“What if this is it? What if this is not a rehearsal?” asked Emeli Sandé, referring to life itself rather than the show she was in the midst of performing. The stools were coming out for her and her four backing singers, in order that the more reflective song Honest might be performed. “I used to be anxious about yesterday or anxious about tomorrow,” she continued. “For this song, I hope we can all be present in the moment.”
With a sell-out, all-seated audience in a venue as grand and genteel as the Usher Hall, her third album Real Life just released, and her first foray into television presenting with this autumn’s Emeli Sandé’s Street Symphony on BBC Scotland, the Aberdeenshire-raised singer appears to have effected a complete transition from the beginning of the decade. Back then she was songwriter and guest vocalist of choice to a number of grime artists; now she’s something approaching singer-songwriter royalty in the upper reaches of the British music industry, with the Brit Awards to prove it.
Such a professional position – and an obvious degree of intergenerational appeal, as evidenced by the wide range of ages in attendance here - might sometimes result in muted artistic ambition. Yet during Sandé’s live set, the connection between her music and her own outlook was laid bare.
It was there in that introduction to Honest and in her description of Sweet Architect as coming from a very low personal place: “it was me trying to reach out like a prayer... I hope it gives you strength”. It was there, too, in her explanation of Human (which she led herself with some skilled piano playing) as being a response to growing up feeling different: “no matter what colour your skin or what walk of life you’ve chosen to walk, I hope it speaks to you...”.
From the initially a capella Extraordinary Being to the anthem of self-affirmation Read All About It and her defining love song Next to Me, her music feels like a large, communal exercise in self-care – a kind of non-threatening self-examination in which she both relates to and consoles her audience.
Amid it all Sande’s vocal stunned, although the volume of her band sometimes overwhelmed her, the noisy rhythm section only proving complementary on the light, poppy Wonder and the club groove of Highs & Lows. You Are Not Alone was a tender encore, and once again a call for empathy and support with her quietly enraptured fans. David Pollock