A gig that provided conclusive proof that God is indeed a dancer. In fact, she’s a singer too, and her name is Mabel.
I first encountered Mabel just over two years ago, thanks to her excellent single “Fine Line” which I featured in an early post on this blog. At that point I was impressed by her glittery pop presence, but from her first moment on stage at the Apollo this Wednesday night, it was clear that she has since then been infused with even greater quantities of Star Power, as she breezed through the gig with effortless charm and charisma.
It’s been a good few decades since I’ve found myself inside a gigging crowd largely made up of teenagers, and I was very probably the only person over 40 at this gig who didn’t have a teen daughter in tow. However, any trepidation I might have felt soon melted away as soon as I took my spot in the crowd. The Apollo was full of girls and young women bubbling over with youthful excitement and I have to admit it was a welcome change from the world of blokish bald heads and beer bellies I usually have to wade through at indie gigs by my 90s faves.
Mabel came on stage at 9pm to a euphoric reception as she threw some iconic poses on an elevated platform while her dancers stomped about below her. Starting with “Mad Love”, every song was greeted by the adoring crowd with intense enthusiasm, every word sung along with as though lives depended on it.
With just one album and one mixtape behind her, Mabel is already in possession of an impressively strong back catalogue. “Mad Love” was an infectious belter of an opener which set the tone for the whole gig of one stormingly fantastic pop tune after another, from the vibrantly catchy “Selfish Love” to the epic power balladery of “Trouble” and the strident propelling rhythms of “God Is A Dancer”. With a backdrop of simple yet effective visuals ranging from a text conversation to ethereal flowers, and a troupe of black-clad dancers bouncing through a series of energetic routines, the main focus was still always upon Mabel and her superstar-ready presence. I’ll be hugely surprised if she’s not headlining the O2 by this time next year.
And despite feeling conspicuously old in the youthful crowd, it was so much fun to be in a room full of people who just want to scream and dance and sing. No moshing, no aggression, just happy, happy times. Even the sea of iPhones that popped up at the more exciting moments didn’t feel annoying or intrusive, because this is how people in their teens and 20s celebrate and connect and feel part of things. It felt like an organic and natural part of the experience rather than a hindrance.
One such phone-waving moment came when Mabel introduced a string of special guests. I will admit that I’d been hoping that one particular special guest might appear – Mabel’s mum Neneh Cherry, perhaps to perform a duet of “Buffalo Stance” with her daughter. But of course, the special guests were much more youthful in nature, which is just how it should be, even if it left me a little perplexed as to who was being greeted with such raptures by the throng. First to come was Notes to sing “My Lover”, and I was at least able to guess who he was down to my familiarity with “Fine Line”. However for the next song “Cigarette” Mabel was joined by first one, then a second fellow female singer (who I later learned were Raye and Stefflon Don, and both fabulous) which enticed ever more fervent screams of excitement of the crowd while I just had to laugh at my own ignorance as I danced to their infectious tune.
The atmosphere at this gig of warmth and good times can surely be attributed in a large part to Mabel herself, whose easy friendliness and connection with her crowd was a delight to see in one with so much star power. A moment that exemplified this compassion came after the first chorus of “Fine Line” when Mabel had to stop the music after spotting a fan in distress in the front row. Instead of waiting for security to deal with it, she leapt down without hesitation to come to fan’s aid herself.
The best thing about this gig, for me, was that it was a testament to the almighty power that pop music still has, even now, to young people who’ve never seen a CD or who wonder where the ‘on’ button is on a cassette. It doesn’t matter how they listen: what matters is that they do, and that it matters to them. And nothing matters more than that.