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Eska - Stables, Milton Keynes, 26/11/2015

  by Owen Peters

published: 5 / 2 / 2016

Eska - Stables, Milton Keynes, 26/11/2015


Owen Peters travels to Milton Keynes to see Mercury-nominated singer Eska, but is left wondering whether he's come to the right place

Admission time: I have been known to turn up at gigs on the wrong day, sometimes even the wrong venue. When driving into the Stables Theatre car park north of Milton Keynes with around 20 minutes left before what I believe to be showtime, there are few vehicles claiming parking spaces. I'm starting to think my date/venue dyslexia has struck again. Tonight's performer is Eska, the recently Mercury-nominated singer-songwriter. It's only once I'm inside the venue that I can confirm with the reception desk that I am in fact in the right place, at the right time and on the right day. Unfortunately, not many other people have joined me. This time last week I was at the other end of Buckinghamshire watching Show of Hands play to over 700 people in Aylesbury. Tonight the turnout is in the region of 40, resulting in a subdued atmosphere - to put it kindly. Support act Laura Groves plays a 40-minute set based around life through the emotions of a singer-songwriter via keyboards and electric guitar. With very little communication between herself and the "audience" she’s met with polite applause which doesn't do much to lift the lethargic mood. The Zimbabwe-born and Lewisham-raised Eska Mtungwazi has been working as a session singer for the best part of a decade, but it’s her debut album, 'Eska', released on her own record label Naim Edge, which has brought her to the public's attention. Throughout the evening she works hard. Looking out at the size of audience, she tells us: "This is like going back to when I first started, playing house gigs. I like the intimacy." No sooner is she on stage than she’s off stage singing to the folks in the front row. Roots, funk, soul and a touch of gospel are offered in equal measure when she dips into tracks from the album. 'Gatekeeper' and 'So Long Eddy' demonstrate her depth and the range of her vocal dexterity which particularly comes out when she's covering the balladeering-type melodies. With 'Heroes and Villians' she’s strutting her stuff, taking us through her reggae dance moves always with a smile. Throughout the set Eska is playful, amusing and not without moments of self-mockery. She openly admits CDs are not available tonight, as she’s left them at home in her living room. When taking up the banjo she soon works out her wrist bangles and bracelets are going to make it nigh-on impossible to play the instruments. At this point she’s in fits of laughter: "This is what happens when you're a victim to fashion." The backing trio of percussionist plus lead and bass guitar provide a tight groove to 'This is How a Garden Grows' and I'm sure that, in other venues in which she's able to ride the excitement of a larger crowd, the climbing scale of the do-wops and be-bops would be gratefully received, although here in Milton Keynes they went on for a wee bit too long. Even the demographics were somehow out of kilter with expectations. I'm sure the marketing folks would say Eska is pitched at the mid 20s/early 30s age group, but most people at the Stables definitely fit the classification of being middle-aged. It’s as though the audience had been bused into the venue having just watched "Bridge of Spies". By anyone's standards this was a strange old night. In a different venue and with the larger crowd she's clearly used to, Eska's stage persona and music is sure to win over new converts. To her credit, she played this one like the the place was full. Maybe next time.

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Eska - Stables, Milton Keynes, 26/11/2015

Eska - Stables, Milton Keynes, 26/11/2015

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