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Image for Keeping the dream alive at Canterbury Festival

Article by Neill Barston | 9th October 2019

Keeping the dream alive at Canterbury Festival

From gracing one of the main stages of the Glastonbury Festival, through to winning an Ivor Novello award, Laura Mvula has true musical pedigree, as The Canterbury INDEX discovers speaking to her ahead of her Canterbury Festival appearance this month, plus we catch up with Festival director Rosie Turner.

I haven’t played Canterbury before as a solo artist, but I was glad to see the archbishop is now following me on social media,” says Laura Mvula, as she reflects on her highly eventful career to date. Whether the Most Reverend Justin Welby will be among the audience for her headlining Canterbury Festival slot on 23rd October is hard to say, yet she has amassed plenty of fans around the world for her gospel-infused R and B.

Over the past five years Laura has achieved critical acclaim culminating in a prized Ivor Novello songwriting award for the second of her two albums. Having burst on to the music scene in 2013 after securing a major record deal with Sony, her debut album, Sing to the Moon, swiftly made the top 10 charts. The singer’s powerful vocals, which have been likened to Nina Simone, have seen her lauded by major international artists, including the late Prince. Though her rise to prominence was far from overnight, she says hailing from a creative family, including a brother and sister who are also professional musicians working for chart artists, was a key factor.

“We were raised musically very openly, where Michael Jackson was as important to us as Handel’s Messiah,” she recalls of her formative years, which included studying musical composition at university in Birmingham.

But despite an early burst of success, by her own admission the past few years have proved deeply challenging, suffering anxiety attacks and the pressures of the music industry contributing to the breakdown of her marriage.

Consequently, she admits, her second album was emotionally raw. But as Laura reveals, it has been a question of having little choice but using sheer willpower and support of family and friends to find a way forward. “The past two-and-a-half years have been a definite transitional stage in my life, but I’m about to get back out there with writing and recording a new album,” reflects the singer, who says she was very heartened to receive support from chart star Sam Smith, who recently tweeted a screen shot of one of her tracks, Show Me Love. The Dreaming Room was a very honest album, and at the time I was still trying to make sense of all that had happened since my debut.

“But it was magical to have been able to play with such a musician as Nile Rodgers of Chic on my single, Overcome. I actually sent the demo track to Prince to get his opinion, and he said how much he wanted to play on it – so much so he actually went and recorded his own version,” she recalls of the album. Despite its strength, it did not receive the same level of promotional backing as her first work, and it failed to match its commercial success.

Sadly for Laura, the situation led to her record label passing on retaining her contract.

“I think weirdly, being dropped by Sony actually helped me, as it meant a lot of record companies were then asking about what I was doing. But it was amazing to have won the Ivor Novello – I had wondered if someone had been paid off for that. But then I just thought, yes, I actually do deserve it, this album is fire,” laughs the singer, who adds that she feels privileged to have had the opportunities she has enjoyed.

Now in her early 30’s, she’s taking things in her stride and the future does indeed look bright after gaining a new record deal with Stormzy and Ed Sheeran’s label, Atlantic.

“I’m excited that I have that kind of engine power behind me with the new deal, so I think this next record is actually going to be massive and give me room to do what I need to do,” asserts Laura with a renewed sense of self-belief. Watch this space indeed for something very special as she makes her Canterbury Festival debut.

A truly diverse international festival

An eclectic mix of leading music acts, theatre, comedy, talks and arts performances will ensure this year’s Canterbury Festival is one to remember. From the likes of chart-topping pop troubadour Jack Savoretti, fast-rising country duo Ward Thomas, Paul Young’s Los Pacaminos, Juan De Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars, through to a stunning opening from The Sixteen choir and orchestra performing Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 performed in the cathedral nave, there’s something for everyone.

One of the festival favourites, Australian circus act Casus, will be returning to perform in the evocative Spiegeltent which will form a memorable backdrop for two weeks of performances, including shows by local schoolchildren.

As Festival director Rosie Turner explained, it’s been a truly rewarding experience watching the event become stronger and more diverse. There have been a number of logistical challenges, and this year is no exception with no Arts Council funding (which has previously been around £200,000), and an incident of fraud committed against the festival trust. 2019’s event has had an unusually testing build-up.

However, it’s very much a case of “the show must go on” and as Rosie explains, there’s been a fabulous team involved in running the festival, including technical and support staff at its numerous venues around the city.

“We’re really excited to get Jack Savoretti for this year’s festival, and perhaps even more so with Laura Mvula – she’s such a credible artist. I turned 60 this year and this is now year 16 for me – there’s always something more to be done with it. I think the loyalty of the audience really makes it special, which has been quite extraordinary.

“We are always seeking to extend and diversify our audience, but at the heart of that audience are a group of people who will take risks with us in supporting new initiatives such as the Spiegeltent and who come to events because we tell them that they shouldn’t miss them,” explained the director, who added that it is only fitting that such an inspiring city as Canterbury should play host to an event celebrating the best of local and international arts talent.

• Laura Mvula plays the Marlowe Theatre on Wednesday 23rd October. Tickets £29-£42 at marlowetheatre.com. For the full festival programme, visit canterburyfestival.co.uk

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