Stephen Pennell is present at the court of Birmingham’s new musical queen.
I plotted up at the Barrel Organ/Dubliner/Subside (depending on your age) where I had arranged to meet my two eldest sons Kurtis and Tyler. I went straight to the smoking area where I got chatting to a well-refreshed, bearded black guy called Romeo sporting a pink Mohican haircut. When my boys arrived fashionably late it turned out that Kurtis knew him. Well, we were in Birmingham – of course Kurtis knew him.
There were a few lads with guitars hanging around and I asked them who they were, to which they replied “The headliners are Drawstring, we’re only the support act”.
“Yeah, what’s your name?”
“You won’t have heard of us”.
(This all-pervading Brummie humility can be annoying at times).
“Try me,” I said.
“Coffee Breath,” they said, and it wasn’t an observation, accurate though it may have been.
Needless to say, they were chuffed when I said I’d heard and liked them (I think I might have posted a link or two to their first single Runaway on various websites and social media).
After hammering Kurtis at pool we stayed for the first bit of their set, which while a little rough around the edges was full of good ideas. We stayed partly because I wanted to hear them and partly because we wanted to avoid Leshurr’s support act Moka Blast. Sadly, we saw him and he lived down to the review I read of a previous date. He came on in a balaclava as if trying to remain anonymous (I don’t blame him), and his money gun broke again as I read it had in Liverpool the other night. He was the kind of rapper they might have booked on Phoenix Nights.
Mercifully Leshurr’s DJ took over and warmed up the crowd with a string of classics from the likes of Outkast, R Kelly, Eve, 50 Cent etc. He played some great tunes and the place was jumping. Not me though, as I seemed to be being stalked by one of the Shurrcurity. Our relationship had already got off to a bad start when as I approached the venue he judged by my greying sideburns that I might not be at the right gig. Once inside he moved me on from two or three excellent (if rather precarious) vantage points from which I had hoped to film proceedings on my phone, and eventually I had to settle for watching from the mayhem of the floor with the excitable proles who wouldn’t stop jumping up and down in front of my camera.
Leshurr came on and started with the Sister Nancy cover, Bam Bam, with frequent references to her home town Birmingham hyping the crowd up into a frenzy that never really eased up. New song Mode was well-received and sounds up to the usual quality, then after Unleashed 2 she went off to get a royal-style robe and came back accompanied by the national anthem, complete with comedy wave.
She performed all six Queen’s Speeches, and although she rapped a fair bit of them, she really didn’t need to as we sang most of the songs for her. She jumped into the crowd at one point, forgetting she was in Digbeth for a moment, and sure enough someone pinched her baseball cap. Her fans (otherwise known as Shurrporters) were having none of it though and it was soon recovered and returned. She also got two of them up on stage to perform a rap battle to her biggest tune Queen’s Speech 4 (39 million views on YouTube). Thankfully, my sons’ attempts to volunteer me to get up were unsuccessful.
The devotion of the audience is quite something. Quite apart from the all the bouncing around for which the beats can take the credit, there’s the encyclopaedic knowledge of the lyrics, of which there are so many, learning them all is quite an achievement. I’m amazed SHE can remember them, never mind her fans. But they can, because they relate so closely, and this, for me, is the secret of her success.
A non-believer might think her songs are just a series of put-downs and insults, but it goes much deeper than that. Because she does everything with such wit, charm, humility and warmth, her young audience is convinced she is on their side. It never enters their heads that she’s blazing THEM – she is putting down that teacher you think treats you unfairly, your wasteman ex-boyfriend, your cheating ex-girlfriend, that crew of bullies making life hell at school. And she’s doing it on YOUR behalf. If she wasn’t so obviously genuine she might sound like a show-off, but she is genuine, so she doesn’t.
All in all it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a gig, I was grinning from ear-to-ear throughout, and to top it off she announced that she’d be waiting outside afterwards to chat and pose for selfies with anyone who wants one. The queue was massive, made up of virtually everyone who had been in the gig, but about an hour-and-a-half later I finally got to meet her and she did a little video message for my five and six year-olds Lewis and Amber, who love her.
And this is why I love her too. I mean, I think she’s great anyway – I love her flow, and I know lots of her clever and funny lyrics off by heart. She’s also from my manor, so she’s got absolutely everything going for her. But added to all that she’s a positive role-model, a wonderful ambassador for Birmingham and she never swears or sings about sex, crime or drugs, which means my little kids and I can listen to her all day long with no worries at all, which we often and will continue to do.
God Save The Queen.