A SPANISH-BORN, now London-based graduate of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Juan Zelada put in several years of dues-paying and craft-honing around the UK capital before releasing his debut album, High Ceilings and Collarbones, in January this year.
As well as session work, he did the often thankless rounds of bars, restaurants and cruise ships – an evidently salutary apprenticeship that began paying dividends when his first two singles were playlisted by Radio 2 last year.
It continued to do so here, in his relaxed, happily animated assurance onstage and his winning willingness to work a crowd – even a crowd of 50-odd in a wee black-box venue on a wet Monday night.
Most importantly, it’s given him both the chops and the versatility to match consistently catchy, radio-friendly songs with ample stylistic variety to keep the listener engaged beyond their immediate appeal, from the disconsolately squally soul/blues of I Can’t Love to the folky, prettily introspective Boy With the Television On; from the punchy country-rock tinge of Baby Be Mine to the happy-go-lucky reggae skip of What Do I Know.
Zelada’s five-piece band fleshed out his own keyboards and acoustic guitar with vibrant splashes of brass, as well as bass, drums and electric guitar, and with just the right balance of tightness and looseness, polish and raw muscle.
Expect to hear a good deal more of this lot over the summer and beyond.