Harleighblu album launch – Nottingham Contemporary, Friday October 18
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, the promoters of Harleighblu’s Friday night album launch at Nottingham Contemporary, chose their support acts wisely. First up was local lad Ady Suleiman, who is also enjoying a landmark year, with appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and on the Radio One playlist. Accompanied by Ed Black on guitar, and performing without the safety net of a rhythm section, he delivered a crisp set of acoustic R&B that showcased an impressive vocal command and a razor-sharp sense of timing.
Special guest MC Supernatural – a veteran of the New York hip hop scene, who holds the world record for the longest continuous freestyle rap – charmed the swelling crowd with a warm-hearted and hugely entertaining display of his skills. His quickfire impersonations of Busta Rhymes, Slick Rick, Biggie Smalls and DMX drew roars of laughter, as did his closing freestyle session, in which he grabbed items from the crowd – lipstick, beer, vaseline, you name it – and incorporated them into his non-stop rhymes, never missing a beat.
Interrupting an effusive opening speech from organiser Parisa Eliyon, for fear of bursting into tears before the show had even started, Harleighblu strode onto the stage wreathed in smiles, and eager to entertain. This was her second album launch of the week – “we’ve got London out of the way” – and the 21 year-old’s delight was plain to see. “I’ve even seen my liitle bobble head in HMV”, she grinned, gazing wide-eyed at the packed room and declaring that “this is absolutely mental”.
Released last Monday, Harleighblu’s debut album Forget Me Not is a shrewdly sequenced collection, which divides into two contrasting halves. At the start, we find her struggling to set herself free from a toxic relationship with a charismatic and charming cheater. Wise to all his tricks, and refusing to play the role of victim, she nails him with devastating eloquence. In the second half, as the mood switches from gritty funk to swooningly orchestrated neo-soul, a new love enters her life, bringing fresh hope for a better future.
Songs such as these require dexterity and range, and it was a delight to witness the singer rising to the challenge with such consummate ease. Opening with the withering Enough Now, and following it with her mocking re-interpretation of Annie Lennox’s Who’s That Girl, she commanded the stage, expertly fusing the roles of soul diva and jazz chanteuse. Her regular six-piece band surrounded her, supporting her vocal flights with empathy and precision.
Ending the eight-song set on a gentle note with the wistful Let Me Be, the players returned for a thrillingly funky extended jam. Joining them on stage, Supernatural took on the role of musical director, coaxing the band members into unscripted breakdowns and solos, and making the homecoming homegirl blush with his tributes: “Nottingham’s queen… better than Amy Winehouse!”
It was a suitably climactic end to a triumphant show, celebrating Harleighblu’s achievements and launching her career onto the next level. “Absolutely mental”, it might have been – but it was thoroughly deserved, too.