This country and in particular, this city, has always had a thing for soul. Maybe, like Detroit, there’s some unique mix between the weather, the people and the history of a long-gone industry. We were devoted to Northern Soul long after it was fashionable and in 2022 it still is not particularly difficult to find a soul night on somewhere in Manchester, the greatest music there ever was, drifting into the cold night air.
Mica is herself a proud Mancunian, as evidenced in the inbetween song talk, where it appears that Maxine Peake turns into Dusty Springfield. This is an album launch night for the album Heaven Knows, and its a hugely celebratory affair, filled with family and friends and well-wishers, the Albert Hall as substitute for a different kind of devotion, which was perfectly apt as the beautiful stained glass and ornate carvings suggest it is not the first time it has been used to testify.
Should she break out, it will be that voice that stands out, absolutely pitch perfect, every held note increasing in volume and power; it is an astonishing instrument, matched by the striking image of a blonde Marlene Dietrich, dressed to walk down a thousand red carpets. The songs are all written and produced by Mica and are all pinpoint technical excellence like forgotten Motown hits you did not know you had forgotten in the first place. Heaven Knows is the latest single, and is the obvious track to plug, given the smooth languid memories it evokes; Lisa Stansfield, Corinne Bailly-Rae, Prince, it is not difficult to imagine it playing from the quiet corners of well-heeled restaurants and glass-fronted offices. In fact, any number of potential breakout tracks, waiting to appear in the latest blockbuster movie: Flashlights, Down River, Girl, and the magnificent Preacher Man, which should be re-released indefinitely until the public simply breaks and accept its genius.
There is a catch in this voice, of both pain and hope, and when she does that thing of hitting a big note in the middle of a vocal line, instead of the standard way of hitting it at the end, the whole room moves closer to the stage. There is a part of No Money Nor Pain (Freedom) when she sounds like Aretha Franklin and George Michael, simultaneously.
This music is timeless, it has no era. There are echoes of jazz, 90’s RnB, and blues to the point where a short guitar solo received a round of applause, there’s Sade, Julie London and Ronnie Spector all in the mix to keep you hooked and paying attention. It does not lack modernism however, the band drilled to perfection and perfectly in time, all looking impossibly youthful for musicians this well-rehearsed.
The seating upstairs is like a Roman amphitheatre, big slabs of white concrete in concentric circles, and judging by the standing ovation received at the end, everyone is indeed entertained. A superstar in waiting, practically guaranteed.
Photos by photographer Paul Wolfgang.