Born to a Greek father and a Jamaican mother, both musicians in their own right, Lianne La Havas was born a proud Londoner. She grew up listening to her parents’ records, with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Stevie Wonder and Ella Fitzgerald providing a rich, deep soundtrack to her childhood. It is hardly surprising then that whilst La Havas’ music is rooted in soul, particularly in her vocals, there are so many other elements at work. It is perhaps her eclecticism, above all else, that as won her praise and fans. Awards have followed in the form of iTunes album of the year and a nomination for the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2012 Poll’.
A natural intimacy is one of La Havas’ great strengths, but transmitting such a sound into a packed Somerset House was never going to be easy. At times she managed it with aplomb, especially with the full backing of her band. Her keenness to get the crowd involved, most notably in a rousing rendition of ‘Forget’, does much to open her often personal style to her audience. Each song feels like an exploration, firmly grounded in her soulful roots but keen to draw on her vast range of influences. The charm in her performance is that it feels like it could go in any direction; a quality that makes her future an exciting one to watch.
However, life was made more difficult when she dismissed her band in favour of her trusty Alden Stratotone. ‘Gone’ was chillingly beautiful with La Havas at her powerful, soulful best. But all too often her sound begged to be back in cosier venues, allowed to exploit its own intimacy. ‘Everything Everything’, a deep, dark treatise on a lover leaving without explanation, begged to be strummed out in a whisky bar of stale cigar smoke and broken dreams. A clever cover of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ felt accomplished, but it failed to serve a purpose. In a set compiled of largely melancholic song writing, with ‘Age’ an entertaining exception, a cover might have been an opportunity for temporary alleviation.
There is no doubting La Havas’ talents but she occasionally lacks the maturity required to carry such a soulful set. When she sings of the hardships of love, her pain is never entirely convincing. Instead, she is at her best when she exploits her smile, natural charm and magnetic personality.
Soul has blessed us with some of the very greatest female voices the world has ever seen; only time will tell if Lianne La Havas will be one of them.