It is a damn tough life being a singer-songwriter, and especially at the moment. Sometimes it feels as though every man woman and animal has stepped from their steamy shower, plugged their guitar in and recorded a few demos to be put online. These are inevitably followed by guilty but gushing praise from friends and family and lead to a belief that they can all be like the stars on x-factor. The reality is that while it easier to ‘get out there’ it is harder than ever to rise above the chaff and make something of your “talent”. This has led to a situation where those that do step beyond the open-mic have got the have something special - probably a few things.
Nick Mulvey is quite special – a tare amongst the grass. Firstly he has a voice that is unavoidably hypnotic. I don’t think you will find anyone out there with a sweeter hum than Mulvey. He is also a wonderful guitarist and he knows how to use two things perfectly. The combination of his nylon stringed guitar and resonant voice creates a tone of stirring and warming perfection.
Mulvey’s background is as a backing vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. He played with Portico Quartet where he played the ‘hang drum’ - a rare instrument that can be likened to a steel drum, but produces a unique clang and ding. He uses this in his solo compositions, too. With the foundation as a instrumentalist in an experimental band he has the ability to create fantastically accomplished and unique sounding songs. This too sets him aside from most acoustic guitar wielding singer-songwriters.
He was playing in XOYO, supported by Fiona Bevan and Rhodes. He played solo, and this gives a different angle on his songs. On his recent EP ‘Fever To The Form’ he plays with a band, and I think it sounds brilliant. As an observer adjusting to a solo performance can take a little while, but if it is delivered well then the songs can take on a rawer feel that exposes the essence of what they are about. This is exactly what Mulvey’s performance felt like. Without the shield of production and extra instruments it felt as though we were looking at the core of the songs – as if naked.
The best way I can sum up his performance is hypnotic, dreamy and absorbing. You’ll struggle not to be transported into an otherworldly state of relaxed happiness at one of his shows. Songs seem to blend smoothly, as if being moved by the crest of a slow travelling wave. Juramidam, a song from his EP, was played beautifully and with virtuosity. His guitar playing is, at times, incredible.
Our trip was at its highest during Fever To The Form the title track of his EP and my favourite of his songs. He managed to build the dynamic of the song into a strumming frenzy at the end that had the (intentionally) subdued crowd moving like it was 1969. This preceded a one-song encore before he departed to a crowd waking from a 70 minute long blissful stupor. During this period we went through tribal Africa, all together and part of a ritualistic ayahuasca fuelled ceremony - constructed by repetitive and earthy sounding guitar strums and patterns. We were picked through melodies of subtle perfection and we were hummed and sung through Mulvey’s dreamlike stories.
It must have been a tough decision to leave the already-successful Portico Quartet and strike out alone. I am sure that a hundred adoring friends have told him that he has what it takes, and for once I don’t think that there needed to be any lip biting, pretense or falsity. Mulvey has got something very special indeed. It is a tough part of a tough world that he is walking into, but I hope he believes the praise.