Anybody who has known me for the past four years will testify that SAULT is MY band. SAULT are unaware of this, and without any doubt, there are many others who hold the same claim. For those of you who are not in the know, allow me to add context.
Sault emerged in 2019 as a funk/soul/jazz/gospel collective, a project headed by genius musician and producer Inflo. Having already worked with Little Simz, Cleo Sol, and Michael Kiwanuka, these individual icons immediately became part of the dream.
Despite releasing eleven albums (some doubles) between 2019 and 2022, SAULT has remained something of an unknown quantity. Mention them to most people, and they won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. If you are one of these people, believe me, you are missing out.
Regardless of the sheer amount of SAULT material on release, there is barely a duff track in there. The music is deeply soulful, veering from standard love-infused lyrics to statements about God, the beauty of Blackness, and racial injustice, particularly towards the police. Their breathtaking Untitled (Black Is) album, released in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, is essential listening.
In 2021, the NINE album was released online for 99 days. On the final day, it was withdrawn forever but made available as a physical copy only.
In November 2022, the band simultaneously released five complete albums for fans to download for free. They were later streamed via Spotify, before issuing physical copies. Amongst them, the albums 11 and Earth are stone-cold classics.
This month, it was announced that SAULT would make their long-awaited live debut in London. As the band has thus far not appeared in public at all, no interviews, no videos, nada, it is no surprise that this gig is also shrouded in mystery. Last weekend, it was revealed that tickets would go on sale exclusively through Ticketmaster at 10:00 am on Monday morning. At 10:03, the tickets, at a staggering face value of £99, had sold out. Within an hour, online discussions were alive, with outraged fans claiming this once generous band had gotten greedy and betrayed their fans.
I was lucky enough to get tickets via my son Alfie’s X plea. To say I was excited could be the understatement of the year.
Much speculation has been cast regarding how the show would pan out, and the only certainty was that the band would be recording their 12th album live on the night, all new tracks, never to be played again. But will they still play their bangers?
Cut to the chase and we are outside Drumsheds in Tottenham. A former IKEA, still painted in IKEA blue. We felt like the Golden Ticket holders being led into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. As we soon discovered, we were not far off the mark. Fed slowly into the old loading bays, we are guided through a cobweb-strewn storeroom full of uniformly stacked packages before entering an old-fashioned factory foyer. It has now become clear that this has all been painstakingly created for one night only.
We are then introduced to an elderly East Asian couple in a scruffy 1970s apartment who are watching an old TV. It’s a brilliant reconstruction, and we have to wait while the husband finishes his phone conversation. They gaze at us as if to ask, “What are you doing in our home;” this is so surreal and wonderful, and we are genuinely stoked as to what comes next. Who could possibly guess?
We walk through their Narnia-like fridge and exit into a vast space with mirrored walls, floor, and ceiling immaculately created. Large glass cases are filled with cacti and wheat. The deeper we go, the greener it gets, with exotic flowers and fauna creating pathways toward more cabinets, each one housing a different SAULT album sleeve.
As we walk across a bridge beneath a huge circular arch, we are presented with two towering tablets. One bears the name of the soon-to-be-born live album Acts of Faith. The other listing the un-named Acts 1-8. A tour of the enormous space reveals a central performance space encased inside a glass bandstand, surrounded by an amphitheatre. Only select audience members are allowed in there.
Around this are suspended steel cylinders, each bearing the legend of a SAULT album. A larger performance space fills a wall, complete with a raised podium, flanked on each side by more stages, a beautiful, heavenly orchestra platform adorned with instruments opposite a sizeable chorus stand. Up in the corner beyond that is a small balcony housing yet another small stage with the Basquiat-style painting from the Untitled (Black Is) inner gatefold.
We already feel that our £100 is well spent and the show is still to begin. Various famous faces are wandering around amongst the crowd, including DJs Don Letts and Nick Grimshaw.
A percussionist in what appears to be Indigenous attire takes to the podium and beats out a lengthy mesmeric beat on a varied set of skins, and the mood is set.
I try to count how many members of the choir take to the platform, and it looks about 80. The orchestra chimes up, and together they recreate the Overture from the epic, soundtrack-like Air album. Shivers are running up and down spines throughout the room. The audience is relatively small (I hear there were 3,000) despite the enormous 15,000-capacity warehouse space, creating an unlikely intimacy. Similar moods are created in “4am” and “Time is Precious,” also from Air and its partner album Aiir. Figures move around and atop the podium in stunning costumes, enhancing the already magical mood.
A quartet of African pieces follows, with guest artists performing via wonderful instrumentation. They create a sonic landscape of percussion and chanting, creating some of the most breathtaking dancing imaginable.
Then the crowd erupts to the opening notes of “Fear no Man.” Yes, our hopes are answered as the incredible Little Simz takes to the podium and performs the classic cut from her own Inflo-produced Sometimes I might be Introvert album. She is dressed in silver chainmail, face concealed like all key guests tonight, with a balaclava. The air of mystery continues further still. She is fantastic, of course. How on earth can you follow this?
Enter Ganavya Doraiswamy with a beautiful pared-down cover of Monsoon’s 1982 hit, “Ever so Lonely.” She has the absolute voice of an angel that silences the entire room. The instrumental “Gods Will” from Aiir closes the set.
The promised new album is now performed from within the glass bandstand. Smoke appears to fill the space also, but this is only visible to us via the video screen. Throughout the nine (not eight?) act sequence, dances are performed on the podium with the players dressed as angels with gorgeous swan wings. Almost a modern version of Swan Lake, but it is difficult to follow because the new music we all hear for the first time is dominating our attention.
The album is so funky, returning to the styles of 5 and 7, the first two SAULT albums. This is a privilege. It has to be said here that despite complaints throughout the week that the acoustics in the space were okay for raves but not for gigs, the sound is glass-shatteringly sharp and powerful.
More hopes are answered, and then some, as the rest of the show is devoted to a generous helping of fan favourites, 18 of them, vocal duties falling to, amongst others, Cleo Sol and Little Sister. Anyone still complaining about the ticket price at this point can stand outside; thank you.
Standout tracks include the perfect soul/dance of “Let Me Go,” with figures racing around frantically in a blood-red light show. “Angel” from the self-titled EP, fronted by Jamaican reggae artist Chronixxx and a frantic “I Just Want to Dance.” The sheer number of physical performers and costume changes defies belief. We wondered afterwards who was responsible for choreography, costumes, and set design – just unbelievable.
The classics continue, with dreamy versions of “Masterpiece” and “Fight for Love,” to more upbeat songs like “Don’t Waste my Time” (with Kid Sister), “Up All Night,” and uber crowd pleaser “Why Why Why Why Why.”
If it ended here, it would be enough. But no, the silhouette of Michael Kiwanuka appears behind the glass, and we get a perfect reading of “Colour Blind.” The show finishes with sure-fire pleasers, “Strong,” “Black Is,” and “Wildfires.”
I have never experienced a gig like this, and I doubt I ever will. I turn to Alfie, and instinctively, we hug each other tightly. We both know that this has been a night that we will never forget. Special doesn’t even begin to define this.
The media interest in the event is already growing, and SAULT has gone overnight from a seemingly niche act to a media sensation, with press reviews all verging on ecstatic. We still don’t know what they look like. Personally, that’s fine by me, and we can’t imagine what is to come, although further worldwide dates have been announced, with a designated full album being performed exclusively at each event.
Many will see this is the music event of the year and I can’t disagree, the band have set a new standard in multi-media and multi-genre gigs and other more established acts are going to have to sit up and step up.
Still buzzing. SAULT is still MY band, but I’d better get used to sharing.
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