Katy B - review

O2 Academy, Oxford

It's not hard to guess that Katy B, for all her success in taking her personable version of UK funky into the Top 10, isn't yet at home as a headlining artist. On the opening night of her first major tour, in front of a crowd who have plainly taken full advantage of the extra boozing time afforded by Friday's bank holiday, she's notably eager to please. Had we watched the royal wedding, she wants to know. No? OK, here's another song, then. "This is about being on the dancefloor, knowing everyone is feeling the same emotion as you …"

To go by such nervousness, one thing she is not is the kind of showbiz robot supposedly cranked out by her alma mater, the Brit School. Her time there, in fact, has barely left a trace, save for a vocal glossiness that recalls former classmate Jessie J. That aside, Katy – 21-year-old Kathleen Brien of Nunhead, south London – is more a product of the clubs she's frequented since she was 16. The dance styles she absorbed there are all over tonight's gig; R&B, funky, reggae and soca mould her mid-evening set.

Visible only from the neck up because of the crowd's density – I can certify that she has luxuriant auburn curls – she starts with Louder, whose clubbing-in-the-face-of-economic-hardship lyric underlines her image as the insouciant girl about town. "As I buy another round with my final twenty pounds … I just want it louder," she sings, and, inevitably, the crowd chorus back: "Louder! Louder!"

Recent hit Broken Record differs from the version on her album, On a Mission; here the breakbeats are accented by splats of live saxophone and trumpet. The brass section play a major role in the set as a whole, and after several songs overflowing with sprightly parps, it's clear that the band have a taste for the kind of organic ska that no chart act has touched since the 80s. It's not what you might expect from a singer whose recorded work exemplifies modern UK dance-pop, but Katy's vocals are fluid and confident and the audience jig along happily.

Perfect Stranger, her hit with Magnetic Man, and the career-best single Katy on a Mission are closer to their original twitchy dubstep and funky house, and – first-night nerves allayed – she leaves in a flurry of thanks, her swagger befitting an artist who knows she'll be playing bigger venues next time around.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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