For a musician yet to release his first album, singer songwriter Nick Mulvey has amassed a fair following. Despite it being a midweek show at one of the city’s less central venues, Proud is thronging with fans tonight. Is this the Communion effect, Mulvey as one of the many beneficiaries of Mumford & Sons’ affiliated club and label? Have people followed him since his Hang percussion defined the sound of rhythmic jazz outfit Portico Quartet (whose grassroots appeal, the story goes, helped them sell some 10,000 self-pressed albums in their busking years)? Or do they just like a good tune?
Mulvey wanders onstage with just his acoustic guitar and no fanfare or hello, just a subtle shift into the soft, rippling strum of ‘April’. On record, he keeps things stripped down, with bare touches of keyboard or strings, and live he’s sparser still. The crowd, even those who’ve been loud and lairy earlier in the evening, hang on every word. Fortunately, his lyrics are less fake folk revival and more contemporary in their concerns, although still coloured by images of landscape and nature.
As the following song ‘Juramidam’ demonstrates, Mulvey’s key talent, that which lifts him above many of his fellow troubadours, is his plectrum-free, percussive guitar technique. The song’s overlapping patterns are a matching matrix to his Portico work and his playing draws from his studies in global music, his successes in modern jazz and also a history of club sounds. The appearance of lyrics from Olive’s ‘You’re Not Alone’ in current single ‘Nitrous’ are shadowed by a version of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ (a song we once saw Fife folkie James Yorkston attempt in a Hastings bar with Sussex songwriter Deano Adams), his dextrous flexing following the original’s Giorgio Moroder synth pulse right up to the top of his guitar neck.
An unshowy performer, Mulvey has nevertheless done well on the festival circuit this year and played some big city halls with Laura Marling. That he approaches the singer songwriter role from a musically educated and widely experienced background is a draw in itself. It’ll be interesting to see where his upcoming debut album takes him.
Proud Cabaret Brighton, Wednesday 13th November 2013
Words by Stuart Huggett