jazzy ‘Rebel Without A Cause‘ and the beautiful alt-pop of first single ‘The Machine‘.
Fiona’s performance is captivating experience, with her eyes shut she gets lost somewhere in the music inviting the audience along for the ride. Her paean to insomnia that is ‘Us & The Darkness‘ and the heartbreaking ‘Dial D For Denial‘ close her brief but effective set, leaving the crowd wanting more. With any justice 2014 should be Fiona Bevan’s for the taking.
All three artists treated us to something special tonight making sure that Mahalia Presents has set the bar high for live music in 2014.
After the show Mark Granger talked to Mahalia
The Cookie is almost full tonight and 15 year old Leicester singer songwriter Mahalia takes to the stage for the first of 2014’s Mahalia Presents concerts with the assured stage presence of a seasoned performer.
The last two years have been something of a whirlwind for Mahalia, after the release of her 2012 E.P- ‘Headspace‘ – she says “things just sped up”; Which is somewhat of an understatement, last year saw her on the same bill as Rizzle Kicks and Labrinth at the Royal Albert Hall, add to that, support slots with Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula and Mahalia has notched the kind of experience that would make performers twice her age jealous.
So she must have been some kind of childhood prodigy then? Well, not exactly. “When I was younger I was really into a lot of sports,” says Mahalia, “I never got into picking up an instrument or writing songs until I was like, twelve” Which is not really one foot in the grave when it comes to starting music but it’s not as if she didn’t have the influence around her either.
“Both my parents are musicians (and) they were always gigging so I was constantly around someone on stage” and she also credits her school music teacher saying she “got me into writing, playing guitar and singing.”
Mahalia has been away from Leicester for a while, so she and her parents sat down and thought of something to do in their hometown and Mahalia Presents was born.
“This was the best way to bring in a crowd from where I’m from so that people I grew up around and friends and family could see what was going on and how I was developing. The whole ‘Mahalia Presents‘ thing is also a way to bring artists from outside (Leicester) and bring them here.”
The events are also a clever way of getting herself out there, a lot of artists in Mahalia’s position might be inclined to sit back and wait for something to come to them but as she says “I’m in the last part of my GCSEs so music-wise it’s down. Which is why the gigs are so important, so there’s always something going on.”
Gigs and exams aren’t the only thing on Mahalia’s mind however; she’s come to a point where she has that all important debut album to think about.
“I’m in the midst of working out what I want my album to be like, how I want it to sound, how I want it to represent me. This next year is working out what that’s going to be (and we’re) hoping for a release this time next year, or to (have something) ready.” As for the writing, “70% I do myself at home, or with my Mum and Dad or brother. I also do co-writes which is good for developing your own writing because you get other people input and that works for me.”
So with Mahalia Presents set to be a monthly occurrence in 2014 and plans for an album in full swing it looks like we’ll be hearing much more from Mahalia in the next few years.