Estelle and Laura Izibor - Manchester Academy 2

Yes, officially we're here for support act Laura Izibor but it would be criminal to ignore tonight's headliner. Estelle, who in 2008 has surely had all of her Cristmas presents early, takes the stage with the unfazed swagger of someone who knows their time has come. After skulking on the sidelines for far too long, all that early promise seemingly thrown away, it took a bit of 'influence' from those minnows Kanye West and John Legend to get her back on track. New deal in hand and US promotion aplenty, the resulting mercury-nominated 'Shine' was everything modern soul so often is not - intelligent and bursting with tunes. Tonight, backed by the goddamn smoothest band I've seen in years, she brings a packed Academy to its knees. Pleasingly characterful - okay, gobby - between songs, she seems untainted enough by her stateside shennanigans, managing the crowd like an old-timer. By the time she's built up a head of steam, 'American Boy' sends the place berserk. But it's a stirring blast through '1982', the calling card that could so easily have been her swansong, that does it for me. Shine ? Brighter than I'd imagined.

Prior to that, Dublin's Laura Izibor gives every indication that she'll be back here on her own sooner rather than later. Frankly, because she seems almost too good to be true, there are doubts to allay. Certainly, her regular exposure across all manner of film and TV soundtracks along with Estelle-like hobnobbing (she supports Aretha Franklin in New York shortly after this gig) raises suspicions. That said, she's so captivating onstage you can forgive her anything. The four songs that showed up on an advance EP a while back - the debut album follows in 2009 - are all aired tonight and the spare, beautifully under-produced songs breath with a live band behind them. Comparisons to Alicia Keys (nearly there, actually - maybe she too would have sounded this free if she hadn't been through the American machine) and Lauryn Hill are over-cooked and, frankly, unfair but clearly the likes of 'Shine', with thumping piano that most definitely recalls Hill's 'Doo Wop (That Thing)'. The stirring ballad 'If Tonight is my Last' and the stunning 'Don't Stay' are going to attach themselves to the airwaves in 2009 and never let go. Her enthusiam infects, people really do get into it and she leaves the stage to an ovation befitting a headliner. A double-bill of two-headed duck proportions. Marvellous. On this evidence, British soul is in the rudest of health.

Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:18:45

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