Down on London’s Southside there’s a soul music explosion. Harking back to the 80s/90s warehouse parties, this is an all-night soul affair from The South London Soul Train collective, and I hitched a ride tonight for a night to cook up moments of sweet nostalgia.
But rather than this just being a four-floor extravaganza of soul music, there was a live performance by California-born, Portsmouth, Virginia-settled Lady Wray, a lady of relative youth, but with a warm understanding of old soul; the kind that makes you feel alive, loved and hugged and safe and secure.
Possibly lost on the gentrified audience of Millennials’, Lady Wray’s prompt 12.30am showtime seemed a distraction to a relatively youthful audience not weaned on having the history of great soul music to fall back on - of which there was much, thanks to two switched-on DJs, who played everything from The Honeycones' "Stick Up" to Cheryl Lynn's "Got To Be Real."
Lady Wray came on in a khaki/ safari lady suit with matching hat, looking as lovely as she does on her publicity photos. She was engaging, chatty and smiley as she took us through some of her latest album, “Queen Alone,” and the venue filled with the kind of soul that no one is prepared to either sing or market these days. Warm, deep, lush melodies, soulful strings and larger-than-life horns combined with Wray’s impressive vocal range, were the order of her 50-minute set. There was a feeling of church, of gospel, as she sang a series of sometimes painful, sometimes frank autobiographical songs, sharing them with an audience who hadn’t probably experienced that much “life” as yet. While a large fan hummed behind me and a cool breeze hit the back of my neck, I could feel a sense of wellbeing as I fixed my eyes on Wray’s performance, which led to a few goosebumps.
It was as if old soul combined with the new. In any other venue it might have looked out of place - an anachronism - but in Lady Wray’s talented hands, it became a beacon for nostalgia, where so much soul and R&B plays second fiddle to the aggressive basement rock of Trap, Grime and hip-hop, as mere cameo, or clichéd fodder to calm down the rob-a-deli thud of so much bass-heavy music.
Not tonight. Real soul got its voice back and its leading exponent is Lady Wray. Her success proves there’s a market for this kind of music, and sometimes when we’re amped and a bit crazy, we know that there’s a time to chill and reflect. It was a pleasure and a privilege to do that this evening, in the company of a singer who has relative youth, but with the vocal noodling to be the next Mary J Blige by way of Aretha Franklin.