Entertainment & Arts

Laura Mvula's Later with... Jools Holland diary

Laura Mvula Image copyright RCA Records
Image caption Laura Mvula says her new album The Dreaming Room is 'very visual'

We go behind the scenes with singer Laura Mvula as she prepares to debut her new material and kick off the 48th series of Later... with Jools Holland.

"There's a lot going on right now," the singer tells us. And she's not wrong.

The follow-up to her Mercury Prize-nominated debut, 2013's Sing To The Moon, is imminent. Second album The Dreaming Room is due in June and her newest track Phenomenal Woman has just debuted as Annie Mac's hottest record on BBC Radio 1.

"And then we have probably the most important live moment on TV in this country today," she adds.

"It's all potentially extremely exciting - and that just means that I'm naturally terrified."

The singer's struggles with stage fright and anxiety are well-documented and live TV is a particular fear.

Describing the concept as "just hellish", she tells us: "I'd rather die. That's how I feel sometimes - I think, 'if I dropped dead I wouldn't have to do it!'."

So, it's perhaps surprising that the singer let us tag along as she kicked off the new series of Later... with Jools Holland. But it seems BBC Two's esteemed music show has a special place in her heart.

"In the musician's world, you say 'Jools Holland' and all of a sudden you've got massive respect - it's like saying you got Glastonbury."

Image caption Laura Mvula will return to Glastonbury's Pyramid stage this year after her 2013 debut

Her third time on Later... she calls respected musician and presenter Holland a "genuine champion".

"He called me this afternoon just to say that he'd been listening to my new record and he wanted to tell me specifically what song and what parts and why.

"I tell you, in the TV world, it's not the kind of place where there's room for those kind of genuine interactions, just because there's so much pressure on everyone. It's very special."

Here the diary of Laura's day.


13:45 BST - LONDON - AND WE'RE OFF...

Tour manager Paul picks us up in sunny east London. Laura's assistant Mariama is laden with popcorn and snacks as we pile into the silver Mercedes van bound for the studios in Kent. The singer takes some me-time behind her shades, safe in the knowledge it's going to be a long day.

"I'm such a weird person to be around before anything big," she admits.

"I can't normally talk, so my team tend to just leave me to it, but I'll pick up.

"Right now I want to be jumping up, but you don't want to celebrate before the main event, so I'm just trying to be as relaxed as I can."

15:00 BST - THE STUDIOS - MAIDSTONE

Image caption Laura Mvula's dressing room - where she 'drank a balance of water and red wine' before the show

We arrive to the sounds of Kano and his brass section sound-checking. He's on the bill along with Paul Simon, The Coral, Jason Isbell and Lake Street Dive.

Laura has the honour of opening and closing both the live and pre-recorded shows, something she says she's "glad you only find out on the day".

"I'm doing Phenomenal Woman, Kiss My Feet - which the Jools team requested - and Overcome, the first single, which featured Nile Rogers.

"I wanted to explode back onto the scene with something that was captivating in a much rawer and darker way. That's why there's dance and so much movement this time around, and why it's such a visual album."

15:50 - THE BAND ARRIVE

Backstage the band are split across two dressing rooms - one for the boys and one for the girls, where we're quickly made welcome as they debate which of the many black items of clothing they've brought will get worn.

"There's nine of us - it's huge by pop terms, but I refused to compromise," says Laura.

"With Sing To The Moon, six of us were trying to sound like an orchestra and a choir. It was a stress.

"My sister Dionne went from violin to guitar - literally learnt the guitar [and] is killing it - my brother's playing cello. It feels much more like a band than me trying to do the solo artist thing. We feel like a really solid family."

16:30 BST - REHEARSAL

Still in her fur-lined boots and denim dress from the journey, Laura and the band head to the camera rehearsal. Jools arrives and gives Laura a hug, waving hello to the production team. Giant white cue cards are being written to help him introduce the acts.

Running through each of their tracks twice, Laura sports her new keytar in place of her trademark piano.

"Lady Mariama was up until 4am trying to make my keytar white. I mean what the hell is that about?" she laughs.

"Initially it was a joke idea, I was just messing about jamming with it, but it made so much sense. I'm not stuck behind anything in a static way anymore, I can move and I can see people. If I want to turn and feel the band I can do that. We have such a good time now."

17:30 BST - DINNER BREAK

Time for some nourishment. The team ("there's like millions of them... making it work") are handed pocket money for the canteen, while Laura retreats to her dressing room. As well as make-up, wardrobe and calming those nerves, she also has a TV interview to fit in.

"I used to not eat, I couldn't eat. But I've learned to, so you don't drop off after one song. I have meatballs and sweet potato fries. And a balance of water and red wine."

18:30 BST - WARDROBE AND MAKE-UP

Image caption Everyone on Laura Mvula's team has a copy of the 'textbook' of images she put together

"[Designer] Alex Noble has done a lot of my clothes recently," says Laura. "He is just on another planet. He text me yesterday and I was just weeping emojis because the clothes are just... I mean you'll see with the outfit tonight.

"I made a visual essay for the album, this massive book [filled with] images, as stimulus for new music but also to help anybody I might be collaborating with. Stylists or people in the label, anyone could take the book and go 'oh yeah, I'm listening and I'm looking'.

"It means I get to talk less. That's probably surprising to some people because I do love to natter! But it helps."

19:45 BST - WARDROBE DRAMA

Minutes before show time, Laura's designer and assistant are still huddled together in one of the dressing rooms with a needle and thread and the singer's fabulous outfit in their hands.

She's set to do an interview at Jools's famous piano, but the purple corset she'll be wearing (with matching super-flared trousers) will be too tight to sit down in. Cue furious unpicking and re-stitching. Eventually it's decided she'll do the interview standing up. Problem solved.

20:20 BST - TO THE STUDIO

Image copyright Marla Altschuler/ Cantine

With the audience in place and schooled on how to cheer and clap in the correct manner, Laura's up first - opening the pre-recorded show with Maya Angelou-inspired anthem Phenomenal Woman.

"If you're first out of the blocks - you're the thing in the room that makes the first sound. I've been second and third before and everybody breathes when the sound's been made," says Laura.

There's mild panic when the lighting desk freezes after The Coral perform, but after a few minutes of confusion they're rolling again.

Later, a respectful hush descends as Paul Simon performs Sounds Of Silence in the centre of the studio.

"He made me cry so much," says Laura. "I kept thinking, 'why didn't I bring Mum to this gig?'. She was raised on Simon and Garfunkel.

"I ended up thinking about my whole life, my creative life... what is this all about? Here I am literally stood in front of Mr Paul Simon."

22:00 BST - AND WE'RE LIVE!

With all the stars limbered up (and the shortest of toilet breaks), the second show goes live on BBC Two.

"It's an amazing feeling because you know that it's happening now and everybody's tuned in, but at the same time - the fear and the dread. You can't correct anything, so whatever comes out is it. "

Laura ends the live show on a high with Phenomenal Woman.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPhenomenal Woman ends Later… with Jools Holland

"That for me was surprisingly wonderful, because live television literally - there's nothing that I'm more terrified of! And the live performance was better than the pre-record - what?!"

22:30 BST - THAT'S A WRAP

Image caption Laura Mvula's team 'of millions' after the show

It's all over. The audience files out and the set's dismantled as artists and their teams pack up their gear and rush to congratulate each other.

Image copyright Marla Altschuler/ Cantine

US outfit Lake Street Dive collar Laura for a picture, while she and sister Dionne seek out Kano for a snap ("Because he's fine. And obviously amazing").

Image copyright Marla Altschuler/ Cantine
Image caption Laura Mvula with her sister Dionne and fellow performer Kano

"I always forget how emotionally exhausting it is," says Laura.

"The amount I invest into any performance is always bucket loads of sweat or tension that doesn't get released until I'm in that moment.

"That's the uniqueness of a show like Jools's - you are getting that concentrated performance."

So what now?

"Everybody laughs at me because I literally make a beeline for my bed after. I'll probably eat again later because I always get a major appetite, which is why I have this thing [grabs belly area] that will never go away.

"But yeah, I just conk out. If I think about stuff I'll go nuts, because you've just put something out.

"I mean I haven't had a child, but I imagine - like when you have a baby - it's out there. I can't push it back in!"

You can catch the extended edition of Later... with Jools Holland on BBC Two on Friday 22 April at 23:15 BST or watch Tuesday night's live episode on the iPlayer now.

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