Mama Roux is a new name on the already generously catered for Digbeth gig circuit. Hanging baskets and Mediterranean building fronts decorating the walls inside the venue give it a touch of charm and eccentricity. Quite fittingly, tonight it’s a setting for the start of Meilyr Jones‘ UK tour.
The Welsh gentle rebel appears with a trademark bashful smile and launches straight into ‘How To Recognise A Work Of Art’, the first track from his debut album 2013. Powered along by mighty drums and Jones’ dashing style, it is 100% in the moment, 100% new and fresh. It sets the bar high but that bar is triumphantly smashed again and again as the evening draws on.
But it’s not all about Meilyr. His supporting cast is equally impressive and there is a real passionate chemistry between them. All band members are multi-instrumentalists who re-create the often intricate landscapes of 2013 with relish, while not being afraid to try something new at every turn. Emma Smith begins a gentle bassline for ‘Passionate Friend’ which sees Meilyr eschew his microphone, climbing into the audience for an intimate rendering of the track before he returns to the stage to finish the song with some amplification. Richard Jones switches instruments and at times it seems that the whole thing is one big improvisational experiment.
‘All Is Equal In Love’ rolls along in a pensive, meditative way before Jones takes on key duties for a solo run through his furiously beautiful first single ‘Refugees’ – the sizeable audience playing its part with rapt silence in the right places and ecstatic applause between songs. There is genuine love between this eminently likeable (show)man and his fans. It’s impossible to resist his charm and sincerity.
A touching ‘Love’ heads into a brief play of the intro to David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ which segues into ‘Strange/Emotional’, an ecstatic delirium showing the other end of the Jones spectrum: he is as capable and comfortable of passionate fury as he is of the quiet, reflective moments.
‘Return To Life’ could just be the best song of 2016 and is represented tonight with a jaw-dropping performance, before the pop opera of ‘Olivia’ is announced as the last song. Without even leaving the stage the band stay and complete a perfect rendition of another crowd favourite, ‘Featured Artist’.
For all his theatrical zeal, prickly humour and undeniable musical brilliance Meilyr Jones possesses a touching humility that creates an immediate appeal. He looks up to the balcony and asks the audience all to come downstairs. ‘I have an announcement to make’, he says with a conspiratorial smile. They duly oblige, only for the band to take their place and play ‘Be Soft’ up there: no amps and no microphones; just strings, brass and vocals. It is a moment of real magic which seals an incredible performance. But there is time for one more. The band return to the stage to take on the unreleased ‘Watches’, the song that sends tonight’s audience home firmly in the belief that they have witnessed the dawn of a singular blossoming talent. Strange/Emotional indeed.