It’s been a big year for Yola. Her Dan Auerbach produced debut album ‘Walk Through Fire’ was released in February to wide critical acclaim. It has since gone on to be nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best Americana Album’ whilst Yola herself has also been nominated for ‘Best New Artist’. Given the current upward trajectory of her career, most of those arriving for tonight’s show probably realised that this may well be their last chance to see her perform in a small to mid-sized venue.
Backed by an excellent all British five-piece band, Yola took to the stage to an ecstatic welcome and belted out ‘Lonely the Night’ with such power and clarity that nobody would have suspected that she was suffering from a cold. Throughout the performance, sipping on water and tea, Yola’s voice largely held out, her ailment only making a discernible difference in the latter stages. The opener delivered, she strapped on her guitar, which she then played for the majority of the set, and went into ‘Ride Out In The Country’, one of the more country leaning songs from her fabulous country-soul repertoire. What became increasingly evident was that Yola could turn her voice equally well to a country ballad or a soul shouter and deliver them both with equal spirit and panache. So convincing is her voice that she could probably sing a Donald Trump tweet and make it sound like a thing of beauty.
The ‘Walk Through Fire’ album was delivered in its entirety, each song in turn carefully and lovingly introduced, as if she were acquainting the audience with members of her family. The songs were then so perfectly delivered that it almost seems discourteous to pick out highlights. From ‘Shady Grove’ to ‘Faraway Look’ everyone in the room was enthralled. In addition to her album, she also performed a cover of Birds of Chicago’s ‘Never Go Back’ along with ‘What You Do’ from her debut ‘Orphans’ EP. Most intriguing though was ‘I Don’t Want to Lie’, a new song getting it’s first public performance. It was Memphis soul in style – an indication of where she’s heading next perhaps?
With her final song and encore, there was perhaps another hint to where her future focus may lie. Having already achieved some success in the US, you couldn’t help but feel that by covering Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ as her last song and then performing an encore comprising of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and Wayne Carson’s ‘The Letter’, originally a hit for The Box Tops but discovered by Yola via Joe Cocker’s later version, she once more had an eye on appealing to the US market. With her voice beginning to deteriorate and a showcase gig in London to follow, Yola bowed out to a tumultuous ovation. It was hard not to conclude that those present had witnessed not just a remarkable talent, but a true star in the making.
Photography by Leslie Shimmin