Mica Millar – ‘Not The First’ single launch – Live Review
With support from Mali Hayes
The Deaf Institute, Manchester
A singer-songwriter who can captivate the crowd whether backed by a big band or solo on stage with just a keyboard for company – all on the same night – shows strength for sure. That was the work of Mica Millar, who launched her single ‘Not The First’ in Manchester with a gig at The Deaf Institute. Louder Than War’s Emily Oldfield went along to check it out…
Mica Miller is already of high acclaim, with extensive radio play – and expectations were running high. The earlier release of her debut single ‘My Lover’ back in 2017 highlighted her ability to combine stand-out vocals which soar with emotion yet seem effortless, along with heartfelt keys which convey the power of human contact. But could such an artist captivate a very varied audience on a packed-out midweek night at The Deaf Institute?
First up was a 30 minute set from Mali Hayes – a musician from Manchester who had the crowd grooving with a creative combination which put Neo Soul and RnB together. Rather than smashing out sounds with the unruly adrenaline often associated with a support act, Hayes was cool and collected, crafting her tracks with funky vocal flourishes and bringing a brilliant vibe to the room.
‘A joyous upbeat, excellent to jam to…’
I was particularly impressed with how Hayes’ resonant vocals really infused with the instrumentation – at no point did the set appear a struggle of volumes. Rather than drums, the rhythm was provided by soulful keyboard played by George Holliday which created a joyous upbeat, excellent to jam to. Hayes’ performance was also artfully co-ordinated, maintaining the audiences interest as she added guitar of her own later in the tracks, creating a beautifully emotive and accessible sound.
It certainly was a welcome introduction to the wonder that is Mica Millar. Backed by a groovin’ group of musicians and three soulful backing singers, Millar took to the stage, performing spine-tingling tracks which had an anthemic quality, even so early in the set.
This highlighted her ability to have a huge crowd swaying and clicking within a matter of minutes – and refreshingly, although many of her tracks explore deep emotions, like the defiant ‘Defender’, the feelings they bring to the surface have a celebratory quality. Appreciate what you feel, appreciate the hot wonder of your human nature, her music seems to say. It’s good to be emotional.
And her vocals say even more. Her voice doesn’t just seem to swell and saturate the crowd in its ability to explore volumes and pitches, but powerfully crafts waves of emotion in a way that is reminiscent of some of the classic ‘greats’ like Janice Joplin and Tina Turner. She turns over notes with well-sustained strength, whilst also maintaining a soulful edge, proving an artist who is not just appealing to listen to, but will have you moving too.
‘Powerfully crafts waves of emotion…’
Another notable aspect of Millar’s performance was her apparent enjoyment of the experience, smiling to the crowd and communicating with the audience. It was far from just a single launch, as she impressed with nearly an hour and half’s worth of jazz-brushed, emotion-bursting tunes with apparent effortlessness. With the band including Adisa Allen on drums – who at a point brought some blistering beatbox into the mix – and keys from Liam Morson, moulding his own layers of slick, soulful jamming, we were having a treat.
As mentioned earlier, a key aspect of Millar’s skill was to work with the musicians around her – allowing each to stand out in their own right, yet still holding up the strength of her artistry. Some of my favourites from the night include ‘Only You’, with her vocals giving visceral strength to the layers of longing we may feel, whilst ‘Trouble’ was a funky, flashy jam. A cover of ‘Natural Woman’ hit the belting big notes belly-deep and celebrated a stunning voice and sound, that’s for sure.
‘Innovative creativity of her own…’
She’s a versatile artist too, capable of classics but also innovative creativity of her own, even joining the keyboardist at one point to blend synths and her singing voice for a stunning soundscape. I would have liked to see even more of this kind of jamming, but perhaps that makes me greedy. Whether with backing or solo, her tracks are well-sustained, varied and distinctly hers – all deft points setting her out from many other artists.
That is not to overlook the single itself though – ‘Not The First’, which featured just Millar on the keyboard, singing with sustained strength. Throughout she kept an articulate intensity, moving through feelings and notes with words wielding their own unique rhythm. She may be Manchester born, but it’s clear that Millar has the qualities that allow musician to jump geographical boundaries and appeal to audiences far and wide, with soulful power which can have people just as much reflecting on actions, as driven to dancing. It’s a creativity which opens up a soundscape for the individual and I am so grateful for that.
Mica Millar is an artist to watch for sure. I can’t wait for more.
Image 1 – Mali Hayes, Image 2 +3 – Mica Millar. All photography with thanks to Shay Rowan