Just a few weeks ago at Cheltenham Jazz Festival I held my breath as Nick Mulvey stood at the edge of stage, hesitating for what seemed like ages, gazing out at the packed Arena, before giving us a heartfelt performance, one of the highlights of my festival. Was he remembering his last visit to Cheltenham, his final performance with Portico Quartet when we gasped, convulsed in sadness, as we learned he was leaving the band? Or was it simply that the beautiful personal lyrics he was about to sing required stillness?
In this stunning debut album, First Mind, the gentle hang player of Portico has emerged out of his chrysalis, a fully fledged troubadour with a pleasing, light, unforced voice and a rich song book. Add to this his breathtaking guitar and layers of delicate instrumentation with synths and mellotrons and you have perfection. There is nothing showy here, the beauty of each composition requiring you to reflect on it, like a poem. So many influences crowd in, but never overwhelming each composition – take the subtle Beach Boy /Brian Wilson/God Only Knows feel to the title track First Mind. And English folk song in Ailsa Craig, with shades of Nick Drake. A chill goes through me when I hear the line in Venus:
To the calling of the morning, yes, the falling lovers leap
A nine-eleven reference? A searing image. An outstanding track with its Botticelli image, sadness and heartbeat.
This album touches me deeply with its maturity, dreaminess and gentleness. See Nick in performance if you can, but savour the album quietly on your own too, and discover its depth.
All songs written by Nick Mulvey