It’s hard to imagine a better spot for acoustics than a chapel. Specifically designed to carry voices, the Union Chapel’s reverberating rafters had a brimming crowd hushed to a silence in aid of Stand Up to Cancer on Friday night, raising money and awareness amongst music-loving Londoners ahead of World Cancer Day.

There to handle proceedings was the Scottish darling of music radio, Edith Bowman. First up were indie four-piece Passport to Stockholm, humbly honoured to be playing the charity gig as a “band no-one had heard of”, poignantly pointing out how almost everyone (and no doubt a large proportion of the audience) knows someone touched by cancer. Once playing, Barny, Tom, Henri and Mariona were all professionalism and catchy tunes such as Shooting Stars and Better Days, finishing on a heartwarming reinvention of the Grease classic You’re the One that I Want.

Next up, singer-songwriter The Beach sung his heart out on Thieves and new track Bite My Tongue, alongside “Andy” on the keyboard and with a stunning accompaniment from the London Contemporary Voices choir. Armed with his acoustic guitar, the south Londoner’s soulful James Bay-esque sound had the audience that he felt “staring and making me nervous” enraptured.

After making appearances alongside the other artists, the London Contemporary Voices then had the stage for themselves, demonstrating the alternative face of choir through their soaring vocals and harmonies, finishing on an evocative Stand By Me. Such songs hung heavy with meaning, particularly as moving video stories of those affected by cancer, including Olympic diver Tom Daley and comedian Stephen Mangan, interspersed the music.

The oh so lovable Jamie Lawson, the first artist to be signed by Ed Sheeran’s label Gingerbread Man Records, then appeared as a special guest. Delivering beautifully on the re-release that caught the public’s ear, Wasn’t Expecting That, he also treated the audience to new track Falling, shared the weird feeling of playing with his new wedding ring, and his hesitancy over an imminent return to “crazy Trump-land” ahead of playing Cold In Ohio. With his effortless charm, the room couldn’t say no to joining in, and by the end of Ahead of Myself Lawson had the upper and lower pews backing him up in perfect harmony.

But it was Laura Mvula who stole the show. In the unique setting, it was not only her mesmeric vocals that captured the collective imaginations of those present but her looming personality and infectious warmth. Kicking off her unwearable white platforms, she owned the stage like a second home in bare feet, ripped jeans, an Ivy Park cut-off hoodie with an enormous white “keytar” across her front. Euphoric tracks such as Flying Without You were introduced in the context of “in a world where a guy with a big orange face and yellow hair rules most of the world, this song – and concerts like this – reminds me we can make something beautiful out of chaos”. She dedicated People to the new President himself and Kiss My Feet to the guy who ghosted her for a BAFTA party. Green Garden had everyone up on their feet while 2013 album track Sing to the Moon, played especially for her mum, was nothing less than ethereal, embodying all that is unique about Mvula’s music – experimental yet melodic, simple yet rich, with an upbeat Bjork-like quality. The Birmingham lass and her band – the cellist and guitarist/violinist her obliging siblings – left the fundraiser on just the right note: filled with emotion yet determinedly positive.

By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 4th February 2017.
Photos: Erol Birsen

World Cancer Day is 4th February 2017. For further information about Stand Up to Cancer visit here.

Watch the video for Sing to the Moon here: