Homecoming Queen

Stephen Pennell watches Lady Leshurr enthral her subjects.

Lady Leshurr
Birmingham Open Media,

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it never gets old for me. I first saw Lady Leshurr at a school concert about fifteen years ago when she dressed up as Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes to perform TLC’s No Scrubs alongside my daughter Danielle and another girl (dressed as T-Boz and Chilli I suppose).

Pleasant and accomplished though I’m sure it was, I didn’t remember it until my kids reminded me recently, so I very much doubt I left Archbishop Grimshaw school that night thinking little Melesha O’Garro would one day be fighting it out with Chuck D out of Public Enemy for my ‘favourite ever rapper’ affections.

Since then she’s clocked up 160 million youtube views, collaborated with the likes of Stormzy, Wiley, Jaykae and Will. I. Am, appeared with Nicki Minaj on her recent world tour, has her own ITV show, Don’t Hate The Playaz, and has appeared on and even co-hosted Later with Jools Holland.

She’s the most successful product of Kingshurst since Gary Shaw (ask yer dad), and like him she’s picked up a host of accolades, including Best Female at the MOBOs in 2016, and Best Rap/Grime act at the 2019 Birmingham Music Awards.

Now she’s back on the manor doing her Citizen Leshurr bit – campaigning for the re-opening or replacement of her old stamping ground, Kingshurst Youth and Community Centre (an event for the cause was sadly cancelled due to safety concerns that too many people would turn up to see her), and tonight helping SHOUT Festival and Birmingham Open Media celebrate their birthdays.

Ten years ago, Birmingham’s SHOUT Festival started from a desire to celebrate and promote the diversity of the city’s LGBT cultural community – since when they’ve developed a dynamic annual festival, taking place for ten days every November.

Meanwhile, for five years now, Birmingham Open Media has been a centre for science, technology and art, dedicated to creative innovation. The free gallery presents cutting edge digital artworks and exhibitions to spark debate about technology and scientific progress, with a particular interest in neurodiversity (I had to google it), and there’s a café serving organic, fairtrade coffee, tea, home-made cakes and ethically sourced food.

As if that isn’t recommendation enough, it’s located in an area of town which should be granted World Heritage status, populated as it is by globally significant culture in the shape of the oldest working British cinema, the Electric, and the UK’s first purpose-built repertory theatre, Sir Barry Jackson’s Old Rep. The birthplace of heavy metal, The Crown, is on one corner of the block, and dodgy cinema Adult World is on another, causing Wifey and I to run the sticky gauntlet of middle-aged men in loose-fitting trousers as we cross Hinckley Street to the party.

We’ve got diversity alright, and it doesn’t end there. The inclusivity of the organisations celebrating is reflected in the crowd – colourful, glamorous and fabulous in equal measure, while drag artist and host Yshe Black shimmers away magnificently in a sparkling blue dress and heels.

After an eclectic DJ set, Yshe gets the party started by introducing House of Bab, who treat the audience to some spectacular vogueing. Renowned DJ Sippin’ T, from London club night BBZ, is stuck on a rain-delayed train, but our fears about the presence of Lady Leshurr are allayed by the sight of a tray of salmon being delivered to the dressing room area. (Any of the million people who follow her on social media will know that not only does “a salmon a day keep the batty fish away”, but is also writ large (and probably underlined three times) on her rider.

Sure enough, as her DJ takes over on the decks and we look around for the grime superstar, she pops up from nowhere on the stage barely six feet in front of us, dressed down in a baseball cap, sweatshirt and trackie bottoms. A surge of high-voltage electricity courses through the room as she opens with Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam, the song she wrote her first lyrics to as a six year-old, which merges into a head-spinning medley including beats from Dr Dre, Rihanna and Chaka Demus and Pliers.

The Kingshurst native is visibly moved when someone shouts out her B37 post-code, before she splits the audience in two for the opening bars of Queen’s Speech 3, which is followed by a few more of the viral freestyles that made her famous, performed in no particular order, but brilliantly nonetheless. On QS5 she gets the audience jumping from side-to-side as if she’s got us on strings, like some relentless, disciplinarian puppet-master. I Got The Juice is next, followed by Leshurr showing off her melodic singing voice on the rhythmic and danceable On My Way.

Other highlights include some of her latest joints, Black Madonna and Your Mr., but there is no outing for Mike Myers, her new collab with a cast that reads like the Who’s Who of Urban Brum, including Remtrex, Swifta Beater and Bowser Boss. Between songs, Leshurr’s audience engagement is inspirational, as she urges others to break down barriers and follow in her footsteps, and speaks of her home city being on the rise.

Then, as if to prove her point, she shows support for the phenomenal crop of Brummie MCs currently making waves in The Game with shout-outs for Mist, Jaykae, Dapz On The Map, Lady Sanity and Truemendous, showing that her triumph at the Birmingham Music Awards was no walk in the park. Sheer delirium infects the room as Leshurr takes us straight to Wakanda on her Black Panther freestyle, before she shuts the place down with “the tune that bought my mom’s house”, Queen’s Speech 4.

A tremendous and energetic performance, all the more remarkable as Leshurr is still grieving after the devastating recent loss of her sister Carmen to breast cancer. What a professional. Birmingham Open Media and SHOUT couldn’t have picked a better headliner for their party – a female icon, a gay icon, a Birmingham icon… hell, let’s just acknowledge she’s an icon and leave it at that.