Tonight feels like something of a hometown show for Jorja Smith. She’s originally from the West Midlands, but the soulful singer has a strong musical bond with the capital, having spent a considerable chunk of her teenage years travelling down for songwriting sessions before making the move permanently at the age of 18.
After an intro built from Something In The Way from 2016’s Project 11 EP and her song Where Did I Go, the 19-year-old goes straight into a new track called Teenage Fantasy. It’s a confident move for a relatively new artist, but it proves a worthy one as the crowd soak it in.
Indeed, Smith debuts plenty of new material across the evening, including one particularly haunting song called Goodbyes, which she explains was written for the passing of a friend. It’s a beautifully sparse piece of songwriting that, backed only with a lightly picked guitar, holds the audience in a near total hush from start to end.
Tonight, Smith is performing to a crowd of her peers: a legion of young women, who are singing their hearts out, hands in the air. A few lighters are intermittently lifted, but for the most part the glow comes from rows of Snapchat-ready screens. Yet her voice and studied poise give little indication of her youth; it’s only in the brief, jumbled moments she takes to introduce songs (or, after bumping her lip on the microphone, when she tells the audience she’s “doing that all the time and it really hurts”) that you stop to consider how many more years of this she has ahead of her.
Her stage presence perhaps requires a bit of work, and the pacing of the set is a little single-speed at times (despite inspired covers of T2’s bassline classic, Heartbroken, and Roy Davis Jr’s Gabriel). But these are things which will come with time. For now, Jorja Smith is the proud and careful owner of one of the most astounding voices on the touring circuit.
With one surprise guest already having appeared in the form of Maverick Sabre, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation that hip hop’s most famous anglophile might make a surprise appearance too. But the fact remains that this show sold out weeks before Drake dropped his Jorja-featuring More Life ‘playlist’ – the fans here would consider a cameo from the Canadian a mere bonus, it seems, rather than a deal breaker.