wed 10/08/2022

Maverick Sabre, Jazz Café | reviews, news & interviews

Maverick Sabre, Jazz Café

Maverick Sabre, Jazz Café

A smart young singer with a distinctive voice makes his mark

Until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Maverick Sabre. Then I saw his weird potato-face looks and heard his utterly distinctive voice on Later... With Jools Holland, and was intrigued; thus I found myself last night at the Jazz Café in a sold-out crowd at his biggest London headlining gig, and I was impressed. He’s quite something.

Maverick Sabre is the stage name of Michael Stafford, a 20-year-old singer, rapper, songwriter and guitarist who was born in Stoke Newington, north London, and raised in County Wexford, Ireland; he claims that he chose his name by going through a thesaurus looking for words with the same initials as his real name. He has a recording contract but has yet to release an album – his first is due out in November; an EP (The Lost Words) and some singles are the sum total of his output so far. And yet here he appeared almost fully formed, not raw or callow, but strong, self-assured and confident (though never cocky).

And so he should: he has a voice that’s instantly recognisable, a curious blend of reggae (more than a hint of Eek-A-Mouse in his lilting phraseology), hip hop, soul and pop. During this short, sharp show, his voice glided and stuttered, glottal-stopped and flowed, a beguiling polyglot of styles. Like his self-described “fucked-up” speaking accent, it’s a singing style that reflects his urban-Irish roots, demotic, vernacular and startlingly original.

The Jazz Café crowd were, I’d estimate, split roughly 50-50 between those who have been following him through whatever scene he emerged from – hip hop and DJs, I’d guess – and those who came along out of curiosity after the ...Jools Holland thing. Before he hit the stage, it was clear that he has a bit of a following, with a chant of “Mav’rick, Mav’rick” coming from his young fans; then he descended the steps, strode onto the stage, and instantly took command of the room.

On stage with him were a crisp, compact band and a backing vocalist whose voice dovetailed immaculately with that of Mr Sabre; the music was, as was everything else about him, a distinctive blend of styles – soul, R'n'B, rock (curiously, although Maverick Sabre’s singing style owes much to reggae, there was little sign of actual reggae rhythms in his music). He whipped up the crowd without resorting to cheap shots, he thanked us repeatedly for making it such a special night at the “Jazz Caff”, and he paced the stage purposefully, his compact frame a singularity of potential energy. But most of all, he sang; pitched high, his voice is an absolute pleasure to listen to, not in an easy-listening way, but because of its unique timbre, his inimitable phrasing.

Also, I found that one of the most compelling aspects of this show was his mouth. It is the most beautiful and elegant thing; he shaped it into all manner of ovals and circles with absolute control. Has he had some sort of training? I have no idea. But he seems technically very accomplished.

Of the songs, the standouts for me were “They Found a Gun”, a dark meditation on school massacres (with Maverick Sabre supplying his own dub-style echo effects when singing “Virginia Tech-Tech-Tech”), “No One”, a tale of restrained jealousy, and “Look What I’ve Done” from his recent EP. He even made a decent fist of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”.

So, Maverick Sabre: he’s quite something. And I can’t imagine that he’ll be playing venues as compact as the Jazz Caff for very long.

Maverick Sabre performs "I Used to Have it All" on Later... With Jools Holland

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