Riding on the success of latest single ‘Nitrous’, which has received both commercial airplay and critical acclaim in equal measures, Nick Mulvey started his tour in the humble setting of the Brudenell Social Club games room. With the pool tables pushed to one side behind a makeshift curtain, and some temporary fairy lights strung up behind a stage just big enough for a microphone stand and guitar amp, I realised this was perhaps one of those rare opportunities to see a rising talent on the cusp of bigger things.
First act Sam Fender showcased a promising amount of talent, coupled with a disarmingly self-deprecating stage presence that kept the audience on his side. His bluesy, finger-picked guitar style, presided over by a voice that betrayed his relatively tender age of 19, led to an accomplished performance that suggests great things in the future. Second act Rhodes’ approach to songwriting was somewhat sparser, with relatively simple arrangements that left plenty of room for his reverb-laden guitar and soaring vocals to carry the songs. The impromptu decision of the audience to remain sitting on the floor during the support acts lent the first half of the night a cosy campfire atmosphere, leading Rhodes to exclaim “well this is very quaint” as he tuned up.
Nick Mulvey took to the tiny stage with little fanfare – he simply picked his guitar up and got on with the show. This set the precedent for the rest of the night: no moments of grandeur, just a quietly self-assured delivery of some truly staggering musicianship and thoughtful songwriting. Opening track ‘April’, from his debut EP The Trellis, displayed Mulvey’s obvious love of repetition, bringing to mind some of the more Steve Reich-influenced moments from his Portico Quartet days. In this new stripped-back musical context, the focus on repetition becomes more hauntingly captivating, as his drawn out vocal melodies meander across the chord changes. Mulvey’s musical heritage, from his time in Portico Quartet, to his days as an ethnomusicology student at SOAS, still clearly inform his more accessible guise as a singer-songwriter.
In contrast to Rhodes’ set, which relied heavily on his vocal performance, Mulvey’s command of the guitar and deep understanding of songwriting were the main attraction, with his voice often coming secondary. His semi-spoken verses and unwillingness to hide his accent made him all the more likeable as a performer though. There were moments where he used this to great effect, for instance during the yet-to-be-released ‘Cucurucu’, with his onomatopoeic description of “the boom of the tingling strings” of his mother’s piano. One of the strongest tracks on his new record, ‘Juramidam’, was unsurprisingly the standout moment of the night as well. Mulvey flawlessly recreated the complex guitar lines, whilst maintaining a solid groove – no mean feat when playing without percussion accompaniment. The strongest crowd reactions were to an inspired cover of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, and latest EP title track ‘Fever to the Form’. The latter’s infectious chorus was the perfect blend of Mulvey’s pop sensibilities and more leftfield influences. A very low key version of ‘Nitrous’ buried in the middle of the set may have been somewhat disappointing to those expecting the more triumphant slow burner of the recorded version, but the personal, laid back rendition certainly didn’t lose him any fans.By Jacob Harrison